Distemper is a serious disease, and can be a scary subject to discuss with your vet. It’s better to be informed though, and know what it is and what you can do to protect your pet.
What do I need to know?
Distemper is caused by contagious virus that can attack your dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal tract and/or the nervous system and produce serious disease. Wild animals can serve as a source of infection and certainly contribute to the reemergence of the virus in our pets. Distemper infections are often characterized by watery eye discharge, thick nasal discharge and they seem to feel ill. They will also often have a decreased appetite, vomiting/diarrhea, fever and many times also display neurologic signs that resemble rabies.
What puts my dog at risk?
Any unvaccinated dog or puppy is at risk, especially young dogs not old enough to have completed their vaccine series, stray dogs, and even owned dogs that are not current on vaccines. The virus is spread between dogs and is airborne. Distemper is still commonly seen in shelters and rescues, where coughing and sneezing can be an effective method of spread, because so many dogs live indoors, in close quarters.
Dogs that have contact with wildlife should be especially well vaccinated for a number of reasons, including distemper.There have been rumors that distemper has been eradicated – but unfortunately, this is just a myth. Ask your own veterinarian for his/her recommended vaccine schedule to be sure that your dog is safe according to the risks in his life and your area.
Is there a cure?
There is no cure at this time, and sadly, many dogs die from canine distemper. If your dog does have distemper, it is not a death sentence and your vet can treat him for it. Treatment is aimed at supporting the dog while his own immunity fights. Dogs that survive often suffer permanent neurologic damage, so it’s best to do everything you can to avoid it altogether.
Vaccination is our strongest defense against this formidable enemy, and is very effective when given according to guidelines. To insure adequate protection, make sure young pups receive all of the recommended booster vaccines and minimize your pets’ exposure to wildlife as much as possible.
Prevention is your best defense. By keeping your dog current on his vaccinations, you can save your pet a lot of unnecessary pain and suffering, and even an early death.
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