Recently you may have read in the news about a distemper outbreak at a St. Louis adoption agency that killed several dogs and puppies. That is terrible news, but most times, distemper can be preventible.
Distemper is a viral disease that is related to the virus that causes measles in humans. It is spread through all body secretions, especially airborne particles from breathing. This makes it easy for an untreated or unvaccinated dogs to be infected. It appears most often in puppies that are between 6 and 12 weeks who haven’t been vaccinated because the protective antibodies that they had received from their mothers had fallen to a level too low to prevent infection. Not only dogs transfer the infection, but other animals are threats to spread this disease. The most common species that can spread distemper are raccoons, skunks and foxes. Coming into contact with the droppings of these animals can easily spread the disease.
Initially, the disease may present itself with mild symptoms may be mild. These symptoms may include:
- Fever of 103 to 109
- Watery discharge from the eyes and nose
- Depression and listlessness
- Loss of appetite
- Thick, yellow discharge from the eyes and nose
- Dry cough
- Pus blisters on the abdomen
As the disease progresses, it attacks the brain and the symptoms become neurological. Disease progression clinical signs could include:
- Head shaking
- Chewing jaw motions
- Seizure-like symptoms, such as falling over and kicking feet uncontrollably
- Rhythmic muscle jerking of the head and neck
- Thick, horny skin on the nose and callus-like pads on the feet
If your pet gets distemper, it can’t be cured. Dogs that have progressed to the neurological stage are at a much higher risk of death than if it is caught earlier and treated. Treatment can help the dog mount an immune response better or it may lessen the symptoms of distemper. Since distemper is a virus, the dog’s life relies on the dog’s ability to fight off the disease. Your veterinarian may prescribe antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. He may also give the dog IV fluids to address the dehydration and he may prescribe medications to control diarrhea, vomiting and seizures.
Success of the treatments are largely dependent on the age of the dog, how quickly you seek help, the distemper strain, and whether your dog has been vaccinated. Vaccination against distemper is highly protective.
Some dogs may recover on their own, but owners should never take the wait and see approach with distemper. If your dog recovers from distemper, and that is a big “if”, your dog would be naturally immune to a second attack, just like measles in humans.
I would recommend using caution when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs at parks, obedience classes, doggy day care and other places where dogs can congregate since this disease is quite contagious. Make sure that you do not share food or water bowls with other dogs as this can be a common source of infection.
I can’t stress enough how important that your dog should be vaccinated for distemper. This vaccination is usually started when the puppy is 5 to 6 weeks old and continued every 3 to 4 weeks until the puppy is 4 months old. This should provide long lasting immunity. But it is not permanent. If your dog is adopted, ask the facility if and when they had given the distemper vaccine. No dog should ever die of distemper as the vaccinations are quite effective.
With the quality vaccines distemper is very preventible. Keeping your pet current on its’ vaccines is extremely important. If you have any further questions or need your pet vaccinated, please feel free to contact us here or call us at 618-656-5868.
Vaccinations are part of a basic pet wellness program that the Olsen Veterinary Clinic administers in Glen Carbon and the surrounding area. If you are not familiar with veterinary concerns or have never owned a pet up to this point, it is understandable that you might not know exactly what the pet vaccinations can do to safeguard your pet’s health. As August has been designated National Immunization Awareness Month, here are some frequently asked questions we get from pet owners regarding dog and cat vaccinations.
What is a vaccination?
A vaccination is an injection that is given under the skin to stimulate the production of antibodies by the pet’s immune system against specific infections. They are needed once the antibodies transferred from the mothers to the newborn puppies and kittens wears off, which usually occurs within weeks of birth.
Are pet vaccinations harmful to my pet?
A vast majority of the vaccinations are actually quite safe and cause no illness to the pet. However, some pets may have mild side effects that can include fever, swelling, redness and digestive upset. If this has previously occurred it may be important to let your veterinarian know so that steps can be made to prevent or minimize the side effects.
What are “core vaccinations”?
Core vaccinations are vaccines that protect your pet against a handful of common and dangerous illnesses. Rabies is among the most important, because it is fatal to pets and can be spread easily to humans and other mammals. Because of this, it is important to vaccinate both cats and dogs against rabies. Other vaccinations that are considered core vaccines for your dog include canine hepatitis, parvovirus and canine distemper. While in cats, the core vaccinations include feline calicivirus, feline distemper, and Feline Herpes Virus along with the rabies vaccine.
What other vaccinations should I consider?
There are other diseases that can affect your pet. Here we tailor the vaccinations depending on the probable risks that your pet might incur. If your dog is quite mobile, groomed or boarded, or is in contact with other dogs, we would recommend vaccinating for Bordetella or as it is commonly known as “kennel cough.” Another disease that is becoming more prevalent seen in dogs is Canine Influenza. This disease is also contracted by contact with infected animals, so this may be one to consider. Finally if your pet is in contact with a lot of ticks or is in the woods, I would possibly recommend vaccinating to protect your pet from Lyme disease which is carried by the deer tick.
Why does my pet need booster shots?
Just as the original immunity provided from the mother’s milk fades over time, prescribed vaccines have a limited protective span. They can wear off over time and then your pet will be vulnerable to the diseases which can be deadly. The booster shots help keep the level of immunity consistent to ensure the best possible protection for life.
How often must the vaccinations be updated?
The vaccinations provide protections for different lengths of time. Some may be one year, for example rabies, while some can be longer. Since we tailor the vaccination schedule to meet your needs, we can provide you a schedule showing when each vaccine should be updated. If you happen to miss a scheduled update, it is best to bring your pet in as soon as possible so that the protection will not decrease.
The Olsen Veterinary Clinic urges pet owners to schedule the necessary pet vaccinations and updates with your veterinarian. By keeping your pet vaccinated properly, you will help to ensure that your pet has a long and healthy life.