What is Distemper?


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Thankfully, most pet parents are very diligent about getting their dogs and cats vaccinated, but in the busy-ness of our lives, it’s understandable that many of us haven’t taken the time to fully research or understand what diseases we are capable of protecting our pets from.  So while we have all heard of “distemper”, what exactly is it and why should we care about it in our dogs ?  
While Canine Distemper Virus is just one of several diseases that we can help prevent, it is especially important that we begin giving the vaccine to younger puppies in order to help protect your puppy or older dog from this highly contagious and potentially deadly disease. 
Every dog is at risk of canine distemper virus.  Even wildlife can be affected by canine distemper, in particular foxes, skunks and raccoons (which also happen to be carriers of rabies).   Canine distemper outbreaks in local wildlife can increase the risk of infection in pet dogs (and vice-versa) because of the potential exposure between dogs and wildlife.
So how does the distemper virus affect dogs ?  Initially, the distemper virus attacks the cells of the immune / self-defense system, weakening the body and making it more vulnerable to other infections.  The virus then spreads to the gastro-intestinal system, the respiratory system, and the nervous system.  This leads to puppies / dogs that have a fever, a cough, goopy discharge from the eyes, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, and extreme weakness.  When the nervous system is involved, affected puppies and dogs may develop seizures.
The mortality (loss of life) rate is quite high in those puppies that start showing signs of the disease.  And while we can treat the symptoms (providing medication for coughing … for vomiting and diarrhea … etc), there is no treatment or cure for the virus itself.  
Since the virus often shows up in dogs as a respiratory infection, the disease can easily be spread to other dogs (or to wildlife) by sneezing, coughing and even barking.  Even more of a problem is that if a dog survives a distemper infection, they can still be contagious for many weeks to months following the infection.  It’s no surprise that I do not recommend taking your puppy to a dog park or dog-friendly event until he/she has completed the series of Distemper-Parvo vaccines.      
Protecting against Canine Distemper is so easy and so effective.  That’s where our Carolina Value Pet Care team can step in and provide the vaccines that your dog needs.  Depending on what age we start the vaccines, most puppies need a series of 2 or more to be fully protected.  While rabies is required by law (because of the human health concerns with rabies), from a practical standpoint, we are much more concerned about both canine distemper virus and parvo virus since they are still widely prevalent and highly contagious and often fatal.  Let’s keep your pets protected !
Hope this helps.
-Dr Bob Parrish & The Carolina Value Pet Care Team