Distemper is a disease that affects both dogs and cats, but oddly, they are not related to one another. Our vets tell us to vaccinate our pets to prevent distemper, but do we really know what this disease is all about? Should it concern you? Read on!
Canine distemper is a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease that can be contracted easily from other dogs at parks, at the groomer or from kennels. It’s a serious viral disease and, unfortunately, it has no known cure. The good news is that it is 100% preventable.
If we were to compare it to a human disease, it is related to the measles virus. Young puppies who have not yet been vaccinated and older non-immunized dogs are most susceptible to distemper.
This disease is spread through the air or by direct or indirect contact with infected animals. It attacks a dog’s tonsils and lymph nodes first before spreading to the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.
Symptoms include high fever, red eyes, watery discharge from the eyes and nose, lethargy, anorexia, coughing, vomiting and diarrhea. When the disease progresses to the nervous system, the dog may start having seizures, paralysis and hysteria.
Once a dog has been infected with distemper, there is no cure or treatment plan. You can, however, take some steps to alleviate the symptoms:
- Anorexia or diarrhea – IV fluids or a bland diet
- Watery discharge from the eyes and nose – cleaned away regularly
- Secondary bacterial infection – antibiotics
- Convulsions and seizures – phenobarbitals and potassium bromide
Feline distemper (feline panleukopenia virus) affects the blood cells in the intestinal tract, bone marrow and stem cells of a developing fetus. It can lead to an anemic condition and make the body susceptible to other viral or bacterial infections.
Kittens that are two to six months old are at the highest risk, as well as pregnant cats with weak immune systems. Similar to humans with chicken pox, cats that do survive feline distemper are immune from a second infection from the disease.
Cats with feline distemper will have vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, weight loss, high fever, anemia, a rough coat, depression, lose interest in their food and show signs of neurological problems like lack of coordination.
The feline distemper vaccine is considered the main vaccine for cats. It helps prevent feline distemper but also protects against feline herpes virus, calcivirus and sometimes feline leukemia. For kittens, the distemper shot can be given as early as six weeks old, then every three to four weeks until the cat is 16 weeks old. For cats older than 16 weeks, they should receive two shots, three to four weeks apart. After this initial vaccination round, your cat should be given a single shot one year later and then again every three years.
Vaccines are Key
Thanks to distemper vaccines, there are not as many cases of canine or feline distemper. The canine and feline distemper vaccines can literally save your pet’s life. The next time your vet recommends this vaccination, you’ll now understand why it’s so important.
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