Monday, 20 October 2014

Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a contagious, incurable, often fatal, multi-systemic viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. It is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV - a paramyxovirus similar to that which causes human measles.) The canine distemper virus is transmitted through the air, when infected animals cough, as well through bodily fluids such as urine. Puppies/dogs diagnosed with or suspected of having canine distemper should be quarantined immediately. While dogs of any age can be affected by CDV, most are puppies, between 3-6 months old. The key to preventing CDV is early vaccination, so talk to your veterinarian when you take your puppy for his/her first check-up.

The distemper virus can affect many systems of the body and common signs include:

o nasal and eye discharge;
o coughing;
o diarrhea/vomiting;
o fever that may come and go;
o seizures

Often, mildly-affected dogs may only cough, thus being misdiagnosed as having "kennel cough." Others may develop pneumonia. Puppies that recover experience severe tooth enamel damage. Also, the nose and foot pads of a young dog may become thickened (also known as "hardpad disease.")

CDV is deadly serious, and can spread rapidly through a kennel, especially if unvaccinated animals are present. Although not all infected dogs die, a significant number may. While dogs of any age are susceptible, the very young and old have the highest death rate. Dogs that recover from distemper may suffer permanent damage to vision as well as the nervous system.

As your veterinarian can explain to you, there are several methods he/she can use to diagnose distemper in dogs/puppies, including:

1. Polymerase chain reaction test (lab test) can be performed on samples of urine, cerebrospinal fluid, urine, blood, and post-mortem tissues;

2. Skin biopsies (including dog's pads), can be examined for the presence of the canine distemper virus;

3. Depending upon the severity and time of infection, blood examined microscopically may show characteristic changes called "canine distemper inclusion bodies";

With some diagnostic tests (i.e. antibody tests), it is difficult to distinguish between infection and the changes normally seen with the canine distemper vaccination. While there is currently no specific treatment for canine distemper, intravenous fluids are administered to prevent dehydration, and anti-seizure medications can be used if neurologic signs develop.

The good news is that excellent vaccines, with minimal side effects, have been developed and used for years, making significant strides in reducing the frequency of CDV. These vaccinations should be boostered for the life of the dog.

Pets Best Insurance is located in Boise, Idaho and provides pet insurance for the healthcare of dogs and cats. Jack Stephens, DVM is the president and co-founder of Pets Best and was the original founder of pet health insurance in the United States.

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