Canine Distemper

Distemper is a very contagious and serious viral illness which has no known cure. Distemper belongs to the Morbillivirus class of viruses, and is a relative of the measles virus, which affects humans, the Rinderpest virus that affects cattle, and the Phocine virus that causes seal distemper. All are members of the Paramyxoviridae family.

Symptoms and Types

The virus is not only spread through the air, but can also be passed on by direct or indirect (i.e. utensils, bedding) contact with another infected animal. Initially the virus will attack a dog’s tonsils and lymph nodes, it then replicates itself there for about one week. Then it moves on to attack the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.

During the initial stages of distemper, the major symptoms include a high fever, reddened eyes, and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. An infected dog will become lethargic and tired, and will usually become anorexic. Persistent coughing, vomiting, and diarrhoea may also occur. During the later stages of the disease, the virus starts attacking other systems within the dog’s body, particularly the nervous system. The brain and spinal cord are affected and the dog may start having fits, seizures, paralysis, and attacks of hysteria.

Certain strains of the distemper virus can cause an abnormal enlargement or thickening of the dog’s paw pads. If a dog has a particularly weak immune system, death may occur in as little as two to five weeks after the initial infection.