There has been a worrying increase in cases of Distemper in dogs being reported in the South West and South Wales.
Canine Distemper is a serious and often fatal disease of dogs which can affect dogs of all ages but primarily seen in puppies and young dogs .The infectious agent is a virus in the group morbillivirus, similar to the human measles virus. Symptoms can vary but usually there is some sickness, diarrhoea, respiratory signs with discharge from the eyes and if animals survive this stage they will
often go on to develop neurological signs because of encephalitis (brain inflammation), which leads to seizures and a very poor prognosis. Surviving infected dogs can also go on to develop neurological signs years later. It appears that in the recent cases reported it involved young puppies with seizures only as their main symptom.
Many of the vets working today will not have encountered clinical cases of Distemper as fortunately the general rate of infection over the past few decades has plummeted due to effective and consistent vaccination . This highlights the risk of complacency to the risks of disease if vaccination protocols are not maintained .
Similar issues have been observed in human medicine with a marked increase in measles outbreaks in children following a drop in the uptake of the NMR vaccinations due to misinformation about its safety. Vaccination programmes work not only to protect the individual but to lower the risk of infection to all dogs in the population .
Puppies born to vaccinated mothers will have some immunity for a few weeks after birth but this then reduces after a few months. Protection can then be provided by puppy vaccinations from around 8 weeks old. There is a period of increased risk in these very young puppies and if they are born to unvaccinated mothers or in an area where the dog population is poorly vaccinated, then the risk is greatly increased.
The overall death rate is 20 % from Canine Distemper but 90% or more if dogs reach the stage of seizures. We advise all dog owners to not only get your puppy vaccinated correctly but to maintain vaccination protection throughout adulthood, to not only keep your dog safe but to help reduce the risk to all dogs in your area. This basic advice applies to all diseases that we can vaccinate against, by following the latest recommended vaccination programme.
As practising vets we really don’t want to have to deal with the very sad reality of emerging new cases of Distemper, and as pet owners I’m sure you don’t either .