A reader wondered if distemper is still a threat to dogs. It killed three of our QT Pi Becker’s littermates, and nearly killed him. Here’s what I told her.
Q: Does my dog really need a distemper vaccination? Dogs don’t really get that anymore, do they?
A: Distemper used to be the No. 1 killer of dogs. It may not be as common as it was in the bad old days before a vaccine was developed, but it definitely still exists. So far this year, there have been distemper outbreaks in shelters in California, Tennessee, Maryland and Missouri. My own little QT Pi is a distemper survivor from a shelter.
There’s good reason for distemper being one of the core vaccines all dogs should receive. More than half the adult dogs who get distemper die; in puppies who get the disease, the death rate can be as high as 80 percent. When we see distemper, it’s usually in dogs who haven’t been vaccinated.
Signs of distemper include fever, listlessness, eye and nasal discharge, a dry cough, vomiting, diarrhea and neurological signs. Even if a dog survives distemper, his nervous system and senses of sight, smell and hearing can be irreparably damaged. Some dogs survive distemper but are partially or totally paralyzed. A weakened immune system makes them more susceptible to pneumonia.
Another important reason for vaccinating dogs is that the distemper virus is highly contagious. It’s usually transmitted through contact with an infected dog’s mucus, watery secretions from the eyes or nose, urine or feces. It can also be airborne or carried on the bottoms of shoes. Wild canines such as coyotes or foxes can spread the distemper virus. A healthy but unvaccinated dog can contract distemper without ever coming in physical contact with an infected animal.
Puppies and young adult dogs are most susceptible to infection, but it’s not unheard of for older dogs to become infected. Most cases occur in young puppies who are 2 to 4 months old. The younger they are, the more severe the disease.
Read more, including the lowdown on pet insurance, in this week’s Pet Connection!