Medications for Managing Canine Distemper Virus Symptoms

The canine distemper vaccine is the best protection against the canine distemper virus. This disease is highly contagious with a high mortality rate, although not as high as canine parovirus. It primarily affects the nervous system; however, it can attack the respiratory, immune and gastrointestinal systems as well. Symptoms begin 6 to 22 days after exposure.

There is no cure for canine distemper. Treatment focuses on controlling the spread of the disease and the severity of the secondary ailments accompanying it, such as fluid discharges, diarrhea and vomiting. Anti-convulsive drugs may be used in the later stages to help control spasms and twitches. Constant care is necessary to provide the dog with as much comfort as possible since it is a very painful disease.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is very difficult to diagnose since it affects dogs differently with variable clinical signs. This disease's most common form of transmission is through the air; however, it can be spread through bodily fluids, such as nasal discharge. Dogs become infected by breathing in infected particles. Even after recovery, a dog must be quarantined to prevent further spread of the disease. The virus remains active unless it is exposed to ultraviolet radiation (sun light) or disinfectants, especially quaternary ammonium compounds, such as Roccal.

Some of those signs and symptoms include:

  • Mild decrease in appetite
  • Transient fever
  • Mild depression
  • Diarrhea with fever
  • Coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Ocular and nasal discharges
  • Watery eyes and sore throat
  • Runny nose
  • Dehydration
  • Labored breathing
  • Excessive salivation

Some Survivors Develop Neurological Signs

Some dogs survive even though the mortality rate of this disease is very high. However, survivors may develop a number of neurological signs one to a few weeks after the infection. Some dogs may develop only some of these signs. Blood test, x-rays and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) taps will confirm the disease.

Some of these signs include:

  • Walking in circles
  • Seizures
  • Behavioral changes
  • Constant chewing movements of the jaw (appearance of chewing gum)
  • Ambulatory problems
  • Development of rhythmic motions or tics
  • Increased sensitivity to sensation
  • Uncontrollable twitching
  • Retinal damage
  • Extreme hardness of the skin of the foot pads or nose
  • Corneal discoloration

Prevention Is Key

It is highly recommended to vaccinate puppies at 6 weeks of age, continuing every 3 to 4 weeks for 3 to 4 months. This is necessary since antibodies from the mother's milk may interfere with the effectiveness of the vaccine. This first vaccine will protect them for 1 year although studies have shown that protection may actually last up to 3 years. Adult dogs should be vaccinated every 3 years. All dog vaccinations should always be kept current to ensure the health and welfare of your pet. Vaccinations are the best defense against this disease.

Older dogs are less likely affected by distemper than puppies since exposure to the virus leads to immunity to the disease and to the fact that older dogs usually have been already vaccinated for the disease. Case studies show that a 1-year vaccine is still viable after the vaccine has "expired". The vaccine is available in a 1-year or 3-year protection range. Since distemper is airborne, all dogs should be vaccinated since this disease can be acquired at kennels, dog parks, grooming facilities and contact with wild animals.