Jun 21, 2002, 7:18 PM
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, distemper is the “greatest single disease threat to the world’s dog population. Better than 50 percent of the adult dogs that contract the disease die from it. Among puppies, the death rate from distemper often reaches 80 percent.” Distemper affects other animals as well; raccoons, coyotes, wolves, foxes, ferrets, skunks, weasels, mink, badgers, hyenas, and jackals can also catch the disease and a population of lions in Africa has been decimated by it. The virus is spread through secretions in saliva, respiratory passages, urine, and feces and by inhalation of airborne droplets from sneezes and coughs. There is a difference of opinion about the longevity of the virus in the environment, with some sources saying it does not survive for extended periods and others saying that the virus can survive freezing in winter. Whether it is long-lived or not, there’s no doubt that distemper is widespread and potentially deadly. The most common victim is an unvaccinated pup between the ages of three months and eight months. However, older dogs can contract the disease as well if they have not been vaccinated or if their immunity is incomplete.
About half of infected dogs – those with strong immune systems – show little or no symptoms of the disease. In other dogs, the illness is mild. In those dogs with compromised immune symptoms, the disease and its secondary infections can be serious or even fatal.
Distemper may be misdiagnosed in its early stages because it begins as an upper respiratory infection resembling a cold., including fever of 103-105 degrees (normal for a dog is 100-102.5), loss of appetite, listlessness, and a watery discharge from eyes and nose. But dogs do not get colds like people do, so if these symptoms arise with a puppy, call the veterinary clinic immediately. Within a few days, the discharge turns yellow and becomes thick and sticky and the pup has a dry cough, and may have diarrhea and vomiting. Within the first two weeks of the disease, the symptoms fluctuate.
Some dogs shake off the disease after this stage, but others progress into pneumonia and neurological involvement. Seizures, encephalitis, partial paralysis, head-tilting, chorea (jerking or twitching) and other neurological signs can follow. Some dogs also experience a hardening of the nose leather and the footpads. Even if the initial disease has been mild, these symptoms can show up weeks later.
The virus can also persist in the system, attacking the spleen, thymus gland and lymph nodes of the immune system and creating immune deficiencies that allow bacterial infections to gain hold.
Consult a vet. Be kind to pet