Canine Distemper:
Prevention & Treatment

dog health

Canine Distemper is often fatal, with increasingly debilitating symptoms as the disease progresses. The best "cure" for the disease is to prevent it from ever happening. Please take note of this very basic truth: A healthy dog is less likely to fall victim to disease.

While the virus itself is widespread, most dogs, although exposed to it, do not develop the disease. Prior to development of the distemper vaccine in the 1950s, many dogs died from this contagious disease. Today, however, distemper is most often found in rescue and shelter dogs with no vaccination history and/or in poor health (malnourished or suffering from other health conditions.) Distemper is also fairly common in puppies and usually results in death due to the young dogs' fragile immune systems.

Snapshot: Canine Distemper
Here's a quick look if you're in a hurry. Come back later when you have time to read the complete guide.
  • First Symptoms: Eye and nose discharge, loss of apetite, fever that may come and go and coughing that often leads to pneumonia.
  • Second Phase of Symptoms: Vomiting and diarrhea and calluses on the nose and toe pads.
  • Third or Neurological Phase of Symptoms: Seizures that include snapping of the jaws, imbalance and body convulsions or tremors.
  • Treatment: A dog's recovery from distemper depends on its body's ability to provide an immune response. If your best friend is diagnosed with canine distemper, your veterinarian will provide life-saving support to help your dog hold its own while its body develops a response to fight the virus. Treatment will depend on your dog's symptom phase, and may include antibiotics, intravenous fluids and airway dialators.

Symptoms
First Symptoms: Eye and nose discharge, loss of apetite, fever that may come and go and coughing that often leads to pneumonia. Second Phase of Symptoms: Vomiting and diarrhea and calluses on the nose and toe pads. Third or Neurological Phase of Symptoms: Seizures that include snapping of the jaws, imbalance and body convulsions or tremors.

Infection
The canine distemper virus is passed from direct dog-to-dog contact or through contact with mucus, urine or other secretions. Fortunately, the virus can only live a matter of minutes in the environment, reducing the window of opportunity when a dog can be infected.

Diagnosis
While there are tests to help veterinarians conclusively diagnose many canine illnesses like parvovirus, heartworm and lyme disease, among others, there is no definitive test for distemper. In other words, there are several tests veterinarians can use to detect distemper and if the test result is positive, this confirms a dog has distemper. However, if results are negative, this does not prove a dog is free of the disease. If a dog tests negative but shows symptoms of distemper, the vet will consider this information along with the dog's vaccination history. In most cases, treatment for distemper will be recommended.

Conventional Treatment
As is the case with many illnesses, a dog's recovery from distemper depends on its body's ability to provide an immune response. If your best friend is diagnosed with canine distemper, your veterinarian will provide support to help your dog hold its own while its body develops a response to fight the virus. Treament will depend on your dog's symptom phase, and may include antibiotics, intravenous fluids and efforts to keep the airway open.

A dog may recover at any phase. Some dogs, while rallying and pulling out of one of the early symptom phases, may weeks later relapse and show neurological symptoms. Many adult dogs will recover from distemper but it is almost always fatal in puppies.

Remember, the best prevention for this often fatal disease is a healthy dog!

Alternative Treatment
Some holistic veterinarians, including Dr. Richard Pitcairn, DVM, believe natural remedies are more effective than conventional treatment. In his book, Natural Health for Dogs & Cats, Dr. Pitcairn says his experience has shown that conventional treatment using antibiotics, intravenous fluids and other medications sometimes increase the likelihood of encephalitis (severe brain inflamation). When treating distemper, Dr. Pitcairn withholds food from the patient, providing vegetable broth and water for several days up to one week. He also uses Vitamin C as well as a number of homeopathic remedies.

If your best friend is diagnosed with canine distemper and you would like to consult with a holistic vet for options on alternative treatment, visit the web site of the American Holistic Veterinary Medical Association.

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Return from Canine Distemper to Dog Illnesses

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