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The Distemper complex in dogs

Updated on May 6, 2010


Distemper is often spoken of as the great scourge of dogdom. This is true if we include within the term distemper all the many diseases which masquerade as what was once thought to be just one disease. At least ten diseases produce symptoms so similar to those of true distemper that you may not be able to determine what disease your dog has. Several of them are caused by viruses. Several may invade the dog's brain and produce brain inflammation (encephalitis). Leave it to your veterinarian to identify the disease. Remember,too,that immunizing against true distemper will not immunize your dog against other diseases of the distemper complex.

Many dogs live through these diseases to a ripe old age. When you hear,"Distemper is incurable," it doesn't mean that there is nothing you can do for the dog who has it. There is plenty you can do--more than at any time.If it is one of the virus-caused diseases, it must run its course,aided by good nursing and perhaps serum which your veterinarian will inject,together with drugs or penicillin to prevent bacterial diseases from complicating the picture. If your dog has one of the bacterial diseases of distemper complex,sulfa drugs or penicillin may produce a rapid cure. Your job is to help your dog maintain his strength while he is fighting off the diseases.

PREVENTION. Healthy dogs get distemper as well as unhealthy ones,but we definitely know that puppies in robust health have a better chance than puppies that are anemic, wormy, and rickety; therefore, it behooves you see that your puppy is well fed and free from worms right from the time he is brought into the home. Preventive inoculations are not 100 per cent effective, but even partial immunity is something to be grateful for and reason enough for inoculations. Every puppy should be inoculated on the chance that in his case the inoculation might be effective. Leave the choice of immunization method and the age at which it is done to your veterinarian.

KEEP YOUR DOG OUT OF INFECTED QUARTERS. Distemper and the related diseases are highly contagious. They are spread chiefly by direct transference via the breath and excreta, but there is some danger of a dog's becoming infected from the premises where another sick dog has lived. We do not know how long viruses can live outside a dog. Keep your puppy at home and away from other dogs, at least until he has been safely vaccinated.

SYMPTOMS: Fever,shivering,listlessness,,vomiting,loss of appetite,fits,running eyes and nose,cough,and diarrhea are common to all the diseases of the distemper complex as well as to severe worm infestations. It is often impossible to make a correct diagnosis when the diseases in in its early stages.

TEMPERATURE. There is one thing every dog owner should get when he gets a puppy, and that is a thermometer. It is really essential. Puppy illnesses are common and often inconsequential,but the amateur dog owner is in no position to judge whether they are serious or not. With the aid of a thermometer you can tell a great deal. If fever accompanies a symptom,you can be suspicious of trouble. See a veterinarian without delay. A dog's normal temperature runs from 101 to 101.5. In taking the temperature,grease the thermometer well, insert it in the dog's rectum very gently, and leave it there for whatever period of time instructions on the thermometer indicate, usually two minutes. The popular theory that the dog's nose is his thermometer is non-sense; his nose can be hot when he's normal and cold when he's running a high temperature.

TREATING THE SYMPTOMS OF DISTEMPER. Treatment of distemper, as well as of any other diseases, is simply treatment of the symptoms. In other words, if his eyes run, treat his eyes. If he has diarrhea, treat the diarrhea. If he vomits, treat the vomiting. If he coughs,treat the cough.

TREAT YOUR DOG AT HOME. When dogs get sick they depressed,and depression,as any doctor will tell you, is a wasting disorder. The heart is depressed, the pulse retarded, the whole system becomes sluggish and noncombative and the patient is liable to give up. Unquestionably, hospital and nursing homes offer every up-to-date medical and surgical treatment, but there is no scientific treatment for a dog who is miserable away from his familiar surroundings and his master,and there is no time when comfort, cheerfulness, and peace of mind are more needed by the dog than during a depressive diseases such as distemper. Do not exercise or allow too much freedom.

FOOD IS IMPORTANT. At home your dog can kidded out of his depression to some extent by frequent kind words, a back rub or pats on the head by some on he knows and trust. You can often coax him to eat when another person would fail. Since feeding is such an important part of the treatment, you should try all kinds of tricks to get him to eat, to give him strength. Very often in sickness a dog will refuse food altogether. If he does,feed him by hand, or cook the meat slightly for him. If he won't eat meat,try milk,soft-boiled eggs,fish,cereal.

      Feed him anything at all that has nourishment in it. If he refuses everything, he must be force-fed. This is done with liquids-broths, beef extracts,whiskey and water,fruit juices, coffee, milk. Pull the dog's lip out at the side and tilt his head back a little. This will form a pocket. Slowly pour the liquid into pockets,giving the dog a chance to swallow after every tablespoonful or two.

KEEP YOUR PATIENT WARM. Warmth is also one of the first and most important things to consider in nursing a sick dog. He must be kept warm and out of drafts at all times. He should not be allowed out of the house unless he absolutely refuses to relieve himself in the house on papers. If you have to take him out,be sure to keep him out only long enough for him to attend to his functions, and if the weather is chilly, put a coat on him-the kind of coat that covers his chest,not just his back. In cold weather you should keep a coat or flannel cloth over him all the time and add an extra one at night if the house gets chilly.

AFTER EFFECTS OF VIRUS DISEASES. If your dog seems to be recovering from a virus disease and than develops convulsions, twitches in many or a few muscles,blindness,sleeping sickness,a tendency to walk in circles always in the same direction, or loss of balance, you will know his brain has been damaged by the virus. the extent of the damage determines his chances of recovery and his future well-being. Don't destroy him until you see what course he will take. Perhaps after the inflammation has subsided, the symptoms will become less; perhaps he will completely outgrow a twitch. Too often dog owners give up when they know their dogs are suffering from one of these ailments because it is commonly believed there is no hope. As long as there is life there is hope-don't underestimate the part human affection and time play in all dogs illnesses.


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