Dogs That Overcome Distemper Often Suffer Brain Damage: Here’s What You Need to Know
Brain Damage in Distemper Survivors
If you’ve already done a bit of research on Distemper, then by now, you probably know that the potentially life-threatening disease has three stages of infection. When dogs pick up the virus, they typically experience respiratory effects (sneezing, coughing, nasal and eye discharge) within one to two weeks.
As the infection progresses, gastrointestinal problems (loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting) start to develop. If, within this time period, dogs receive veterinary care and treatment right away, they usually make a complication-free recovery. However, once the virus reaches the nervous system and begins causing neurological problems (seizures, muscle tics, “chewing-gum fits”), it’s a whole different story.
How Does Distemper Lead to Brain Damage?
As devastating as this may sound, the moment Distemper advances to the last stage of infection or the neurological phase, dogs will most likely suffer permanent brain damage; often despite aggressive supportive care or a full recovery. This is mainly because of the enzymes that are released by the white blood cells as a response to Distemper. While they’re meant to remove the virus from the nervous system, they can damage the myelin sheath (tissues that cover the nerves) in the process.
While most dogs seem okay after completing the full course of treatment, disturbing nervous system effects may develop down the line. To prevent further complications, it’s crucial for owners of dogs that have recovered from Distemper to know how to spot symptoms of brain damage right away.
How Do I Know If My Dog Has Brain Damage?
Since the brain is an essential organ for all living beings, any damage it sustains—no matter how little—can easily lead to serious complications. For Distemper survivors, neurological defects that they’ve developed pre-recovery may stick with them for life. For others, these issues may gradually or suddenly appear as dogs age.
If your dog has overcome the neurological stage of Distemper and seems to be doing okay now, just keep an eye out for any physical or behavioral changes. This includes, spontaneous loss of consciousness, ear or nose bleeds, irregular movements (abnormal posture/gait, incoordination, limb stiffness), skin discoloration (due to internal bleeding or lack of oxygen), seizures, and muscle tics or spasms.
When Should I Bring My Dog to the Animal Clinic?
Your dog may need to undergo a complete physical examination, as well as an x-ray, CT scan, and MRI, to evaluate the severity of your dog’s condition and see if there are any abnormalities in the brain (blood clots, bleeding, tumors). Your veterinarian may also take a sample of your dog’s cerebrospinal fluid to check for possible inflammation and infections.
What Are the Treatment Options for Brain Damage in Dogs?
Once it’s been confirmed that your dog has brain damage due to the neurological effects of Distemper, your veterinarian may suggest immediate hospital admission. Since the main goal of treatment for brain-damaged animals is to provide sufficient oxygen to the brain and regulate blood pressure, your pup may receive oxygen therapy and blood pressure medications. Food and nutrition are also usually provided through a feeding tube.
In severe cases, surgery may need to be done to decrease the pressure caused by the buildup of blood or fluid in the brain. To help with post-op effects and allow the brain to rest, dogs are normally given pain relievers or put under heavy sedation.
After being discharged, it’s important to closely monitor your dog and note their progress, as well as any setbacks. Always keep your veterinarian posted and maintain regular vet visits to make sure your pooch stays healthy and strong. Provide them with nutritious foods and adequate water to help them heal faster and boost their immune system. For reinforcement, you may also talk to your veterinarian about supplements for brain support.