Distemper is caused by an ultra-microscopic organism, so small in fact that it would pass through porcelain filters. The virus, the term by which it is known, attacks nerve tissue only, more particularly those of the brain.
Infection by this virus alone would not cause the usual symptoms of the disease as are known, running eyes, discharge from the nostrils, diarrhea and pneumonia, but it would cause weakness in either leg or twitching of the muscles or paralysis of some limb or even cause the dog to take fits with subsequent death.
In the early stages of the disease, a watery discharge from the eyes and nose is seen, coinciding with a rise in temperature. These discharges are highly infectious and although the dog may appear to be normal it is now quite capable of passing on the infection to another healthy dog.
As is generally known, the brain is divided into many sections, each of which controls a part of the body or its function, then dependent upon where this inflammation is centered, so is determined the part of the body which is affected by the attack.
In rare cases parts of the brain are attacked, which have no connection with the body, leaving no after-effects of the disease, but these cases are particularly rare.
Resulting from the first rise in temperature, we find the dog’s general resistance lowered. Other organisms, such as bacteria and fungi usually present in the mouth and the throat, nostrils, sinuses are then able to pass the body’s protective barriers, as the blood becomes infected and causes the symptoms associated with distemper.
Two important points it is advisable to remember is that:
- Distemper is definitely caused by a germ and cannot be caused by the age-old grandmother’s story, that raw meat fed to dogs is the cause.
- The incubation period of 5 – 9 days during which the animal may appear healthy but be capable of transmitting the disease to a healthy dog.
Most cases occur between the ages of 6 weeks to 12 months, which mean that only 10 – 30 percent of all the dogs bred, survive over 12 months of age.
The disease is rarely seen in dogs over the age of 2 years, and if so it is less severe in their case. Bitches in whelp seldom contact distemper, and if so the vast majority recover.
Once an animal has had distemper and recovers, it becomes immune for life, just as it has in most cases by injection.
Immediately any or all of the symptoms mentioned appear there should be no delay in consulting your veterinary surgeon, as delay is usually disastrous.
During the convalescent stage, the dog should be tempted to eat with a variety of foods, such as cooked rabbit, tripe or fish, meat gravies, milk puddings, custards and egg-flips. Don’t worry if the dog does not appear to find milk palatable.
Fluids should take the form of barley water exclusively.
Rugging for 24 hours daily is essential, and he must be kept in a warm sunny place.
Immunization is the maximum safe guard that can be taken, and this can be done as early as 7 – 8 weeks, but 10 – 16 weeks is a better age.
The actual immunization varies with the operator, but usually the living-virus method is adopted. This lasts a lifetime.
POINTS TO WATCH
- Closely inspect for any of the symptoms mentioned.
- Run your dog in an enclosed yard, free from outside contact with other dogs.
- Exercise the dog on a lead only.
- Immunize for complete protection.