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Canine Distemper is from the paramyxovirus family that is an airborne virus. It is in the morbillivirus family that also includes the human virus, measles. Canine distemper is not zoonotic although in the past people thought that people that developed Multiple Sclerosis may have acquired it from contracting distemper from a dog. It causes infection in different areas that include; respiratory, GI Tract, and the Central Nervous System (CNS). Young dogs that do survive the disease are known to have effects on their teeth; often their teeth have pit marks in them. Canine Distemper not only affects dogs but can also affect domestic ferrets. Canine Distemper can also infection animals like coyotes, foxes, wolves, skunks and raccoons. Phocine Distemper virus is a mutated form that affects seals. Canine Distemper is considered to be one of the leading causes of infectious disease deaths in dogs. In the United States, due to the high numbers of vaccinated dogs the death rate is lower. All unvaccinated dogs are at risk to develop distemper if exposed to the virus. Most deaths in the United States from distemper are in the young pups, the unvaccinated or under vaccinated dogs, and in dogs with immune systems that are weak.
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French veterinarian, Henri Carre' was the first person to discover and recognize the disease that was killing dogs was Canine Distemper. This discovery was in 1905. The vaccine was developed in 1926 and was first tested on ferrets and was found that ferrets were able to have immunity toward the disease. This vaccine was tried on ferrets, foxes and canines and showed that dogs could produce immunity (Terrierman's Daily Dose). Canine Distemper is thought to be one of the causes that have reduced the population of the Black-Footed Ferret and has placed them on the endangered species list, which has placed.
Canine distemper is not a seasonal infection, it can occur year round. It is transmitted through air-born exposure by secretions expelled from an infected dog or wild animal that can contract and transmit the virus by coughing but also it can be transmitted through urine. An affected animal cannot transmit distemper through a wound from a bite. All dogs that are not vaccinated are at risk to contract this disease. Infected animals may transmit the virus for about five days after they are infected up to six weeks after they are infected or their death.
Symptoms of Canine Distemper can vary from mild to fatal depending on each dog. This will depends on the general health of the dog, whether or not it vaccinated and the treatment of the secondary infections. The initial symptoms will begin with a fever that ranges between 103.5' to 105' Fahrenheit, a loss of appetite, listlessness, nasal discharge, and mattered, runny eyes. The early stage of distemper can resemble a cold virus. The nasal discharge will become thicker causing the nose to become crusted and plugged; the eye discharge will become pronounced and will begin to stick to the eyes, closing the eye so they appear to be glued shut. During this stage of the illness, the dog will develop a cough. Vomiting and diarrhea are common with distemper
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as well as the lack of appetite. This may cause dehydration in the animal. As the disease progresses in the dog, the brain becomes involved. Slobbering, head shaking, chewing movements, and epileptic like seizures are common at this stage of the illness. Some dogs will develop hard pads with hyperkeratosis (hard callouses) of the foot pads and on the nose. This is from the skin surfaces of the foot pads and nose drying out. These areas can become thick, dry and crack open which can cause infections. The areas need to be kept moist with use of creams to prevent the drying out. Once the distemper is cleared up, hard pad should also clear. If the dog survives this disease, some may develop Distemper Myoclonus which affects all parts of the body but mainly the head. Myoclonus will cause muscles contracts in an involuntary, repetitive movements usually while sleeping but can happen when awake as well. Pain comes with the Myoclonus and the dog may not want to be touched due to the increase of pain while receiving attention. Even though the dog recovers from distemper, the myoclonus lessens but never fully leaves the animal's system.
There are secondary infections that a dog can get when the have distemper that may complicate the recovery. Types of these infections include bacterial infections in their lungs and pneumonia. Distemper can be very frustrating to both the client as well as the veterinarian as the animal may appear to be recovering one day and then take a turn for the worse the next day.
The course of distemper may only last approximately ten days but the neurologic signs may be delayed in developing for several weeks or months (The Merck/Merial Manual for Pet Health p. 309). Animals surviving distemper are often left with disabilities that continue throughout
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their life. They may have motor skills that are slow to respond or unable to do certain things due to lack of coordination. The animal could be left diminished sight. The virus from distemper attacks and damages the cells that ore responsible for making tooth enamel so puppies that had distemper and survived may have oral problems as well. It is possible for there to be pits in the teeth were enamel does not develop this could cause dental disease throughout the dog's life. The teeth may not have developed and so the dog could be missing teeth.
Diagnosing Canine Distemper is not accomplished with one simple test as there is no "test" to perform for a positive or negative result of distemper. The veterinarian will go be a clinical appearance. The diagnosis is done through the symptoms the dog is showing, taking in a history of the dog, where the dog has been to determine possible contact point. The veterinarian will do several tests, not to determine if it is Canine Distemper, but to rule out other illness/disease that resemble it. Paroviral is one of illness that resembles the symptoms of Canine Distemper. While working toward a diagnosis, blood work, urinalysis and X-rays will be performed. Blood can show antibodies of the virus but cannot show if the antibodies are from a current illness or from antibodies from a past vaccine. The X-ray will confirm if the dog has pneumonia which could indicate a secondary infection from distemper. The most reliable way for a diagnosis of Canine Distemper is a necropsy to determine the cause of death. Another lab test that can be checked is to see if the foot pads or nose has calluses on them. A biopsy of the tissues can be tested for inclusion bodies. The calluses do not show up until further into the infection stage.
There is no one treatment for Canine Distemper itself. There are no antibiotics to treat Canine Distemper as it is a viral infection. When a dog is suspected of having distemper all that is done is to manage the symptoms. Fluids are given to fight dehydration usually through intravenous feedings due to vomiting. Medications are given to the animal to decrease the vomiting. Antibiotics are administered to treat the secondary infections. Medications can be used to reduce the fevers that accompany distemper. If the animal develops seizures, anticonvulsants can be given to lessen the seizures.
The prognosis that a veterinarian will give to their clients with a dog that is suspected of having distemper is guarded. If the dog develops the signs in their CNS then the prognosis is down-graded to poor and if the CNS is severely impaired then more than likely the veterinarian will recommend euthanasia.
The best prevention is vaccination against distemper. The vaccination will also work well in animals that have been exposed if given within a short period after being in contact with an affected animal. The problem with this is that you may not know for a week that your dog was infected and by that time symptoms of distemper are appearing. Vaccines for Canine Distemper are long-lasting but not permanent so your dog needs to have boosters to continue their protection. Puppies receive antibodies from their mother through colostrum but they begin losing this between six and twelve weeks of age. At this time, vaccinations need to begin. According to The Merck/Merial annual for Pet Health, the pup's first vaccine should be at six to eight weeks of age. This should be followed by vaccines at three to four week intervals until fourteen to sixteen weeks of age. The dog will require a booster at one year old and then at least every three years (p. 309). The vaccine for Canine Distemper is combined with hepatitis and canine parvovirus.
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Not all dogs die from this disease but many that do survive suffer from neurologic problems and/or seizures for years or the rest of their lives. If a dog recovers, the immunity is life-long for distemper but the dog will still need the hepatitis and canine parvovirus vaccines for protection against these illnesses.
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