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The Three Stages of Canine Distemper

The Three Stages of Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper is a viral disease that affects dogs, mostly unvaccinated adult dogs, and puppies. It’s highly contagious and can easily spread from one dog to another in enclosed spaces.

Each time an infected canine coughs or sneezes, the virus is released in the air in the form of aerosol droplets. Dogs within the vicinity can pick up the virus if they inhale the contaminated particles. However, they can also contract the disease if they come into contact with contaminated urine, feces, vomit, nasal secretions, objects, and surfaces.

The Canine Distemper Virus has an incubation period of about 1 to 2 weeks, sometimes reaching 4 to 6 weeks. However, symptoms can appear in as early as 6 days after contracting the virus, while for some, it takes over 21 days. For Canine Distemper, these symptoms are divided into three stages and in this article, we’re going to go through them one by one.


First stage

During the first stage of infection, the Canine Distemper normally affects the upper respiratory tract. It causes sneezing, coughing, lethargy, eye and nose secretions, and a high fever. Oftentimes, the symptoms in this stage of Distemper can be mistaken for other diseases affecting the upper respiratory tract, like influenza.

It’s different for every dog, but the high fever in the first stage of infection generally doesn’t last long and subside fairly quickly. Once it does, the next stage of the disease will usually begin.


Second Stage

In the second stage of infection, the virus spreads to the gastrointestinal system and causes severe diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite or anorexia, weakness, persistent coughing, excessive salivation, and without supportive care, death due to dehydration.

During this stage, it’s very important for dogs to receive supportive treatment and proper care, especially since there’s no specific cure for Canine Distemper. To help dogs recover, veterinarians will typically administer IV fluids to prevent dehydration, anti-emetics to help with vomiting, antidiarrheals to control diarrhea, and antibiotics to help the body fight pathogens and prevent secondary infections.

Another way to support the gastrointestinal system of dogs that have Canine Distemper is to provide them with immune-boosting vitamins and supplements, like probiotics, vitamin C, and B-complex.



Third Stage

As the disease worsens, infected dogs will start to develop neurological symptoms, such as tremors, seizures, involuntary twitching of one or multiple muscles, excessive salivation, convulsions, circling, and partial or complete paralysis. When this happens, you’ll know that the disease has already progressed to the point of causing damage to the central nervous system. Third-stage symptoms may appear several weeks or a few months after initial exposure to the virus.

When the disease reaches this stage, veterinarians will most likely prescribe the infected pup an anti-seizure medication to manage the spontaneous fits. However, in cases where the seizure episodes become too severe for anti-seizure medications to handle, they may resort to using steroids. It’s not likely, though, since dogs with Distemper already have a compromised immune system and steroids work by suppressing immune function. That can leave the sick pooch even more vulnerable to secondary infections.


What to Do When Your Dog Starts Seizing

It can be very scary to see your dog suddenly fall on the floor and start seizing. However, if you let your emotions get the best of you and allow yourself to do something you shouldn’t, then you could end up hurting not only your dog but also yourself. So here are few things to remember when dealing with a seizure episode:

  • Carefully remove objects near your dog that may hurt or injure their head.
  • Don’t try to move your dog. You can accidentally get bitten during the episode.
  • If it’s safe for you to do so, lightly apply pressure on your dog’s eyeballs for about 60 seconds.
  • Refrain from yelling or creating loud noises.
  • Don’t try to hold your dog’s mouth.
  • Don’t try to put medication in your dog’s mouth while they’re seizing.
  • Get emergency help if your dog’s seizure lasts longer than five minutes.
  • After the seizure episode, bring your dog to the animal hospital immediately.

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