Distemper is a contagious viral disease that affects mostly puppies and young dogs, however unvaccinated dogs at any age can get infected. The disease is air-born and dogs acquire it by direct or indirect contact with body secretions from infected animals. Other species like ferrets, raccoons, foxes and skunks are highly susceptible to the disease and serve as a natural reserve of the virus. Overall mortality is about 50% in dogs and may reach 100% in other animals such as ferrets.
Affected dogs develop a transient fever, which may go unnoticed, followed by respiratory, digestive, dermatologic and neurologic signs. Common signs to watch for are depression, loss of appetite, nasal and eye discharge (clear and later greenish), coughing, sneezing, diarrhea and vomiting. Face twitching is typical and usually progresses to the rest of the body, culminating in violent seizures, vocalization and death. Survivors of this phase may develop skin rashes, hardening of footpads and nose and various neurologic dysfunctions (seizures, incoordination, paralysis and blindness). Puppies that survive the disease may have permanent teeth deformities and develop seizures and other neurologic problems at older age.
There are no effective medications against the Distemper virus and treatment is aimed at supporting the patient and treating the symptoms with antibiotics, anti-seizure drugs and other medications. All animals must be hospitalized and placed in isolation wards.
Solid vaccination regimen is the only way to prevent the disease. Good quality and safe vaccines should be used on young puppies and adult dogs. Breeders must adequately vaccinate females, as maternal antibodies protect the newborn pups. Ferrets should be vaccinated with an appropriate vaccine as well.
There are no known cases of Canine Distemper Virus transmission to people, however vaccination against measles is protective (the virus is closely related to the human measles virus).[Back]