When I was in a foul mood as a child my mother used to tell me I was suffering from distemper. Of course, this left me with the impression that distemper vaccinations were to prevent dogs from being angry or sullen. It wasn’t until I had my first dog as an adult that I learned the severity of distemper and of course, that I never had it. What is distemper? There are two variations regarding distemper, one that affects the feline variety and one that affects the canine variety. Each is caused by a different virus, and a cat can not infect a dog and vice verse. In fact, there is no human variety. While distemper might affect a wide range of various carnivorous animals, the human animal is excepted from this likelihood. Most often dogs, cats, and raccoons experience distemper, which by definition is a virus.
Distemper can be spread to unvaccinated animals via air or direct contact. Because it can be transmitted through the air, all veterinarians and kennels, dog walking services, dog parks, and other dog friendly services require that dogs are vaccinated in order to be around other dogs or at their facility. Without this regulation, the distemper virus can become widespread in just a few short weeks.
Young dogs are more likely to contract and are less likely to survive distemper. This is part due to their immune system, which is often still developing, as well as their proximity to other things—puppies like to run up to, chase, sniff, and gallivant around with more zeal and impatience than older dogs. Young dogs often lack the ability to fight off the virus at all on their own, although all infected animals need treatment. An infected dog can infect another dog through their fecal matter or urine on the ground.
Symptoms of Distemper
The symptoms of distemper can resemble other types of illnesses. If you suspect that your dog is ill in any way, the best thing to do is to call the vet’s office for an appointment as soon as possible. Most dogs infected with the distemper virus experience symptoms such as coughing, diarrhea, and vomiting to varying degrees of severity. In untreated dogs or dogs with more severe cases, the pup may cease all food intake, develop a discharge from the eyes, and appear to experience seizures or other central nervous system issues. Wild dogs are likely to present with symptoms that mimic rabies like strange behaviors and the loss of normal fears.
Wild dogs are a strong reason why there are still a high number of cases in the United States. Granted, we don’t see packs of wild dogs roaming the streets the way they do in some Middle Eastern cultures, but there are still packs of wild dogs in the U.S. and in Canada. Controlling outbreaks is difficult when the disease is so easily spread through simple excretions and airborne situations. Dead wild animals should be removed from the premises immediately to help control any distemper contamination. If you are unfortunate enough to find a dead dog, wild or otherwise, on your property, the dog should be removed before your dog is permitted to discover it.
Feline distemper crosses more species boundaries. Its cause is a little different, a type of parvovirus actually produces canine distemper, but it can spread just as readily and can spread to more than just cats. Ferrets, weasels, raccoons, skunks, and bobcats can all contract the feline version of distemper. This makes feline distemper harder to control and much harder to prevent in outdoor cats. Vaccination as soon as humanly possible is the only safeguard our pets have against this terrible and nearly 100% fatal disease.
So, then, really. What is distemper? Distemper refers to one of a few diseases caused by a virus that can be contracted by dog, cats, ferrets, and if you happen to have one as a pet, your raccoon, skunk, weasel, or bobcat. There are other animals that are susceptible to distemper, but they are not considered pets, even exotic pets. If you have any type of concern regarding what is distemper as it relates to an exotic pet, make sure you see and exotic pet expert and ask their opinion. For some exotic pets, there is no vaccination available. This in part, many believe, in due to the slow response to exotic pet health care. Keeping exotic pets makes many veterinarians feel uncomfortable. Your pet, whether it is a cat or a dog or a hedgehog or a worm, deserves the best protection you can give him. Pushing for vaccinations is one way of providing better health care for all our pets.