MOUNT VERNON — Greg Price, DVM, Town & Country Veterinary Clinic, is urging dog owners to make sure their canines are vaccinated against canine distemper.
He said a case of canine distemper has been found in a dog from a household east of Gambier. Highly contagious, canine distemper is a viral disease characterized by fever, some neurological signs such as twitching, acting periodically blind, tremors and stumbling. The dog may also have a crusty nose, a slight nasal discharge, “goopy eyes” and anorexia.
Similar to the influenza virus, and related to the measles virus, canine distemper is highly contagious from dog to dog. Price said there is no evidence that it can go from dogs to humans or from dogs to cats. There is a slight chance, however, that it may come through other species like raccoons and skunks.
“Those animals also have distemper,” said Price. “Most of the time their distemper is raccoon to raccoon or skunk to skunk. However, we can’t say definitively that there couldn’t have been a transmission from a raccoon to the afflicted dog.”
Price said canine distemper is very rare these days.
“We’ve been very fortunate in the community. We simply don’t see it very much. This is the first time I have seen it in 15 years,” he said. “I think it’s because most people do vaccinate their dogs on a yearly basis. It must just be out there smoldering in one of the animal populations.”
Infected animals must be kept away from other pets.
“It is highly contagious,” Price stressed. “The quarantine is imperative. You’re going to need to work on the affected animal and then keep it away from other animals and not transmit something on yourself. It’s important that you follow not only a strict quarantine protocol, but that you also must follow a treatment protocol that limits transmission out of quarantine.”
As with human influenza, there is no real treatment for canine distemper.
“Because it’s viral,” Price said, “we give antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections, but it’s primarily supportive care, like when you have the flu. We just try to treat the symptomatic signs like dehydration and inflammation.”
Canine distemper is a diphasic disease, which means it manifests in two stages. In phase one, a transient fever usually occurs three to six days after infection. Then the fever subsides for several days before a second fever occurs which lasts about a week. That’s when the other symptoms occur. Another secondary complication can be cepholomyelitis, which is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. That causes some of the neurological signs such as twitching and even seizures.
Price said the course of the disease may be as short as 10 days, but the onset of neurological signs may be delayed for several weeks or months. He said if a dog does recover from the distemper, it is uncertain that it will make a full recovery from the neurological standpoint.
Price said an animal should not be vaccinated after it has been exposed to the disease because that may actually exasperate the onset of illness.
“The good thing is,” he said, “the distemper virus is killed rather easily with any kind of disinfectant.”