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Canine Distemper: What you Need to Know

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Canine Distemper: What you Need to Know


Recently, there has been a spike in reported cases of canine distemper in Dubai and luckily, we haven’t had any cases yet across our practices.

As the cases arise, we are urging all dog owners to have their pets vaccinated and avoid having them socialize with other animals for the time being especially in areas where cases are prevalent. With that in mind, we would like you to understand more of how serious and highly infectious distemper in dogs is.

What is Canine Distemper?

Canine distemper is a single-stranded enveloped RNA virus that causes frequently fatal infection in domestic dogs. The virus also affects wildlife animals like foxes, hyenas, raccoons, skunks, and other species. As a multi-systemic disease, it has complex pathogenesis that can result in pathologic conditions ranging from pneumonia to enteritis to encephalitis. Mortality varies between species and within species. Virulence depends on viral characteristics, which vary based on strains rather than lineages and animal characteristics, including immune status, immune response, and age. Mortality is higher in young dogs compared to adults. Disease incubation can vary from 1 to 4 weeks and can fluctuate in its presentation. Regardless of clinical signs, animals shed virus in all secretions, and animals that recover from acute infections can continue to spread the virus in the urine for up to 60–90 days. With the development of antibodies, animals with a high level of immunity could usually clear the virus by day 14.

How are dogs getting infected?

Dogs most often become infected through direct contact with an infected animal or via airborne exposure such as sneezing and/or coughing. The virus can also easily be transmitted through objects like food and water bowls and shared toys.

What are the symptoms?

On the onset, infected animals will show watery to pus-like eye discharges followed by fever, nasal discharge, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. And as the disease progresses, some dogs develop neurological signs; muscle twitching, circling behavior, head tilt, seizures, and even paralysis.

How is the disease treated?

The disease is highly contagious and often potentially lethal. And the bad news that there is no cure for canine distemper. Veterinarians diagnose the disease through a combination of clinical signs and laboratory testing. In cases where your dog will turn out positive, the treatment is based solely on supportive care and the prevention of secondary infections.

How to prevent it?

The best prevention it is still getting your pet vaccinated. Since juvenile dogs are commonly affected by canine distemper, most vaccine data sheets say and recommends having the initial vaccination at 6–8 weeks of age, then every 2–4 weeks until 16 weeks of age or older. Moreover, be cautious when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs at parks, puppy classes, obedience classes, doggy daycare, and other places where dogs can congregate, and avoid contact with wildlife animals. Here at The City Vet Clinic, we are now also performing VacciCheck; a rapid in-house test that accurately measures canine antibody titer to common viruses including distemper. Having your pet’s antibody levels checked is key to surviving.

If you have more questions about the distemper, your City Vet family is always here to assist you.


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