Treating Canine Distemper with Ribavirin

Canine distemper is a serious illness in dogs that has no known cure and is highly contagious. The canine distemper virus (CDV) affects the nervous system, respiratory system, and gastrointestinal tract of dogs of all ages and breeds. Even with vaccinations, which are common for most puppies, canine distemper remains a serious and major illness in dogs with a high mortality rate.

Initial Symptoms of Canine Distemper

Signs that your dog has become infected with the canine distemper virus generally appear 6 to 22 days after coming into contact with CDV. Symptoms can vary and will not cause the same conditions in every type of dog. Signs to watch for include:

  • Eye discharge, which may be watery or contain pus
  • Fever
  • Lethargic behavior
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Nasal discharge
  • Depression
  • Increased salvation
  • Coughing
  • Dehydration
  • Trouble breathing

Some dogs later develop serious neurological problems as a result of the canine distemper virus, including:

  • Seizures
  • Twitching
  • Partial or total paralysis
  • Hardened footpads
  • Walking in circles

Treating Canine Distemper with Ribavirin

Although canine distemper cannot be cured, there are treatments and medications to relieve the secondary symptoms, like those listed above. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat infections, and other medications can be offered to prevent symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and in later stages, seizures and other neurological problems.

In laboratory tests, the anti-viral drug ribavirin has been shown to have some success in treating canine distemper. Ribavirin is normally used to treat measles and other viruses but may be effective against the canine distemper virus. Ribavirin is not considered a cure for canine distemper, and more work needs to be done to determine the drug's effectiveness against CDV. The best treatment against the virus is prevention and vaccination.

Preventing Canine Distemper Virus

Due to the highly contagious nature of CDV, keeping an infected pet isolated from other animals is essential to prevent the spread of the virus. The canine distemper virus is easily spread through respiratory secretions, such as nasal discharge, and can live in the environment for several weeks at a time, especially in shaded and cold areas.

Wild animals, such as raccoons, coyotes, wolves, skunks, foxes and ferrets, can carry and spread the canine distemper virus, and dog owners should be wary of any contact their pets have with any kind of wildlife. Contact with unknown dogs can also be dangerous, especially for puppies with weak and undeveloped immune systems. Talk to your veterinarian about setting up a vaccination schedule in order to vaccinate your puppy against serious disease like canine distemper and remember to keep your adult dog up to date with his vaccination shots. Some areas have mandatory vaccinations against common canine diseases, like CDV, and owners should stay informed on their local regulations.

Not all breeds and ages of dog require the same vaccination schedules, so it is important to consult with your vet's office about the right health plan for your pet's lifestyle. Keeping your pet healthy, active and on a nutritional diet can help boost immunity but vaccines are especially necessary if your dog is in contact with other animals or spending time outdoors.