Distemper can be deadly but it is preventable

Distemper (known as ‘hondesiekte’ in Afrikaans) is a viral disease that is completely vaccine-preventable. By making sure your puppy is up to date with all their vaccinations and thereafter their annual vaccinations, he/she will be protected against the distemper virus.

This disease is highly contagious and spreads through contact with infected animals or objects,  through the air in droplets, or through the placenta. It leads to mainly respiratory, gastrointestinal as well as neurological signs (in more advanced cases).

Distemper: symptoms

Respiratory signs

  • clear or thick yellow/green discharge from the eyes and nose
  • coughing
  • sneezing

Gastrointestinal signs

  • vomiting
  • diarrhoea

Neurological signs (in more advanced cases)

  • generalised seizures or ‘chewing gum’ seizures where the mouth opens and closes repetitively
  • walking off balance
  • twitching of the muscles on the head, in the neck or on one or more of the limbs

Other signs

  • the paw pads become thicker and hard (the reason why distemper is sometimes referred to as hardpad disease)
  • the eyes can also be affected
  • fever
  • poor appetite

Treatment options

Treatment is supportive, and with antibiotics to prevent secondary bacterial infections. These patients need to be isolated because distemper is so highly contagious. Some dogs with healthy immune systems can clear the virus after 14 days; some dogs can shed the virus up to two months after infection and in other cases the disease can be fatal. 

Dogs that survive can have recurrent seizures and muscle twitches for the rest of their lives, although at this point they are not a risk for spreading the disease. However, the lasting effects may have detrimental effects on their quality of life. 

Old dogs that haven’t received vaccinations in over three years are susceptible to the disease in a different form called ‘old dog encephalitis’ and this can cause a whole range of neurological issues.

This is a horrible disease to get, especially if it progresses to the neurological stage. Protect your dogs be keeping their vaccinations up to date. Please make sure all of your existing dogs are vaccinated before adding a new dog to your household. 

Department of Health COVID-19 updates available at www.sacoronavirus.co.za

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