Most Common Canine Illnesses – Canine Distemper


Just like humans, dogs can fall prey to various viruses that cause all kinds of infections and diseases that can be more or less debilitating and dangerous for your canine friend. One of the most common viral conditions in dogs is canine distemper, an illness whose name would suggest something completely different. The disease is also called hardpad disease due to the effects this infectious disease can have on the paw tissue of the infected dog.

The virus that causes this condition belongs to the paramyxovirus family, which is perhaps most notorious for the virus that causes measles in humans. The virus that causes canine distemper is most commonly referred to as the canine distemper virus, of CDV for short. This virus attacks other animals beside dogs, such as wild dogs, coyotes, wolves, foxes, ferrets, pandas, raccoons and bears, among others.

The first recorded case of CDV occurred in 1905 and by the mid-1920s, first vaccines against this virus were developed. It took 30 more years before a commercial vaccine was made available to the public. Since then, owners are recommended to vaccinate their dogs while they are still pups as this will not only protect the animal but also prevent the spread of the diseases. Unfortunately, mainly due to owners’ laziness, many dogs go unvaccinated and catch the virus somewhere down the line.

The virus which can be transmitted by air and bodily fluids, as well as contaminated water and food, starts “being active”, i.e. causing the disease usually within a week from the moment it enters the body. It starts with a fever which is most usually accompanied by a low count of white blood cells, meaning that the immune system is becoming compromised. Discharge from the eye and runny nose often occur at this point in the disease. This first fever normally goes away after 3 to 4 days.


Somewhere around the 12th day, the second round of fever starts, which often lasts up to a week. It is most commonly followed by respiratory problems and gastrointestinal symptoms such as diarrhea and vomiting. The dog also starts having troubles breathing and coughs a lot.  It is not uncommon for bacterial infections to take advantage of the weakened immune system and wreak additional havoc. Thickening of the footpads is also known to occur at this time.

In addition to these, there are also neurological symptoms that may occur when the virus spreads to the central nervous system. These can include twitching, chewing motions, increased salivation and seizures in the advanced stages.

The mortality rate is about 50 percent for adult dogs and 80 percent for puppies. Dogs that manage to survive the disease will often suffer from various health problems and discomfort for the rest of their lives.

There is no known cure for canine distemper and most of the treatment revolves around mitigating the symptoms and trying to help the dog’s body to fight the infection on its own. There have been some steps forward made in using a popular antiviral drug called ribavirin in treating dogs with canine distemper, but there are still some concerns about the side effects and the overall effectiveness of the treatment.

The absolute best way to handle canine distemper is to vaccinate your dog when it is recommended as this will make them immune to the condition. When adopting or buying puppies, it is essential to ask whether they have been vaccinated and whether you should continue the process (it lasts for some time with a few rounds of shots being administered).

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