Distemper in dogs (or hondesiekte) is a very contagious viral disease that affects the respiratory (lungs and nose), gastro-intestinal and nervous system of dogs. It has also been found in lions and wild dogs in South Africa.
Distemper: how it spreads
Distemper is spread through air-borne viral particles (sneezing or coughing) or direct contact (licking an infected dog’s eyes or nose or co-habitation). Pregnant dogs can pass it on to their puppies before birth. Infected dogs can even shed the virus for months after infection. Luckily distemper virus does not survive for long periods in the environment (in South Africa about 30 minutes to an hour).
All unvaccinated dogs are at risk of contracting the disease. Vaccinated dogs have a very small chance of contracting the disease.
Symptoms of distemper in dogs
The symptoms are varied and include:
• reduced appetite
• a watery or pussy discharge from the eyes and nose
• vomiting and diarrhoea
The classical symptoms are nasal and eye discharge, coughing, vomiting, diarrhoea and small involuntary muscle movements.
All of these symptoms usually occur together although there are some exceptions. Dogs can also show less specific symptoms such as weakness, loss of appetite and fever.
How do I prevent my dog from getting distemper?
Vaccination is your best, and only, chance. Young puppies are given a series of three vaccinations from about 6-8 weeks of age, and then monthly. Older dogs will usually receive two vaccinations a month apart. It is important to stick to the vaccination schedule your vet suggests. In certain areas the incidence of distemper is quite high and annual re-vaccination will be required to keep your dog protected.