Unfortunately there is no cure for Distemper at this time. If your dog has been diagnosed with the virus, the best treatment option is to give supportive care for the various symptoms that occur, and to help prevent new infections and diseases. Treatment mainly consists of IV fluids to aid in dehydration, and antibiotics that may help to support the immune system. Since the disease is caused by a virus, antibiotics are not effective for killing the disease itself, however antibiotics may help treat any secondary infections that may occur.
Viral shedding is the release of a virus (typically in the feces) after successful reproduction during a host infection. Dogs can be shedding a virus before they even show symptoms of the disease, meaning that a dog that looks healthy could potentially be infecting other dogs.
Shedding of the Canine Distemper virus can last as long as 4 months in dogs that are recovering. However, after the clinical signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and secretions of the eyes and nose are addressed, shedding is greatly reduced. Visit our Distemper in Dogs page for more information about the different stages of symptoms. Dogs that are still shedding the virus after treatment of these symptoms should be quarantined for at least a month to make sure that they are not in danger of infecting other animals.
Treatment at Home
If you start to notice unusual behavior or symptoms of Distemper such as lethargy, secretions of the eyes and nose, vomiting, or a persistent cough, it is important to address the signs right away and begin treatment. Below are a few ways to treat some of the common symptoms, however you should always contact your veterinarian for medical advice.
Treatment at the Vet
If your vet has diagnosed your dog with Canine Distemper, there are a few different treatment methods that may be used. Your vet may administer IV fluids to replace lost fluids due to diarrhea and vomiting, anti-seizure medications if tremors or seizures are occurring, or antibiotics to treat secondary infections. In severely affected dogs, blood and plasma transfusions, feeding tubes, and other advanced therapies may be necessary.
Dehydration as a result of severe diarrhea and vomiting can be combated with intravenous fluid therapy (IV). The fluid is typically administered in the vein on top of the front leg below the elbow. Other veins such as the jugular vein in the neck may be used for critical patients. The hair in the area over the vein will be shaved or clipped, and a sterile catheter will be inserted. The fluid line in then connected to a catheter and the fluids begin to flow.
Anti-nausea medications can help reduce throwing up and bring back a dog’s appetite. Other prescriptions such as anti-seizure medications may be administered depending on the severity of the secondary conditions.
In severe cases of Canine Distemper, other therapies such as blood and plasma transfusions may be necessary. The goal of these procedures is to replace red blood cells so that proper oxygenation of organs can occur, and to ensure that the blood can clot properly. If one or both of these procedure are suggested, your dog will be matched with a donor to ensure compatibility.
Feeding tubes may be necessary if your dog will not eat. The tube is made of a silicone or similar material that is inserted into the body and goes directly into the gastrointestinal tract. There are several different entry points including the nose, the esophagus, the stomach, and the upper small intestine that the tube can be inserted into. Your vet will determine the best fit for your dog and give you literature on how to use the specific tube.
Preventing Canine Distemper can be as simple as taking your dog to the veterinarian for a shot. Since there is no cure for the virus itself, we cannot stress enough how important it is to prevent this disease! Talk to your vet about a vaccination schedule, and be sure to clean and disinfect your home regularly to prevent the spread of disease.
What is the Canine Distemper Vaccine?
The vaccine is an extremely effective prevention method with antibodies that can protect a dog from contracting the virus. The Distemper vaccine is applied by an injection under the skin that introduces a small amount of an infectious organism into the dog’s immune system. This practice allows the dog’s immune system to identify the virus and to know how to respond quickly in the future if the body ever comes into contact with it again.
Talk to your veterinarian about a vaccination schedule for your dog. Puppies will require a series of vaccinations in order to build immunity, and adult dogs will need to keep up to date with their vaccines as well. Make sure your dog does not have gaps in his or her immunization schedule, and do not bring unvaccinated dogs to dog park, stores, or other areas where many dogs are in a confined space.
Whether you are cleaning an animal shelter or disinfecting the inside of your home, it is important to quarantine animals after a case of Distemper as cleaning agents can be harmful to animals and the virus is easily transmitted through bodily fluids. Make sure to completely clean and disinfect all surfaces, kennels, and equipment several times before reuse, and allow the cleaning products to completely dry.
Before a disinfectant is used, it is recommended that the area is scrubbed with water in order to remove any feces, urine, vomit, or other matter from the surface. It is important to note that some disinfectants are deactivated by organic matter and other soaps and detergents, which is why it is necessary to clean with water beforehand.
The first disinfectant option is to use a quaternary ammonium compound (QUAT) next. QUATs are the most common disinfectants found in households today, and include benzalkonium chloride and dodecyl dimethyl ammonium chloride. QUATs have the ability to cause chemical burns, so it is very important to thoroughly rinse the surface after cleaning so that the area is safe for both people and animals. Air-out the space after cleaning and try to use the products only in well-ventilated areas.
The second disinfectant option is to use bleach. You can purchase a pre-made solution that is one part bleach to 30 parts water. Apply the solution to contaminated surfaces and let it sit for at least 10 minutes. Rinse off the bleach thoroughly and allow the space to air out before reintroducing animals to the area. Bleach can be corrosive to some surfaces, and if it is not completely rinsed away, it can cause ulcers to the skin and mouth.
Unlike Canine Parvovirus, Canine Distemper can only survive a few hours in the environment and the virus is inactivated by most commonly used disinfectants and household cleaners such as bleach. Spray a solution of 1 part bleach to 32 parts water on your grass and yard to ensure that the virus has been eradicated. Plants will most likely die after being treated with the solution, but you will have peace of mind knowing that your dog is safe from the disease.
Wash Your Hands
Washing your hands or using hand sanitizer is perhaps the best way to prevent the spread of disease. Wear gloves when handing unfamiliar animals or animal feces, and always wash your hands frequently and thoroughly afterwards.
After handling infected animals, put your clothes directly into the washing machine and separate from clean clothes. The virus can be transferred from shoes and clothing, so it is important to keep potentially contaminated clothing away from healthy animals.
Determining Your Dog's Risk of Infection
Risk is increased if a shelter is crowded, if dogs are kenneled together rather than separate, and if animal housing areas are porous. Make sure to effectively clean and disinfect kennels regularly and after an infected animal has been quarantined.
Additionally, animals that are not vaccinated for Canine Distemper are at a very high risk of contracting the virus if they come into contact with another infected animal.
Top 5 FAQ
Does my dog need more than one vaccination for Distemper?
Yes! Dogs should receive the Distemper vaccine at 6-8 weeks, then again between 10-12 weeks & finally at 14-16 weeks. A booster shot should be received at 12 months of age and then again every 3 years after that.
Is there a cure for Distemper in dogs?
Unfortunately there is no cure for Distemper once contracted. Only supportive care is available. Antibiotics can often be used to treat secondary bacterial infections that are visible. Your Vet can treat Distemper symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, neurological symptoms & try prevent dehydration.
What are the side effects to the Distemper vaccine?
Some dogs can experience side effects to the vaccine, below are the most common ones.
- Allergic reactions can include pain, swelling, abscesses, redness and irritation. Granulomas or hard tissue can form at the injection site. These can occur within minutes and up to 1 week and usually resolve on their own.
- Systemic reactions can include fever, depression, loss of appetite, lethargy and weakness. Symptoms usually appear within 1-2 days of injection and then disappear.
- Anaphylactic reactions can occur and are usually show after the 2nd or 3rd vaccination in the series of vaccinations. It’s virtually impossible to know if your dog is allergic unless a previous reaction has been noted in their records. Some signs may be facial swelling, itching, weakness, diarrhea, difficulty breathing, shock and sometimes even death.
Does my adult dog need a Distemper vaccine?
Yes! Adult dogs, more than 1 year of age should receive the vaccine every 3 years.
How long can the shedding process take for Distemper?
The shedding of the Distemper virus can last as long as 4 months. After the clinical signs (vomiting, diarrhea & secretions of the eyes & nose) are addressed the shedding time is greatly reduced.
Other Frequently Asked Questions
How does the Canine Distemper vaccine work?
The Distemper Vaccine is given as an injection by your Veterinarian and done in a series, make sure you don’t miss any. The injection introduces a tiny amount of infectious organisms into your dogs immune system which then fights the foreign bodies