Distemper in dogs: causes and symptoms

Distemper in dogs is a dangerous disease that can be fatal. Fortunately, since the distemper vaccination has become standard for puppies, infectious disease has become rare in Germany.

Distemper viruses can affect dogs and foxes, ferrets, martens, raccoons, wolves, and some other animals. There is a risk of infection for our domestic dogs, especially from unvaccinated dogs and puppies imported from abroad. You can find out what causes distemper and what symptoms it manifests itself with.

Distemper in dogs: causes and routes of transmission

Distemper in dogs is transmitted from animal to animal. The virus infection takes place via the excretions of diseased animals, i.e.:

● saliva
● nasal secretion
● droppings
● urine

Since the pathogen can survive in the air for a few days, dog beds and toys from infected animals are other possible sources of infection. However, this indirect transmission route is rarer than direct infection. If your dog has been sufficiently vaccinated against distemper, it is usually well protected. If not, it can be dangerous for your four-legged friend. For example, he can get infected on vacation from infected conspecifics.

If you’re looking to adopt a puppy or adult dog from abroad – mainly Mediterranean and Eastern European countries – it’s essential to ensure they’re vaccinated against distemper and other canine diseases before entering the country. Otherwise, he can become infected, for example, during a walk in the forest through the excretions of infected wild animals. If he suffers from distemper, he can also infect his kind, which cannot be vaccinated. This is the case, for example, with very young puppies, chronically ill animals, and dogs with a weakened immune system.

Incubation period and course of distemper in dogs

After contact with the virus, the incubation period is three to six days. After eight days, the body excretions of the affected animal are contagious. The virus spreads quickly in the dog’s body. Depending on which organs are affected first, four courses of the disease can be distinguished:

  1. Gastrointestinal tract: Gastrointestinal distemper form
  2. Airways: Respiratory distemper form
  3. Brain and Nerves: Nervous form of distemper
  4. Skin: Excessive callus formation (hyperkeratosis), also known as challenging pad disease

However, the course of the disease can merge into one another and occur together.

Symptoms of Distemper in Dogs
Distemper is quite challenging to diagnose because the symptoms express themselves very differently depending on the course. In addition, the severity of symptoms depends on the general health and age of the dog. Adult dogs with a robust immune system sometimes manage to fight the pathogen so that the disease does not break out or the symptoms are mild. However, symptoms such as physical weakness and fever can be observed in distemper.

In the case of the gastrointestinal distemper form, these symptoms are typical:
● diarrhea
● loss of appetite
● vomiting

If the respiratory tract is severely affected, the following signs of distemper infection also appear:
● cough
● Shortness of breath
● Purulent nasal discharge
● Conjunctivitis

It gets worse when the nervous system is affected because damage to the optic nerves and the spinal cord can then occur. Dangerous symptoms such as epileptic seizures and paralysis indicate an attack on the nervous system.

It is particularly distressing for the sick dog when distemper causes excessive callus formation (hyperkeratosis). The nose and the pads of the toes become calloused and hardened. This variant, known as the complex ball form or “hard pad disease,” usually occurs in connection with distemper infestation of the nervous system and usually ends fatally. Fortunately, however, this progressive form is rare.

If you suspect a distemper, you should consult a veterinarian. Also, have your dog vaccinated against distemper to prevent the disease best.

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