Almost everyone has heard of distemper, and most dog owners know that their pet needs some type of “shot” in order to protect them against this disease, but that may be the total extent of their knowledge.
As we discuss his temper in this article series, please keep in mind that the discussion will be generalized and based primarily on research findings. Averages are the basis for any vaccination recommendations and in no way reflect individual variations, individual problems, geographical peculiarities, practitioner preferences, etc.
Every program for vaccinating animals against distemper is based on compromises according to the prevalence of disease, owner convenience, cost, and many other factors. In the final analysis, the pet owner must trust his veterinarian to provide adequate protection.
Canine Distemper (CD) or Carre’s Disease, is caused by a virus which attacks epithelial and nervous tissue cells. It can affect lymphoid tissue, the intestinal tract, nerves, the brain, lungs, footpads, and other epithelial tissue in the body. “Hard Pad Disease” is nothing more than one of the many clinical manifestations of the distemper virus.
There is only one strain of canine distemper so the many clinical syndromes are only a reflection of individual response to the disease. The virus will infect dogs, fox, wolves, dingoes, coyotes, raccoons, weasels, ferrets, mink, and skunks.
Transmission of the CD virus is through discharges from the eyes, nose, or mouth of infected animals. These enter the respiratory system either by direct contact or with virus-laden dust or droplets. Flies can also mechanically transmit the virus. Urine and feces may also contain the organism and thus act as a source of infection.
At warmer temperatures the virus appears to be very unstable outside of a host and may only survive up to a few hours. In fact, at temperatures of 140 degrees for 30 minutes will destroy the virus, as will many chemicals. In colder environments, however, the virus may lie dormant for long periods and reactivate with warmth.
This can be used as a guideline as to when a new dog can be brought into a home which has harbored a distemper case. In warmer weather, a few weeks should be more than sufficient, but in a cold climate, the backyard may act as a source of infection as the temperatures rise. Incubation is about one week. This is the time which takes for a virus to cause the disease from the time it enters the body.