Distemper is a virus (Morbillivirus) that is related to human measles. It infects dogs and their relatives as well as some other species, such as ferrets. Cats cannot get canine Distemper and what the public knows as Feline Distemper is an unrelated virus, which is more like Parvo virus than Canine Distemper. Distemper affects more than one place in the body at the same time. It affects the immune system, and suppresses the body’s ability to fight off infections which often leads to the respiratory system getting affected – dogs can develop pneumonia as well as constant pussy discharge from their noses and eyes. Dogs also get diarrhea in the early stages of Distemper, as it affects the gut with immunosuppression. Dogs can get a conjunctivitis (the membranes of the eyes are infected) causing pus to accumulate in the corners of the eyes. Finally, it hits the nerves and the brain, stripping the protective myelin sheath off the outside of the nerves and attacks the white matter in the brain, leading to twitching and spasms, which can progress to full blown seizures and death.
There is usually 1-2 weeks from time of exposure to development of initial clinical signs (incubation period), but it can be as long a 4-5 weeks or even more. Occasionally neurological signs develop months after exposure in dogs that never showed initial signs of infection. The fever spikes 3-6 days post-infection, obvious clinical signs are seen between 1-4 weeks after infection (longer incubation more common), and nervous signs signs may appear up to 3 months later with or without preceding signs. (2) Dogs shed the virus for 5-7 weeks in the urine and feces. (3) Distemper is transmitted in any bodily fluids, such as urine, saliva and nasal discharge. Distemper is found all over the world, but is more prevalent in third world countries, or where people don’t vaccinate their dogs strictly.WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF DISTEMPER?
I have listed these in the order they usually appear as the illness progresses, but each dog is different. Some dogs show most of the signs and some dogs only one or two. It depends on the dog’s immune system at the time – for example if they have had some vaccines, or if they received some protection from their mother through the milk, they are more immune and fewer signs would be seen than a dog that had never been exposed to Distemper before and had no protection from it’s parent. (Maternal antibodies to disease only last for the first few weeks of a pup’s life and then wear off, which is why puppies are vaccinated three to four times between 6 and 16 weeks of age)
Distemper is tough to diagnose. You have to test at the correct stage of infection to pick up up the virus. The following tests exist:
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