Canine Distemper Symptoms: How To Identify Infection in Dogs

Prevention is always better than cure. However, if you fail to detect early distemper symptoms in your dog, the worst may unveil. Just like parvo, canine distemper is a highly fatal disease in dogs.

The canine distemper virus attacks the dog’s nerves and brain. Unvaccinated puppies are at the highest risk. Even with the treatment, infected dogs have a high mortality rate. Only 50% of infected dogs survive the disease. Infected puppies have a much lower survival rate with only 20% of them being able to overcome the infection.

Canine Distemper Symptoms in Dogs

The most effective way to prevent your puppy from getting infected is through vaccination. But even with up-to-date vaccines, your dog can still contract the disease.

Early detection is key to successfully treat distemper in dogs. For this reason, knowing the early canine distemper symptoms and signs can contribute greatly to an infected dog’s survival.

Puppies and dogs show symptoms within 1 to 3 weeks following their exposure to the virus. Here are the important canine distemper symptoms you must watch out in your dog.


Early Signs of Canine Distemper

The survival rate of infected dogs increases if treatment is received early. During the initial stage of the canine distemper infection, your dog shows the following symptoms.

  • High fever
  • Weakness and lethargy
  • Eye redness
  • Lack of appetite
  • Yellowish to greenish eye discharge
  • Yellowish to greenish nose discharge
  • Vomiting
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Labored breathing
  • Blisters on the skin particularly on the abdomen
  • Thickening of foot pads and/or nose

When a puppy or dog is sick due to canine distemper, his body uses its own defense mechanism in an attempt to fight off the virus. He experiences high fever with temperatures exceeding 103.5 ° F. Infected dogs become weak and lethargic, as the body uses its energy to kill the virus.

As the canine distemper virus reaches the respiratory system, an infected dog experiences breathing problems. He starts coughing and has labored breathing. The immune system then sends neutrophils to the respiratory system in an attempt to kill the virus. Neutrophils, which are a type of white blood cells, contain an enzyme that is greenish in color. When there is a severe infection, the body sends large numbers of this cell to the area of infection and this causes your dog’s mucus and eye discharge to become greenish.

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When the virus reaches the gastrointestinal or the digestive tract, an infected dog starts vomiting and have diarrhea, which is the body’s way to flush out the virus. This also causes the infected dog to lose his appetite.

If the virus is not successfully eradicated, it further attacks the dog’s body, particularly the central nervous system.


Canine Distemper Symptoms in the Late Stage

Once the canine distemper virus reaches the central nervous system, it attacks the brain, spinal cord, and nerves.  The dog’s survival rate also drops dramatically at this stage. When this happens the infected dog experiences the following canine distemper symptoms.

  • Twitching of any limb
  • Grand mal Seizures
  • “Chewing gum fits”
  • Head bobbing
  • Paralysis

As the canine distemper virus damages the central nervous system, infected dogs at this stage experience involuntary movements. The kind of movement depends on the strain of canine distemper virus affecting the dog.


Diagnosing Canine Distemper

Diagnosing the disease involves identifying the canine distemper symptoms in the dog. There may be a similarity between distemper symptoms and signs of other diseases. For this reason, confirmatory tests, such as the Rapid Test Kit and ELISA, are used to diagnose canine distemper infection.


Treatment for Canine Distemper

Because it is a viral disease, there is no cure for canine distemper. The treatment involves addressing the symptoms, aggressive support care, and boosting of the immune system to help the body fight off the virus.

Medications often used to treat the disease include antibiotics, vitamin B complex, vitamin C, probiotics, and immune system boosters.

When a dog manages to survive the late stage of the disease, he may retain neurological issues that last for months or may never go away. Hardened nose and foot pads are also not reversible. Puppies who survive canine distemper may also have gum and teeth issues because the virus tends to kill cells responsible for enamel coating on new teeth.

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