My new puppy was recently diagnosed with the distemper virus. What is distemper and how dangerous is it?
Distemper is a very serious infectious disease with a high prevalence in Beijing. Rates of fatality may be as high as 70 percent among puppies and dogs with weak immune systems or poor history of vaccinations. With distemper, prognosis is always guarded, but many dogs have also survived with early medical diagnosis and treatment with appropriate supportive care.
The virus that can affect both dogs and cats, but it can’t be transmitted across species and does not cause illness in humans. It initially targets the respiratory system, but can also move on to the digestive system and the nerves and the brain. It’s primarily spread through respiration (coughing and breathing), but can also be passed through urine. In a dog, the initial symptoms are similar to that of a cold: sneezing, coughing, eye and nose discharge. In later stages, it can also cause vomiting, diarrhea, hardening of the footpads, neurological twitching and eventually seizures. In a cat, symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and fatigue.
Distemper is a clinical diagnosis. This means that rather than confirming the infection with a simple test that is negative or positive, the veterinarian must look at the whole picture and take into account many factors, such as symptoms, history and blood tests. There are many test kits in circulation that may promise a quick confirmation for canine distemper, but no single test can provide a definitive diagnosis. The key is that if the veterinarian believes the dog may have distemper, it should be treated accordingly against its clinical symptoms and provided with supportive care. The patient must be monitored daily and quarantined.
As always, prevention is the best medicine. For puppies, avoid taking them outside until they are fully vaccinated and keep them isolated from other dogs. This will keep your puppy from being exposed and potentially infected. Puppies may receive their first vaccination for distemper at 6 to 8 weeks old, followed by two more vaccinations on a schedule recommended by your veterinarian. Annual vaccinations can prevent adult dogs from contracting distemper and can be an essential factor in keeping your pet healthy and safe.
Need advice from METRO's pet expert? E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or our Sina Weibo @chinadailymetro. Answers supplied by the International Center for Veterinary Services on (+8610) 8456-1939.