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Canine distemper is a contagious and serious viral illness with no known cure. The disease affects dogs, and certain species of wildlife, such as raccoons, wolves, foxes, and skunks. The common house pet, the ferret, is also a carrier of this virus. Canine distemper belongs to the Morbillivirus class of viruses, and is a relative of the measles virus, which affects humans, the Rinderpest virus that affects cattle, and the Phocine virus that causes seal distemper. All are members of the Paramyxoviridae family. Young, unvaccinated puppies and non-immunized older dogs tend to be more susceptible to the disease.
The virus, which is spread through the air and by direct or indirect (i.e. utensils, bedding) contact with an infected animal, initially attacks a dog’s tonsils and lymph nodes and replicates itself there for about one week. It then attacks the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.
In the initial stages of Canine Distemper, the major symptoms include high fever (≥103.5 ° F, or 39.7° C), reddened eyes, and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. An infected dog will become lethargic and tired, and will usually become anorexic. Persistent coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. In the later stages of the disease, the virus starts attacking the other systems of the dog’s body, particularly the nervous system. The brain and spinal cord are affected and the dog may start having fits, seizures, paralysis, and attacks of hysteria.
Canine distemper is sometimes also called “hard pad disease” because certain strains of the virus can cause an abnormal enlargement or thickening of the pads of an animal’s feet. In dogs or animals with weak immune systems, death may result two to five weeks after the initial infection.
The disease can be acquired from improperly attenuated vaccines, though this occurs rather rarely. Bacterial infections of the respiratory or gastrointestinal systems may also increase an animal’s vulnerability to the disease. Non-immunized dogs that come into any kind of contact with an infected animal carry a particularly high risk of contracting the disease.
Canine distemper is diagnosed with biochemical tests and urine analysis, which may also reveal a reduced number of lymphocytes, the white blood cells that function in the immune system in the initial stages of the disease (lymphopenia). A serology test may identify positive antibodies, but this test cannot distinguish between vaccination antibodies and an exposure to a virulent virus. Viral antigens may be detected in urine sediment or vaginal imprints. Haired skin, nasal mucous, and the footpad epithelium may be tested for antibodies as well. Radiographs can only be used to determine whether an infected animal has contracted pneumonia. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans can be used to examine the brain for any lesions that may have developed.
A decreased number of lymphocytic leukocytes in an animal’s blood system
The study of serum and the way it reacts to certain antigens
Having the strength to cause disease; deadly in nature; pathogenic
Small structures that filter out the lymph and store lymphocytes
The digestive tract containing the stomach and intestine
A medical condition in which the body has lost fluid or water in excessive amounts
A covering of cells that turns into the outermost layer of skin and covers the body
Term used to imply that a situation or condition is more severe than usual; also used to refer to a disease having run a short course or come on suddenly.