What is distemper?
Distemper is a highly infectious viral disease which may cause mild symptoms in some dogs, but can be fatal in others. It is spread by infected dogs sneezing and coughing out droplets containing the virus. Dogs breathing these in or consuming water / food contaminated with these droplets can become infected.
Puppies between 3 and 6 months old are most commonly affected, however unvaccinated dogs or those with weakened immune systems are also at risk.
Symptoms can take up to 3 weeks to appear and initially include respiratory problems such as coughing and runny eyes and nose, together with a fever. These are followed by depression, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhoea and in the later stages dogs can develop thickened footpads known as 'hard pad', together with a hardened nose. Dogs that survive the initial stages of distemper often develop neurological signs including seizures.
What causes distemper?
Distemper is caused by a morbillivirus (a group of viruses which includes human measles, seal (phocine) distemper and canine distemper). The incubation period of the disease can be up to 3 weeks, although a dog may develop a fever 3 to 6 days after being infected. The virus cannot survive easily in the environment and can be killed by most household disinfectants.
There is no specific treatment for distemper, although supportive therapy such as antibiotics for additional infections and intravenous fluids to help correct the fluid loss due to vomiting and diarrhoea will help.
If you think your dog has distemper, please contact your vet immediately.
Vaccination against distemper is the only proven method of preventing the disease. Infected dogs should be kept away from healthy dogs and it's advisable to clean bedding and the bedding area with appropriate disinfectants.