Canine distemper is a severe viral disease that affects dogs, and for which it is necessary to vaccinate them. We explain how it is spread and its characteristic symptoms to detect it quickly.

The canine distemper is an infectious disease caused by a morbillivirus of the family Paramyxoviridae. It is also known as canine distemper, CDV, or Carré’s disease. This virus induces the disease mainly in terrestrial carnivores. 

The companion animals susceptible to contagion are dogs and ferrets with a low or no immune response. It causes a catarrhal clinical picture initially and, later, neurological signs and life-threatening multisystem failure in more than 50% of cases. Cases.

According to current studies, humans are not affected by canine distemper disease, so owners can rest easy in that sense.

How do dogs get canine distemper?

The canine distemper virus is shed mainly in respiratory and ocular secretions. However, it is known that excretion in the saliva, faeces, and urine of infected animals is possible even up to two or three months after contracting the infection. 

Animals are infected when they inhale the virus contained in these secretions. Also, puppies can acquire the virus through the placenta.

At first, the virus targets the tonsils, pharynx, and lymph nodes of the respiratory system. It reaches the bronchial epithelial tissues, digestive, and central nervous systems in little more than a week. Dogs with a good immune response will show no symptoms, or they will be very mild, while in those with a flawed defensive system, the disease will progress and trigger the typical symptoms of canine distemper.

Canine distemper in Dogs

Factors that predispose your pet to get distemper

Dogs of any age can be affected by canine distemper. Still, puppies under six months of age are more susceptible to infection, especially if they are not vaccinated or have not completed the vaccination protocol recommended by their veterinarian. 

Puppies that have not received colostrum (milk with defensive antibodies ) from an immunized mother and dogs immunosuppressed from any cause (stress, poor diet, overcrowding, or other comorbidities such as parvovirus) are also at increased risk of developing the disease.

It should be borne in mind that a puppy could become infected before completing its vaccination if it comes into contact with infected animals. That is why preventive immunization is so necessary. It keeps the puppies with their mothers until two or three months of age and prevents them from contacting other dogs directly until the vaccination schedule is completed.

Symptoms of canine distemper or distemper

The first thing to know to detect if your dog suffers from distemper is that both the number of organic tissues affected by this virus, as well as the amplitude of the symptoms of canine distemper, varies with the immune status of the dog at the time of infection. Thus, well-protected dogs can eliminate the virus in 15 days, with little or no symptoms. Still, when the immune response is moderate or poor, the virus manages to invade the body, and clinical signs appear.

The infected canine distemper puppies through the placenta are stillborn or have central nervous system disease. 

Initially, the virus infects the epithelial tissue of the respiratory system, causing purulent nasal and ocular discharge, inflammation of the tonsils, fever, depression, anorexia, and signs of bronchopneumonia such as cough, breath sounds, and dyspnea.

The virus can also disrupt the digestive system, causing diarrhoea and vomiting. Secondary infection of these tissues by opportunistic bacteria is common.

Neurological symptoms of canine distemper

Once the first respiratory or digestive phase is overcome, the virus progresses its course reaching the central nervous system. Dogs with poor immune responses show neurological signs such as ataxia, paralysis, myoclonus (muscle twitching), and seizures. The nervous system disease is progressive and has a poor prognosis.

It is possible to observe other symptoms of canine distemper or Carré’s disease in other organs, such as uveitis, blindness, or lesions in the retina. 

However, some puppies do not develop tooth enamel correctly, appearing with dark spots. It is common to see hyperkeratosis (dryness and cracking) on ​​the nose (nose) and the footpads.

How is canine distemper diagnosed?

The Diagnostic Not unexpectedly of canine distemper is based primarily on the symptomatology of the dog, imaging tests, and blood tests or cerebrospinal fluid. 

On the chest radiograph, changes typical of bronchopneumonia, such as foci of inflammation, can be observed, and abnormal breath sounds can be heard on auscultation.

Samples of blood, respiratory exudates, or cerebrospinal fluid that bathes the spinal cord are collected to quantify the antibody titer against canine distemper. However, it is impossible to differentiate them from the antibodies generated with recent vaccination, so it is necessary to interpret the results wisely.

For a more accurate diagnosis of distemper, it is necessary to detect the viral particles in the samples through genetic tests and special stains.