Canine distemper is a contagious disease that attacks a dog?s respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. Caused by a virus, this disease can also affect the central nervous system of the infected dog. Although dogs of all ages are at risk, unvaccinated dogs and puppies younger than 4 months of age are at especially high risk of contracting and dying from the disease. Canine distemper is caused by a virus and is transmitted from dog to dog either through airborne means or through direct contact of bodily secretions. The most common symptoms are similar to those seen in a serious cold; infected dogs may appear to have a ?stopped up? nose and run a mild to moderate fever. They can also develop pneumonia, bronchitis, and have an inflamed stomach lining or intestines. These dogs often have a cough and may also exhibit discharge from the eyes or nose, adding to the overall appearance of a ?bad cold.? Diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss may also accompany canine distemper, along with a marked decrease in appetite and general lethargy. In time, dogs with distemper may show indication that the disease is affecting the nervous system; they may have seizures or may develop paralysis of one or more limbs. Despite this long list of very obvious symptoms, there are some dogs that show only a few of these ? or exhibit nothing but a mild fever when infected with distemper. These dogs are the lucky ones; their recovery is usually quicker. Dogs with more severe symptoms may take several weeks to recover fully, and many have life-long damage to the sensory or nervous systems. Any sign of illness in a dog requires immediate attention from a veterinarian. Veterinarians are able to diagnose the disease through an account of recent symptom history, physical examination, and laboratory tests. There is no special drug that will kill the virus that causes canine distemper. However, a variety of treatments are used to control the symptoms (e.g., vomiting, diarrhea, or secondary infections) and relieve some of the pain and discomfort of the dog. Above all else, dehydration must be controlled through administration of fluids. Keep the infected dog away from other dogs and do not use its bedding, food dishes, or grooming supplies with healthy dogs in the home. ?Feline distemper? is caused by an entirely different virus from canine distemper and the two species are not susceptible to each other?s virus. Also, canine distemper is not transmissible to humans. Vaccination and avoiding contact with infected animals are the key elements of canine distemper prevention. Because puppies are extremely vulnerable, vaccinations must begin early, but they should not be started while suckling is continuing. Dogs that manage to survive distemper infection at an early age appear to have a certain level of immunity throughout their lives. However, adult dogs should receive updated vaccinations, as recommended by a veterinarian. Although canine distemper is currently the single greatest health risk to dogs, with the right care and planning this serious health threat can be minimized.
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