Distemper in Dogs: Causes, Symptoms, Treatments and Prevention


Distemper is very serious because it can be fatal. At any age, dogs can contract this highly contagious viral disease, but it is in puppies that the mortality rate is highest because their body, which is still immature, is particularly fragile. The best prevention against distemper is vaccination. Let’s take stock of this disease with virulent symptoms for which there is no specific treatment.

Distemper disease: a viral cause

It was in 1905 that the French veterinarian Henri Carré (1870 – 1938) discovered the etiology of this disease caused by a virus belonging to the group of Paramyxovirus. Distemper – or disease of young dogs – spreads very easily from dog to dog, by close contact or by sneezing. This is the reason why it is even more common in a pack or in kennels.

Although this pathology can be contracted at any time of the year, dogs – young or adult – are more frequently exposed to it between November and March because it is during these seasons that the disease develops the most.

The virus enters the dog’s body through the nasal and oral passages. From this moment, the maximum incubation period is 21 days, but it is from the 7thth day that the animal becomes contagious.

Distemper: what are the symptoms?

The symptoms of distemper are extremely numerous. This does not facilitate its diagnosis, at least in the early days, because its first manifestations are the same as for many other pathologies, namely:

  • A body temperature of 40 ° C,
  • Dog asthenia,
  • A lack of appetite which can lead to anorexia.

Then the disease does not take long to gain momentum. Carried by the blood, it ends up affecting different organs especially in dogs whose immune system is not able to fight. When the animal suffers from acute form of distemper, the symptoms of all kinds are simultaneous. They manifest themselves at the level:

  • Digestive: diarrhea and vomiting are frequent,
  • Cutaneous: the horny layer of the nose and the pads thickens (hyperkeratosis), the epidermis is covered with red spots then vesicles which develop into pustules,
  • Ocular: discharge from the eyes, inflamed conjunctiva,
  • Neurological: the animal can be seriously affected to the point of becoming blind or even having convulsions because distemper also affects the brain,
  • Respiratory: the dog has a strong runny nose, suffers from rhinitis, difficulty breathing or dyspnea and may even be a victim of pneumonia.

To confirm the diagnosis of distemper, it is essential to search for the genetic code of the virus responsible by means of a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) or, in French, of a PCR (Amplification in Polymerase Chain). This analysis is performed on samples of blood, cerebrospinal fluid, stool, urine, various mucus and other discharge.

Blood sampling alone, while useful for testing for antibodies, cannot reliably identify distemper in dogs.

Distemper: is there a treatment?

Today, it is possible to treat the symptoms of this highly contagious pathology, but we do not haveno treatment for distemper. This is why it is unfortunately still very frequently fatal in fragile canines, and more specifically in puppies.

Palliative care

The management protocol involves thehospitalization of the dog and is essentially based on palliative care such as:

  • Treatment of infections due to the virus responsible for distemper,
  • Refeeding and rehydration of the dog by infusion.

At the same time, to alleviate a number of symptoms, the veterinarian prescribes an anticonvulsant, a treatment based on antibiotics, an antidiarrhoeal or even an anti-emetic as needed.

Possible complications

Despite the management of distemper, one in two dogs does, but most of them have serious neurological sequelae for life.

Prevent distemper through vaccination

Distemper is listed among the crippling vices since 1989. To effectively prevent this extremely serious and highly contagious viral disease, it is essential to have your dog vaccinated. Vaccination against Carré’s disease requires first of all a primary vaccination carried out in the puppy aged 8 weeks and then a second injection four weeks later. Thereafter, reminders must be carried out regularly. Do not hesitate to seek advice from your veterinarian.

Distemper requires significant care and in the long term. It is a pathology which obviously entails great expenses for the owner of the animal. Fortunately, a good part of the costs incurred can be reimbursed by an animal health mutual. Likewise, vaccines and other preventive acts are covered. It is strongly recommended to take out a contract according to the needs of the dog and the budget of the master after having compared the animal insurance rates through an online comparator.

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