Canine distemper is a highly contagious and often fatal disease that can affect dogs. It is an airborne virus that is also spread through contact with items like clothing, dog brushes, shared food, shared water bowls or other utensils. It can also be passed on via fresh urine or blood. There is no known cure for distemper and young puppies that have not been vaccinated or older dogs who are unvaccinated are more susceptible to contracting the disease. Other animals like foxes, wolves and ferrets are also affected by this disease.
Feline distemper is also referred to as Feline Panleukopenia virus (FPV). It is a highly contagious and life threatening disease. It affects the intestinal tract and bone marrow and leads to an anaemic condition that leaves the cat susceptible to other illnesses. Feline distemper is also spread through infected blood, faeces, urine or by fleas that are passed on from infected cats. It can also be spread through water bowls, bedding and food bowls. Feline distemper can also be spread by humans handling infected cats.
There is no risk of cross contamination between dogs and cats in relation to the different strains of distemper, but animals and humans can carry the disease on their bodies and spread it that way.
Symptoms in dogs include a high fever, lack of appetite and lack of energy. The dog may lose weight and become dehydrated. The disease also affects the respiratory and gastrointestinal organs and the result is diarrhoea and vomiting. The dog may also be coughing and sneezing with mucous coming from their nose and eyes.
The later stages of this disease affects the dog’s nervous system resulting in convulsions and seizures.
Symptoms in cats include vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, high fever and diarrhoea.
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.
There are a number of ways that a vet may diagnose feline distemper these include a physical examination, blood tests and a urine analysis. A fecal example may also be collected so that the cat can be tested for distemper.
TREATMENT AND MANAGEMENT
There are no viral drugs that will treat the effects of canine distemper and even when treated distemper may be fatal. Symptoms including dehydration may be treated by the introduction of fluids, medication and antibiotics may also treat other symptoms. The earlier this disease is treated the more effective it will be and once this disease impacts the nervous system unfortunately there is no treatment at all.
Catw can also be treated to ensure that their symptoms are alleviated. That includes fluids for dehydration, medications to stop vomiting and antibiotics to help the cat in relation to protecting them from developing bacterial infections.
Distemper vaccinations have been available since the 1950s and today the illness has been somewhat contained due to the vaccination programs.
The distemper vaccination is usually given to dogs from when they are puppies and then every one to three years.
Vaccinations against FPV in cats are also a must. Kittens should be vaccinated for distemper as per veterinary advice and then every one to three years after that.
Find out more on Dog & Puppy Vaccination schedules & dog vaccination costs to help prevent Canine Distemper here.
COMMONLY AFFECTED BREEDS
All dog breeds will be affected but it is related to those dogs that have not been vaccinated against the disease. For example, young and unvaccinated puppies or puppies that are not fully vaccinated are vulnerable. Older dogs that have not been vaccinated can also catch distemper if they come into contact with another dog with the disease or through the environment.
All breeds of cats are also vulnerable to infection if they have not been vaccinated against FPV.
INTERESTING DISTEMPER FACTS
Canine distemper is resistant to any weather conditions which means it can affect animals all year round.
Prior to canine parvovirus canine distemper was the most feared disease for dogs.
If a dog is infected and survives distemper owners should wait one month before introducing any new pets to the household.
Distemper has been recognised as a growing threat to Siberian (Amur) tigers.
Australian Veterinary Association: http://www.ava.com.au/