Staupe - Wie Dein Hund der Virusinfektion entkommt - AniForte

Distemper - How your dog can escape the viral infection

Distemper used to be one of the most fatal viral infections in dogs. Although the chances of successful treatment are higher today, you should still be aware of the dangers of the virus for your dog.

Due to increasing cases of distemper throughout Germany, we would like to tell you everything you need to know about distemper in this blog. Distemper used to be one of the most fatal viral infections in dogs. Although the chances of successful treatment are higher today, you should still be aware of the dangers of the virus for your dog. In the following article, our veterinary practitioner Angelica explains everything you need to know about the distemper virus and what symptoms you should look out for in your four-legged friend.

What exactly is distemper?

Canine distemper virus (canine distemper) is a highly contagious infectious disease that affects dogs and canines. It is a paraymyxvirus (RNA virus) that is similar to the measles virus in humans.

Althoughdomestic cats can become infected with the virus, they do not show any symptoms. Sometimes (canine) distemper is mistakenly equated with so-called feline distemper. The disease is also known as feline distemper, feline plague or technically as panleukopenia. However, feline distemper has nothing to do with canine distemper, but is much more related to the parvovirus in dogs.

Most dog owners only know distemper from dogs from abroad, but the disease has always been very close: it has long been known in our forest animals. In the wild, canine predators in Germany are infected with the distemper virus, e.g.

  • foxes
  • raccoon dog
  • raccoon
  • ferret
  • mink
  • Pine marten and stone marten
  • Polecat
  • Weasel
  • Otter
  • Badger
  • wolf

Fuchs im Wald
In other countries, the disease can also affect coyotes, jackals and dingoes, among others. In recent years, there has also been an increase in cases of distemper in Germany. The causes are thought to be a certain vaccination fatigue on the part of owners as well as an increasing import of dogs without adequate vaccination protection. There are reasons why dogs become infected with the distemper virus.

Why do dogs get distemper?

Wild animals everywhere are confronted with the increasing loss of their habitat and encroachment by humans. At the same time, new building sites, green spaces and farmland create an attractive food supply. Many wild animals use their ability to learn and adapt quickly and move closer to humans. This also increases the risk of your dog contracting distemper.

Animals of any age can generally become infected. However, the following four groups are particularly affected by canine distemper:

1. young dogs
puppies and young dogs between three and six months of age or puppies in the womb from an infected mother dog.

2. sick and old dogs
Weakened animals that are much more susceptible to viral diseases.

3. actively hunting and free-roaming dogs
There is an increased risk here due to contact with wild animals.

4. unvaccinated dogs
or immunocompromised animals, i.e. those that do not respond to vaccination.

A vigorous hunt and reduction of the affected wild animals does not always lead to the desired success. It is therefore important that you as a dog owner are aware of the risks.

How does distemper virus infection occur?

Perhaps you remember the seal deaths in the North and Baltic Seas in 2002? The cause was the seal distemper virus, a 'relative' of the canine distemper virus. It resulted in the death of thousands of seals. Infection is therefore not harmless. How exactly does it come about?

Canine distemper virus, like measles and seal distemper virus, is transmitted through body fluids such as saliva, nasal and eye secretions, feces and urine of infected animals. Susceptible animals can become infected through mutual licking or droplet infection or pick up the pathogen from contaminated food, water or the environment. Objects that have come into contact with such bodily fluids can also become carriers, e.g. food or water bowls. If these are outdoors, a wild animal could have used the bowl before your dog.

A less resistant virus

The distemper virus only survives to a limited extent in the environment. This is good news for your four-legged friend. The virus has the following chances of survival:

  • Outdoors in direct sunlight: up to 14 hours
  • Indoors and in clothing: several days
  • On hands: can be removed by thorough hand washing and disinfectant
  • In heat: die off at 56 °C for 30 minutes
  • In the cold: frozen, the pathogen remains infectious for years

It is important to remember that distemper is resistant to cold, but susceptible to heat. General hygiene measures also reduce the risk of infection for your pet.

What happens to your four-legged friend in the event of a distemper infection?

If your dog is infected with the distemper virus, it will spread throughout its body and can be detected in tissues such as the spleen, bone marrow and lymph nodes. After infection, it takes 3 - 7 days for the first symptoms to appear. The course of infection is always cyclical and lasts from 1 week to several months.

There are the following courses of the disease:

Acute course of distemper

In an acute attack, your dog excretes distemper viruses through all body secretions (saliva, feces, urine) from the 5th - 6th day after infection.

Intestinal form

Initially, the virus mainly affects the digestive tract of your four-legged friend (intestinal).

This course has the following symptoms:

  • Increase in body temperature to 40° C for 1-2 days
  • Loss of appetite
  • vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • Clear discharge from the eyes and nose

The virus is now spreading throughout your four-legged friend's body. The decisive factor here is whether his body is strong enough to fight the virus.

Respiratory form

If it is not, further symptoms affecting the respiratory tract (respiratory form) may occur:

  • cough
  • purulent, sometimes bloody discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Bronchitis and even pneumonia

This is later followed by other symptoms:

  • dehydration
  • weakness
  • Bacterial infection of the mucous membranes
  • Infection of the eyes, conjunctivitis and corneal inflammation and photophobia
  • Blindness (in the worst case)

Neurological form

If your pet does not receive help at this stage, the virus will next affect the brain (neurological form). Your dog will then show the following symptoms:

  • Brain inflammation
  • inflammation of the nerves
  • Disruption of the central nervous system (nervous distemper)
  • Convulsions, tonic-clonic (shaking)
  • Disturbance of consciousness
  • Changes in character, e.g. increased aggressiveness
  • rhythmic muscle cramps
  • Compulsive movements (called distemper tics)
  • Failure symptoms with paresis and nerve paralysis

Cutaneous form

Cutaneous means "affecting the skin" and already indicates the signs that characterize this form of distemper disease:

  • Skin changes on the nose
  • Excessive keratinization of the skin on the paw pads (hard pad disease), furrows, cracks
  • blisters and pustules on the inner surfaces of the thighs and on the inside of your dog's ears
  • Tooth enamel defects in young animals with distemper infection during teething

All of these forms do not necessarily occur separately, but can also affect your pet at the same time. If distemper is not recognized, it can lead to a chronic or subacute course (less pronounced symptoms).

Possible late effects of distemper

Even if your dog recovers, some consequences remain for life:

  • Damage to the digestive system
  • Damage to the eyes or blindness
  • Nervous tics
  • motor disorders
  • epileptic seizures
  • Hard pad disease
  • Distemper bite in young dogs
  • Damage to heart and lungs

Distemper diagnosis and treatment

A diagnosis is not always easy and is made clinically. Your dog must be thoroughly examined by a vet or veterinary clinic. They will make a suspected diagnosis based on the symptoms. To be on the safe side, a swab of the mucous membranes will be taken. The laboratory report then provides certainty as to whether your four-legged friend has distemper.

The aim of treatment is to contain the symptoms and protect your dog from further bacterial infections, which are secondary symptoms. However, it is primarily your dog's immune system that has to fight the virus. Supportive treatment is definitely useful. This is purely symptomatic and involves appropriate measures to contain and prevent any secondary bacterial infections. There are cases in which supportive treatment can be successful in dogs. Treatment in general is quite complex and time-consuming. Your four-legged friend must be hospitalized to ensure that the strict hygiene measures are adhered to.

It is difficult to predict the course of distemper as it varies greatly from dog to dog. It is best if your pet was diagnosed before the neurological and cutaneous forms. However, the disease takes a more severe course if your dog's nervous system is already affected.

What protects your dog from distemper

You should adhere to the most important rule of conduct for woods and meadows and not let your dog rummage uncontrollably in thickets, undergrowth or meadows. You should also prohibit your dog from picking up carrion, droppings or grass and drinking from puddles, especially near forests. In general, it is also important to keep your dog fit with a good immune system and to pay attention to good hygiene and the first warning signs.

Ask your trusted vet or veterinary practitioner for advice on further protective measures.

If you follow all these tips, nothing will stand in the way of a beautiful springtime with relaxing walks in the great outdoors with your four-legged friend.