Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a contagious disease that was fairly common in the United States until the introduction of effective vaccines in the 1960s, although it is still prevalent in some parts of the world. CDV affects the respiratory tract, the gastrointestinal tract, and the central nervous system, including the brain and spinal cord.

In addition to dogs, CDV can also infect other species such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, ferrets, minks, and skunks. Young dogs are more susceptible to the virus than more mature dogs. For dogs that become affected with CDV but survive, longstanding immunity usually results, but this immunity typically declines with time.

Cause & Transmission. CDV virus is shed in feces, saliva, urine, and eye (ocular) discharge, but new infection is typically established by inhalation of aerosolized respiratory secretions caused by coughing  and sneezing. Once the virus invades the respiratory tract, it begins to reproduce. If a strong immune response is not initiated by the second or third week of infection, infected cells begin to spread to other parts of the body. At this point, recovery from the disease becomes less likely.

Clinical Signs. Symptoms of distemper can vary widely in severity. Signs can be very mild, with only fever, lethargy, and slight nasal or eye discharge. Clinical signs in severe cases may include fever, watery or cloudy nasal and eye discharge, and coughing that is most likely accompanied by difficulty breathing. Decreased appetite, vomiting, and diarrhea may also occur. Other signs include seizures, changes in behavior, weakness, and involuntary muscle contractions.

Treatment. Isolation, IV fluids, anti-vomiting medications, nebulization, coupage of the chest, and anti-convulsing drugs. No specific therapy for distemper is available, but good supportive care and control of any secondary bacterial infections is all that can be offered.

Can Humans Get It? No

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