Do dogs get distemper?

Answered by Antonio Sutton

Dogs can get distemper. Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that primarily affects puppies and dogs. It is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV), which belongs to the paramyxovirus family. This virus attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of infected animals.

Distemper is commonly transmitted through airborne particles or respiratory secretions from infected animals. It can also be transmitted through direct contact with contaminated objects or surfaces. This means that dogs can easily contract the virus by being in close proximity to infected animals or coming into contact with their bodily fluids.

The virus initially replicates in the respiratory tract, causing symptoms such as coughing, sneezing, and nasal discharge. These respiratory symptoms can be mistaken for a common cold or kennel cough. As the virus spreads, it affects the gastrointestinal tract, leading to symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and lack of appetite.

One of the most worrisome aspects of distemper is its ability to affect the nervous system. The virus can invade the central nervous system, leading to neurological symptoms such as seizures, muscle twitching, incoordination, and even paralysis. These neurological signs can vary in severity and may be irreversible in some cases.

It is important to note that not all dogs that are exposed to the distemper virus will develop clinical signs of the disease. Some may have a subclinical infection, meaning they carry and shed the virus without showing any symptoms. However, these dogs can still transmit the virus to susceptible individuals.

Unfortunately, distemper can be a life-threatening disease, especially in young puppies or dogs with weakened immune systems. The mortality rate can be high, particularly in cases where neurological symptoms are present. There is no specific treatment for distemper, and supportive care is the main approach to managing affected dogs.

Prevention is key when it comes to distemper. Vaccination is highly effective in preventing the disease and is a crucial part of routine puppy and dog healthcare. Puppies receive a series of vaccinations starting at around 6-8 weeks of age, with boosters given every few weeks until they reach around 16 weeks old. Adult dogs should also receive regular booster vaccinations to maintain their immunity.

In my personal experience as a veterinarian, I have encountered several cases of distemper in puppies and dogs. It is always a heartbreaking situation to witness the suffering caused by this disease. Vaccination is the best defense against distemper, and I strongly urge all dog owners to ensure their pets are up to date on their vaccinations.

To summarize, dogs can indeed get distemper. It is a highly contagious viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of infected animals. Distemper can be a serious and potentially fatal illness, particularly in young puppies and dogs with compromised immune systems. Vaccination is the most effective means of prevention, and all dogs should receive proper vaccination to protect against this disease.