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Hard Pad Disease: Canine Distemper

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Hard Pad Disease: Canine Distemper

Vaccination to prevent canine distemper virus has been so effective that it has largely eliminated the disease from urban communities; thus, many people are unaware of virus’s impact. Distemper virus is highly contagious and actively circulates in wildlife populations and in stray or unvaccinated dogs. The disease can affect multiple organ systems and clinical signs of disease vary. There is no cure for the often fatal disease even when supportive care is provided.

Those most susceptible to infection are young dogs (less than 6 months of age) and any  unvaccinated or poorly vaccinated dogs. Pregnant dogs that become infected can spread virus to unborn pups which may lead to stillborn or sickly puppies. A variety of wildlife critters that also spread the disease include: raccoons, wolves, coyotes, skunks, foxes, badgers, bears, large exotic cats, mink, ferrets, and seals). Diversity of virus carriers is one major hurdle to eradication.

Distemper virus is spread from an infected animal to a naïve animal most commonly via inhalation or ingestion of virus. Bodily secretions that carry virus include saliva, mucus, urine, vomit, and feces. Infected dogs can shed virus for several months. A fever is present initially a few days after inoculation with the virus. This resolves after about 24-48 hours. Depending on the animal’s immune response, illness will progress through loosely defined stages and clinical signs are variable.

First stage of infection:

  • Begins around 7 to 10 days after infection.
  • Initial signs includes fever, anorexia, and eye and nasal discharge.
  • As the virus spreads symptoms progress to include a cough and gastrointestinal symptoms (anorexia, vomiting, and diarrhea).
  • High stress placed on the immune system during this time leaves the dog susceptible to bacterial infections.
  • The brain and spinal cord may also be affected in this stage. Many dogs die during the first stage of illness.
  • Dogs that survive the first stage of disease are often left an with an identifiable physical deformity coined “hard pad disease”. This refers to thickened foot pads
    and nostrils. Some dogs will also develop permanent irregularities in the enamel of still forming adult teeth.

Second stage of infection:

  • If a dog is lucky enough to survive the first stage of illness, more health risks are  potentially ahead. Several weeks to months after the first stage resolves, dogs
    can progress to new symptoms that affect the nervous system. This includes circling, blindness, seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. It’s during this
    stage dogs classically develop “chewing-gum” seizures (seizures that cause jaw tremors).
  • Some neurologic deficits are so severe that euthanasia may be recommended due to poor prognosis and progression of symptoms.

Diagnosis of distemper disease is made by veterinarians based on a dog’s clinical symptoms, previous health history, and interpretation of physical exam and blood work results. There is not a catch-all test used to diagnose infection Tissue or blood samples can be tested from sick dogs, but the virus can be elusive to detect in live patients and previous vaccinations can make test results difficult to interpret.

Good news: Distemper virus is easily killed outside of the host. It does not survive for long periods in the environment and it is susceptible to most types of detergent disinfectants. Proper early isolation of sick animals can help minimize spread of disease in at risk populations. If your dog is showing early symptoms of distemper, contact your veterinarian and contact proper authorities for any abnormal or sickly looking wildlife or stray animals. Early intervention is important for best possible outcome for all animals. For sick pets this can consist of hospitalization, regular medications, and iv fluids as well as routine diagnostic tests.

Prevention of many infectious diseases is entirely possible through the use of vaccines.  Vaccination saves lives and promotes community health for pets and wildlife populations. Canine Distemper virus is an entirely preventable illness for your dog. Please continue to make healthy, informed decisions for your pets. Distemper is included in the recommended core vaccinations for all dogs. Puppies should begin receiving vaccinations around 6-weeks of age and have booster vaccinations every 3-4 weeks until about 4 months old. Adult dogs should be vaccinated routinely as recommended by your veterinarian.

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Amanda Burow, D.V.M. (Dr. B), is a graduate of Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine. Dr. Burow’s patient list includes hunting dogs of all varieties, as well as several field trial dogs and full time sporting guide dogs. In addition to practicing general veterinary medicine, she has special interest in the areas of preventive care, emergency medicine, and dermatology. In her spare time, she enjoys being outdoors and on the lake, staying active, reading, and spending time with family and friends.

Mud River is proud to share these tips from Dr. B with our customers. Keep in mind it is best to work with your local veterinarian to determine the needs for your animals.

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