canine health

What is the Canine Distemper Virus?

Untitled Copy 16.jpg

Distemper is one of the most serious diseases your dog can get. It is also one of the most preventable. Here are the facts, symptoms, treatment options, and prevention methods that every dog owner needs to know about distemper.


What Is Canine Distemper?

Canine distemper should sound familiar to you if your dog is up-to-date on his vaccinations. Veterinarians consider the distemper vaccine to be a core vaccination, along with the parvovirus and rabies vaccines.

The disease is highly contagious and potentially lethal. A paramyxovirus causes distemper in dogs, and it is closely related to the measles and rinderpest viruses. It causes severe illness in the host by attacking multiple body systems, resulting in a widespread infection that is difficult to treat.


How Is Canine Distemper Spread?

There are three ways dogs can get canine distemper:

  1. Through direct contact with an infected animal or object

  2. Through airborne exposure

  3. Through the placenta

Canine distemper is spread through direct contact or airborne exposure, rather like the common cold in humans. When an infected dog or wild animal coughs, sneezes, or barks, he releases aerosol droplets into the environment, infecting nearby animals and surfaces, like food and water bowls.

The good news is that the virus does not last long in the environment and can be destroyed by most disinfectants. The bad news is that distemper-infected dogs can shed the virus for up to several months, putting dogs around them at risk.

Dogs are not the only animals that can get distemper. Wild animals like raccoons, foxes, wolves, coyotes, skunks, ferrets, and mink can also get the distemper virus. This means that an outbreak of distemper in the local wildlife population can put dogs at risk for catching the disease even if they do not come into contact with other dogs.

Female dogs can also spread the virus through the placenta to their puppies, which is one of the reasons why it is important to fully vaccinate any dog you plan to breed.


What Are the Symptoms of Canine Distemper?

Distemper dogs experience a wide range of symptoms depending on how advanced the disease is in their bodies. Once a dog becomes infected, the virus initially replicates in the lymphatic tissue of the respiratory tract before moving on to infect the rest of the dog’s lymphatic tissue, the respiratory tract, the GI tract, the urogenital epithelium, the central nervous system, and optic nerves. This results in two stages of symptoms.

Stage One

The first symptom of distemper in dogs is usually watery to pus-like discharge from his eyes, followed by fever, loss of appetite, and clear nasal discharge. Most dogs develop a fever approximately 3-to-6 days after being infected, but the initial symptoms depend on the severity of the case and how the patient reacts to it. In general, the symptoms associated with distemper in dogs during the first stages of infection are:

  • Fever

  • Clear nasal discharge

  • Purulent eye discharge

  • Lethargy

  • Anorexia

  • Coughing

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Pustular dermatitis (rarely)

  • Inflammation of the brain and spinal cord

If a dog infected with distemper survives the acute stage of the illness, he may also develop hyperkeratosis of the paw pads and nose, which gives distemper the nickname “hard pad disease.” This distemper symptom causes the pads of a dog’s feet to harden and enlarge and is uncomfortable.

One of the other risks associated with distemper in dogs is a secondary bacterial infection that attacks when a dog’s immune system is compromised by the distemper virus. Secondary bacterial infections can cause respiratory and GI symptoms, including:

  • Vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Change in respiratory rate

  • Pneumonia


Stage Two

Some dogs develop neurological signs as the disease progresses and attacks the central nervous system. These signs are particularly disturbing for owners.

  • Head tilt

  • Circling

  • Partial or full paralysis

  • Seizures

  • Nystagmus (repetitive eye movements)

  • Muscle twitching

  • Convulsions with increased salivation and chewing motions

  • Death

Distemper in dogs presents with some or all of these symptoms, depending on the severity of the case. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), “distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.”


Is my dog at risk for Distemper?

Untitled Copy 17.jpg

Distemper is a risk to all dogs, but unvaccinated dogs and puppies under four months old are particularly susceptible to canine distemper. If your puppy shows any symptoms of distemper, call your vet immediately.


How to Treat Canine Distemper

There is no cure for canine distemper. Veterinarians diagnose distemper through a combination of clinical signs and diagnostic tests, or through a postmortem necropsy. Once diagnosed, care is purely supportive. Veterinarians treat the diarrhea, vomiting, and neurological symptoms, prevent dehydration, and try to prevent secondary infections. Most vets recommend that dogs be hospitalized and separated from other dogs to prevent the spread of infection.

The survival rate and length of infection depend on the strain of the virus and on the strength of the dog’s immune system. Some cases resolve as quickly as 10 days. Other cases may exhibit neurological symptoms for weeks and even months afterward.


Preventing Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is entirely preventable. There are several things you can do to prevent distemper in dogs:

  • Make sure your puppy gets the full series of distemper vaccinations

  • Keep distemper vaccinations up-to-date throughout your dog’s life and avoid any gaps in vaccinations

  • Keep your dog away from infected animals and wildlife

  • Vaccinate pet ferrets for distemper

  • Be careful socializing your puppy or unvaccinated dog, especially in areas where dogs congregate, like dog parks, classes, and doggy day care

By following these steps, you can keep your dog safe from distemper. If you have more questions about distemper in dogs, talk to your veterinarian, and call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog might be showing symptoms of distemper.


Hear From Us Again

Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).

Heavy Panting in Dogs: When is panting normal, and when should you be concerned?

Untitled Copy 11.jpg

It’s normal for dogs to pant, especially when they’re hot, excited, or energetic. Heavy panting is different, though, and may be a sign your dog is dangerously overheated, coping with a chronic health problem, or has experienced life-threatening trauma.

Here are answers to three important questions every dog owner should know:

  • What are the common causes of heavy panting in dogs?

  • What can I do about them?

  • When is it time to see the vet?

 

Common Causes and Treatments

Panting helps dogs cool off when they’re hot or engaged in lively exercise. Dogs take between ten and thirty breaths a minute, depending on their size. Get to know what your dog’s everyday breathing and panting looks like so you’ll more quickly notice any changes.

Some common reasons dogs pant heavily include:

Heatstroke or poisoning

It’s normal for a dog to start breathing harder or panting after exertion. As for some dogs, like Boston terriers, bulldogs, and pugs, are prone to heavier breathing than other dogs because of their short snouts. However, heavy panting is also a sign a dog may be suffering from heatstroke or may have consumed a toxic substance.

If you can’t find any obvious reason for a sudden change in your dog’s breathing, take him to a veterinarian immediately. If you suspect heatstroke, first follow the steps at the end of this article to help cool your dog safely.

Chronic illness

Illnesses like heart failure, Cushing’s syndrome, or respiratory disorders can all cause heavy breathing or panting in dogs:

  • Heart failure: Like people, dogs can suffer from heart failure. And just like people, dogs may show some of the same symptoms, including breathing difficulty, reduced exercise tolerance, and coughing. How your dog’s heart failure is treated depends on the cause. But treatment may include medications such as ACE inhibitors and diuretics.

  • Cushing’s syndrome. This occurs when a dog’s adrenal glands produce too much cortisol. Along with heavy panting, symptoms can include excessive hunger and thirst, hair loss, and a pot-bellied appearance. Treatment varies but may include adrenal-suppressing drugs or surgery. For more information on Cushing's disease, read our article.

  • Respiratory disorders. Several respiratory disorders, such as laryngeal paralysis, pneumonia, and lung tumors, may all lead to heavy breathing or panting. Treatment depends on the condition and how far it’s progressed.

Injury and pain

Dogs can’t tell us with words when they’re in pain. So, it’s up to us to know what to look for. Heavy panting is one sign your dog may have suffered an injury.

Other signs of pain or trauma in pets include enlarged pupils, reduced appetite, a reluctance to lie down, restlessness, anxiety, and licking or biting at the pain site.

Dogs may mask their pain with normal behaviors, such as wagging their tail. And an injury may be internal — for example, as a result of being hit by a car. So if you suspect your pet may be in pain, don’t delay. Seek veterinary care right away.

Medication

Some medications, such as prednisone, may also lead to heavy panting in dogs. Talk to your veterinarian if you think your dog’s medication is causing heavy panting.

Other Causes of Heavy Panting in Dogs

Heavy breathing or deep, intense panting can also be a symptom of eclampsia, also called milk fever. Eclampsia is a dangerous condition that affects nursing mothers; low blood calcium levels lead to an inability to stand or walk and tremors. And allergies, infection, or irritation within the airways can cause wheezy, noisy breathing in dogs.

No matter what kind of breathing your dog usually has, any unexplained change — whether heavy panting, coughing, or wheezing — should lead with a call to your veterinarian.

 

Heatstroke and Your Dog: Emergency Response

Overheating is a medical emergency — and one of the most serious reasons for heavy panting in dogs. If you suspect your dog has heatstroke, a quick response can be lifesaving.

Symptoms of heatstroke include excessive panting, glassy eyes, weakness, fast heart rate, drooling, seizures, vomiting, diarrhea, and a body temperature over 104 F. If possible, take a rectal temp. You want to stop once temp is back down to 103.

If you think your dog may have heatstroke, here’s what to do to help:

  • Move your dog inside or to a shady spot.

  • Submerge your dog in cool water (avoid cold water, which constricts blood vessels) or apply ice packs or cold towels to your dog’s chest, neck, and head. Don’t spray your dog with a yard hose -- on hot days the water inside a hose can reach near boiling temperatures. You want to cool him off gradually.

  • Give your dog cool, not cold, water. Or give him ice cubes to lick.

  • After you’ve started cooling your dog down, take your dog to the vet immediately.

The best way to manage heatstroke is to avoid it. Never leave your pet in a parked car. It’s better to leave your pet at home than to risk heatstroke. At home, be sure to provide all pets with shade and water or a way to get inside during the hottest part of the day.

 

When to See a Vet

Remember, panting is normal for a dog after exercise, excitement, or when it’s hot.

Call your vet immediately if any of the following applies:

  • Your dog’s panting starts suddenly.

  • You think your dog may be in pain.

  • The panting is constant and intense.

  • Your dog’s tongue or gums appear blue, purple, or white — a sign your pet isn’t getting enough oxygen.


Hear From Us Again

Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).

The life threatening veterinary emergency of urinary obstruction.

Urinary obstruction can be a life threatening veterinary emergency. This is especially fatal to male cats, where the inability to urinate leads to a rapid buildup of toxic substances that if left untreated can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and death.

 

What is urinary obstruction?

Urinary obstructions may occur in cats, dogs, and other species such as ferrets. Although males are commonly affected, it can occur in both males and females. Caused typically by bladder stones that are lodged in the urethra, it prevents the passage of urine. It can also be caused by muscle spasms in the urethra, cystitis, mucous plugs, and even certain cancers.

 

What are the signs of urinary obstruction?

Signs in both dogs and cats are similar. They will often be straining to urinate only to produce only a few drops or no urinate at all. Many animals will appear to be in pain as they attempt to urinate or may vocalize this pain. In cats, it may also cause extreme lethargy, vomiting, or even collapse. Check the litter box for signs of no urine or just a few discolored drops of urine.

 

What to do if you suspect urinary obstruction?

Left untreated, especially in male cats, can be deemed particularly life threatening. With appropriate and rapid treatment, most pets can be saved. Because it is difficult for owners to differentiate between a urinary obstruction and the less serious condition of a bladder infection, it is advised that you get your pet to the vet as soon as possible for an examination.

 

How is urinary obstruction treated?

Initial treatment is done by stabilizing the pet, often through intravenous fluids and pain medications. Once stabilized, then they are sedated and a urinary catheter is placed in the urethra to unblock it. Once achieved, your pet will be treated with the appropriate fluids or other medications that are required depending on your pet’s individual condition. The next step is to review why your pet became blocked in the first place. Is it cystitis and will need medical management? Is it bladder stones that will require surgical removal? From that point on, your vet will devise a tailored treatment pertaining to your pet’s current condition.


Hear From Us Again

Don't forget to subscribe to our email newsletter for more recipes, articles, and clinic updates delivered to your inbox (here). Or, you can keep up to date by liking and following our Facebook page (here). We also have additional helpful articles under our tips category (here).

5 Most Common Dog Skin Issues

5 Most Common Dog Skin Issues

Does your dog continuously chew and scratch at themselves? Then there’s a chance your dog has a skin issue. Skin problems are the most common presented complaints at the vet, accounting for a quarter of office visits in a typical day. So what are the signs and what can owners do to keep a healthy, itch free dog?