Canine distemper is a major health problem for dogs in Belize. Distemper cannot be cured, so dogs must be regularly vaccinated to prevent the disease. The vaccination is part of the 5 in 1 or 6 in 1 vaccination that your dog needs once a year.
A virus causes canine distemper. Although dogs usually catch distemper from other dogs, the canine distemper virus is extremely contagious and can be carried on shoes, tires and clothes. However, canine distemper does not affect people or cats.
Puppies from 3 months to 6 months are most susceptible to canine distemper and 80% of puppies infected with the disease die. Distemper kills 50% of adult dogs that catch it. (A whole litter of puppies with distemper recently died after being dumped at a local business in Placencia.)
Canine distemper symptoms start out like a cold, with the dog or puppy having red, watery eyes and a runny nose. Diarrhea, fever and vomiting soon follow.
Distemper cannot be cured, so whether a dog or puppy survives distemper depends on the strength of its immune system. A dog already weakened by malnutrition, mange or other diseases is more likely to die from distemper.
Care for a dog with distemper is primarily focused on building up its immune system and preventing secondary diseases such as pneumonia or canine hepatitis. Even if a dog does live, it may have seizures or other nervous system problems for the rest of its life.
Fortunately, canine distemper can be easily prevented, even though it can’t be cured.
Puppies should get their first distemper shot when they are around 6-8 weeks old. This first shot must be followed up by a second shot about two weeks later. The dog must then be re-vaccinated once each year for the rest of its life.
Until puppies are vaccinated, they should be kept away from other dogs. Puppies born to a mother who has survived distemper may have some temporary immunity. However, the immunity does not last long and the puppies must still begin vaccinations when they are 6 to 8 weeks old.
If a dog does catch distemper, its food and water bowls, bedding and sleeping area should be disinfected with a solution of one cup of chlorine bleach to one gallon of water.