Distemper is one of the most serious health conditions your dog can face.
This viral infection has no cure and, unless caught early, is extremely difficult for dogs to recover from.
While the distemper vaccine is very effective, unvaccinated dogs are at high risk for this condition.
This guide will help you understand distemper and make an informed decision about if it’s time to make some tough choices.
What Is Distemper?
Distemper is one of the most serious illnesses your dog can face.
This condition was the number one cause of infectious disease deaths in dogs until the distemper vaccine was developed.
Distemper is a virus that is in the same family as the measles virus that infects humans.
Much like the common cold, distemper is spread by physical contact as well as through airborne particles.
Distemper spreads through local wildlife as well as dogs.
This means a spike in wildlife distemper in your area could be a threat to your dog’s health.
Distemper effects a variety of your dog’s systems.
This disease can be untreatable in certain dog populations which makes it vital that you keep old and young dogs alike up-to-date on their distemper vaccines.
With a condition this serious, can distemper be treated?
Can Distemper Be Cured Or Treated?
Distemper can not be cured. Once a dog is infected with distemper, it’s up to their natural immune system to fight off the infection.
There are no medicines currently available that can fight this disease.
However, there are treatment options.
If your dog is infected with a less virulent strain and is in good health, there are treatment options that can help your dog to make a full recovery.
These are supportive treatments that are designed to prevent secondary infections and manage the dangerous symptoms of this disease.
These treatments help keep your dog hydrated and healthy while managing the disease.
Still, these treatments can’t cure distemper. They can only help stabilize your dog.
If distemper is not vaccinated against or treated, how does it progress?
How Does This Disease Progress?
This is one of the aspects of this disease that makes it so dangerous.
Much like the common cold in humans, there is a period of time when dogs are infectious while they have no other symptoms.
Symptoms will start to appear three to six days after a dog has been infected with distemper.
The severity and onset of these symptoms will depend on your dogs age, immune system health, and overall condition.
Older, injured, or dogs with secondary infections may have more severe symptoms.
Stage one of infection for this disease starts after this three to six-day period.
- Nasal discharge
- Eye discharge
There can also be inflammation, anorexia, and general discomfort for your dog during this stage.
Dogs that survive this stage can develop a condition known as hyperkeratosis of the paw.
This condition causes the pads on the paw to grow hard and too large for the dog.
This can be a painful side effect.
Stage two is marked by neurological symptoms.
These range from seizures to repetitive behaviors like circling.
This stage can be very challenging for owners and their families.
It’s hard to see the pets we love struggling with serious medical conditions.
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, distemper is often fatal or has life-long health implications for our dogs.
This is why it’s important to know the signs of distemper.
Signs Your Dog Might Have Distemper
We’ve already gone over the stages and symptoms of distemper, but it’s important to highlight the signs of this condition.
If your dog become sick with distemper, catching the disease early will give your dog the best chances at pulling through.
If your dog starts showing these signs, it might be time for a trip to the vet.
- Puss-like discharge from the nose and eyes
- Appetite loss
- Head tilt
- Muscle twitching
- Increased salvation
- Making chewing motions while not eating
- Repetitive eye movements
If you spot these symptoms or any sign that your dog might be under the weather, it’s always better to head to the vet rather than risk it.
While it could be nothing more than an upset tummy, there is a chance it’s something more serious.
The good news for this condition is that distemper is very easy to prevent.
How To Prevent Distemper
There is one surefire way to prevent canine distemper.
There has been a vaccine available for this condition for years.
Getting your dogs vaccinated and encouraging your friends, family, and neighbors to do the same will make sure that we prevent tragic canine distemper cases.
This is a “core vaccine” for dogs.
Puppies can normally get their distemper vaccines after six months and need a booster one year later.
Adult dogs need a booster vaccine every three years or more often.
Your vet can help you determine how often your dog should get their distemper booster vaccine.
Even with these vaccination efforts, there are still unvaccinated dogs who succumb to this disease.
There are certain conditions that make your dog more vulnerable to this disease.
Dogs Who Are Most Vulnerable To Distemper
When it comes to distemper, there are two ages when dogs are at their most vulnerable.
The first group is newborn puppies. Before six months, dogs are very vulnerable to distemper and other disease.
This is before their immune systems are ready for vaccines, and they can still become infected with distemper.
Young puppies should be closely monitored and kept away from potentially infectious dogs.
The next age group is older dogs. As our dogs age, their immune systems have more to put up with.
They are also often more susceptible to infectious diseases. T
his means that they need to be kept up-to-date on their vaccines in order to prevent a distemper infection.
Another thing to keep in mind is that dogs with health conditions are generally more susceptible to other diseases.
This includes distemper.
If your dog is sick, recovering from an injury or surgery, or facing off against any other illness, you should take special care to prevent possible exposure to distemper.
How can we keep puppies, senior dogs, and dogs with health conditions safer?
The first step is to get them vaccinated.
If all our pups were vaccinated, distemper rates would plummet.
The distemper vaccine is extremely safe for dogs and highly effective in preventing this condition.
It also prevents the spread of this condition.
It only takes one infected dog to spread distemper throughout the dog park.
Dogs that live in kennels can also be more vulnerable as those facilities are not always up-to-date on vaccines.
You can help by donating or volunteering at your local rescue shelter to help make sure they have enough resources to keep these pups healthy.
The last thing you can do is to keep sick dogs at home.
Unless you’re on the way to the vet, keep your sick pup indoors to prevent any possibility of them spreading the condition.
Distemper can become a lethal condition in dogs.
When the worst comes, euthanizing might be the right choice to make.
When Should You Consider Euthanizing As An Option
This is never a welcome conversation, but it is necessary in some cases.
Distemper is a serious condition that, even when caught early, has a long and difficult recovery.
Even a good recovery can still have lifelong neurological health implications for your dog.
Euthanizing a dog with distemper could be the right decision depending on your circumstances.
Your first port of call should be your vet.
They are a canine medical expert.
You can rely on them to let you know your dog’s prognosis.
They will help inform you about the likelihood of recovery and what kind of complications you can face on the way.
This information is vital when making such serious decisions as this.
The next thing to consider is how far along the case of distemper is.
If you caught the distemper early, your dog could have a fighting chance.
If neurological symptoms are currently present, it might be too late for your dog to make a recovery.
Just like each household is different, each dog is also different.
Factors like age, health, and quality of life all come into play when we have to make the most serious medical decision for our pups.
How To Prepare For The Loss
Remember to make space for the loss of the family dog.
Each of us will process this differently, but preparing for euthanizing is an important part of the process.
A big thing to consider is whether or not you want to be by your dog’s side when it happens.
Certain vets allow this while others do not.
You can find a vet that suits your needs.
This is a time for your family to come together and celebrate the good times you shared with your pup.