Exactly What is the
Canine Distemper Virus

The canine distemper virus is highly contagious and is transmitted through the air as well as through various bodily secretions between animals.

Most often distemper is spread as dogs breathe or cough on each other or through discharge from the eyes and nose, as well as in all body secretions from infected animals.

Contact with urine or fecal material of infected dogs can also result in infection.

Canine Distemper and your GSD

This virus also infects many wild animals such as hyenas, mink, weasels, raccoons, civet cats and large zoo cats.

The distemper virus is very similar to the human measles virus. This is a respiratory disease in dogs, also known as the "hardpad disease".

Most often, the pets that die are usually older dogs or very young puppies that have weak or undeveloped immune systems. The distemper virus suppresses the pet’s immune system and actually multiples within the dogs system as it spreads throughout the body.

It is very fortunate that many dogs infected with distemper virus do not become seriously ill, but it is also true that of the dogs that do become ill, about half will die.

What are the risks
associated with distemper?

Don't be fooled - distemper is very, very serious and very contagious disease and can spread quickly through a kennel. A significant number of infected dogs may die from this disease.

All dogs are susceptible to this disease, however, the very young and very old have the highest death rate which may be as high as 75%.

Even if a GSD does not die from this disease, its health may be permanently impaired the rest of its life. Patients that recover from distemper may also suffer permanent damage to their vision, their nervous system, behavioral changes, have seizures, walk in circles.

Many other ambulatory problems commonly develop as well. Puppies which recover can also have severely mottled teeth due to abnormalities of the developing enamel that occur as a result of this terrible disease.

What are the symptoms
of canine distemper?

Canine Distemper has so many different possible symptoms that are all so varied that any sick puppy should be taken to a veterinarian for a definite diagnosis immediately. When puppies do recover they may have severe enamel damage to their teeth and the nose and foot pads of the puppy may become thickened as well. For this reason prevention of canine distemper is the best way to deal with this disease.

The most common signs of distemper are:

• nasal and eye discharge,
• diarrhea,
• vomiting,
• fever,
• coughing,
• depression,
• lack of appetite, and
• seizures

but distemper virus can also affect many other systems in the body. Also, dogs suffering from distemper are usually listless and have poor appetites.

Mildly affected dogs may only cough and may often be misdiagnosed. It is not uncommon for an infected dog to have a few but not all symptoms as listed above.

Be aware that there is a latent period of time from the time the virus enters a dog's body until clinical symptoms actually appear - approximately 10 to 14 days. This virus can easily be spread for several weeks during and after the illness.

Puppies that have already been infected may be vaccinated before clinical signs appear. If this were to happen the vaccination is not likely to prevent the disease when it is given AFTER infection has already occurred. If pneumonia, intestinal inflammation or other problems develop, recovery will take much longer.

What is the best way to
treat and prevent canine distemper?

Prevention of any infection is far and away the best way to deal with canine distemper. Proper vaccination of all puppies is absolutely necessary. Typically it is best to begin vaccinations for this disease at approximately 6 weeks of age and continue until the puppy is at least 12 to 16 weeks of age, giving the vaccine at 3 to 4 week intervals.

The vaccine must be repeated several times due to interference from antibodies passed on to the puppy through its mother's milk.

The first distemper vaccination is given to treat those puppies who are susceptible at that particular time while the follow-up vaccinations are given to provide protection to almost all puppies who receive vaccination.

Right now there is no one specific treatment for distemper. Some surviving German Shepherds develop immunities to protect them from distemper for the rest of their lives - this is not the case with young puppies however. Therapy for distemper is largely supportive consisting of intravenous fluids, anti-seizure medications and other types of medications. The safest protection of all by far is prevention by vaccination.

Excellent vaccines have been developed to prevent canine distemper and these have minimal side effects. Let me re-emphasize that many older dogs do not develop a life long immunity to distemper and for that reason these vaccinations should be given yearly for life.

Simple suggestions for
preventing canine distemper

Contact your veterinarian or breeder to help you determine the best time to begin a vaccination regime for your GSD dog or puppy. Ask your veterinarian about a recommended vaccination schedule and then stick to it very strictly.

Any lapse in vaccinations may provide a window of time for your German Shepherd puppy to become infected with distemper or any host of other contagious diseases. The safest protection of all is prevention by vaccination.

Return from Canine Distemper to Arthritis in the GSD

You can say any fool thing to a dog, and the dog will give you this look that says, `My God, you're RIGHT! I NEVER would've thought of that!'" - Dave Barry

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