A feared disease of dogs for hundreds of years, distemper is easily spread via infected secretions. It starts with a fever, lethargy and a thick discharge from the eyes plus occasionally a cough, vomiting and diarrhoea. The disease then can seem to improve before progressing to severe nervous system signs.
Dogs usually die from pneumonia, paralysis or seizures. Survivors often show signs of permanent brain damage. Treatment is supportive via fluids and antibiotics.
How common is distemper?
Before vaccination, vets saw distemper every day. Around two thirds to three quarters of these dogs would die. The development of effective vaccines made it a rare disease in Australia.
Distemper appears to be increasing again, probably due to low vaccination rates. An Australian study for the years 2006-2014 found 29 confirmed and 19 suspected cases, always in un-vaccinated dogs (Wyllie et al, 2016).
Canine hepatitis is caused by an adenovirus which was once a common cause of death of young, unvaccinated dogs. The signs of liver failure are severe but not easy to diagnose without blood testing. Sometimes the dogs develop ‘blue eye’ due to infection in the eye. Treatment is supportive.
How common is viral hepatitis?
As above, only now found in areas where preventative medicine for dogs is very poor or nonexistent.
Parvovirus is unique for the tremendous toughness and persistence of the virus. It is passed in faeces and can easily remain infective for over 12 months under Adelaide conditions.
It has an incubation period of around seven days during which infected dogs spread the virus before becoming sick themselves.
The disease starts with a high fever and a characteristic lack of white blood cells, Once the vomiting starts it is followed by a profuse and often bloody diarrhoea a day or two later.
Death comes swiftly without prompt fluid and electrolyte replacement, and antibiotic cover. With veterinary care most adult dogs survive after 7-10 days in hospital but mortality rates in puppies are distressingly high.
How common is canine parvovirus?
Parvoviral enteritis remains the most dangerous disease of dogs in Adelaide. Most years see an outbreak and some can affect widespread areas. We keep an isolation ward just for this disease.
Bordetella & Parainfluenza
Canine Cough or Kennel Cough is an infection of the upper respiratory tract and trachea (windpipe) and is one of the most contagious diseases we see. It is caused by two agents: Bordetella bronchiseptica and parainfluenzavirus.
B. bronchiseptica is a bacteria in the same genus as B. pertussis, the cause of whooping cough in people. It produces a severe, repetitive, hacking cough and fever. In adult dogs the disease is distressing but rarely fatal; puppies are at higher risk.
Parainfluenza in dogs is a very similar disease. Both diseases are spread by airborne particles or shared food or water.
Treatment is supportive but antibiotics and antiinflammatories can lessen the severity.
How common is canine cough?
Extremely. We regularly see dogs who catch it without leaving their yard, presumably from dogs passing in the street. Canine Cough vaccination is essential for any social dog. Read more about canine cough here.
Prevention of Distemper, Hepatitis, Parvovirus and Canine Cough
The first vaccination with the breeder is a temporary vaccine and is not protective on its own.
Get your puppy vaccinated as soon as possible, and follow your vet’s dog vaccination schedule. Take note of when your vet advises you their vaccine will start being protective (Ours protects from 11 weeks of age if given at 10).
Until this date, avoid areas where dogs have been who may not be fully vaccinated. This includes all public spaces, grooming salons, pet shops and dog training.
Only allow your puppy to meet dogs you are certain are fully vaccinated, and only on uncontaminated private property. Virus can be transmitted by dogs and puppies, but also dirt, hands, shoes, clothing, bowls etc that have been in contact with other dogs.
Avoid contact with sick dogs. If you have been in contact with a sick dog, dispose of your clothing, and keep the puppy away from yourself, and the infected environment until the puppy is fully protected. Do not rely on disinfectants.
Vaccination is close to 100% effective. As long as you follow your veterinarian’s schedule, you’ll be nearly certain of your dog never experiencing these diseases.
There are a lot more important diseases you can stop your dog from experiencing. Click on the links to learn more about the parasitic diseases such as heartworm and intestinal worms.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These blogs are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. We do not accept payments or incentives in return for stories. Like or follow our page or subscribe via email to read the latest.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.
Many of our cat-owning clients will already know how much we hate the name ‘cat flu’. The name comes from a time when we didn’t fully understand what these viruses were. These are serious diseases with often lifelong consequences for the infected cat. Here are the stories of three such cats: Felix, Sooty and Princess.
Limping Kitten Syndrome
Felix is a kitten from the Animal Welfare League, which means he has had a better than average start to life. He was sold having had a vet checkup, his desexing operation, a microchip, worming, flea control and the first F3 vaccination.
It wasn’t long before his new owners noticed something was wrong. He wasn’t playing or moving like when he first came home, and he started eating less and losing weight. His owner, who was a doctor commented that he looked like he had reactive arthritis.
He was quite right. When we examined Felix, he had a fever, signs of malnutrition from a poor appetite, and multiple swollen and painful joints. He could barely walk and only did so in a grossly stilted gait as if every joint in his body were painful, which they probably were. He also had that classic sign of a sick cat; the ‘staring’ coat, which is what we call a clumped, dull and ungroomed coat.
This pattern of signs and symptoms is characteristic of Limping Kitten Syndrome, which is arthritis caused by Feline Calicivirus, one of the ‘cat flu’ viruses.
The video shows him well on the road to recovery, looking well and almost walking normally. He will stay on anti-inflammatory treatment until he no longer has joint pain, and apart from being a calicivirus carrier (see below), should live a normal life.
Sooty and Princess are the sole survivors of a very unlucky start to life. They were born to a mother infected with feline herpesvirus, the other cat flu virus. Although the mother did not appear to be sick, she passed the infection on to all her kittens. When this happens, the virus as it spreads causes a range of disease depending on the age of the foetus or kitten.
The older foetuses can probably survive the infection but are often born with significant damage, whereas the younger foetuses die and are either aborted or stillborn.
Sooty was born with or developed herpesviral neurological disease (we don’t know which as the kittens weren’t seen for the first few weeks). This led to damage to the developing nervous system, giving him the appearance of a human with cerebral palsy. However, he is also generally in poor health and struggles to maintain a healthy weight. At two years of age, even with good care his long-term outlook is guarded at best and his mobility is very poor. Note his size compared with Princess below.
Update 2018: Sooty died suddenly around a year after this blog was written.
Gingivitis & Stomatitis
Princess was luckier. She was probably infected later than Sooty. Therefore she was able to fight the infection better and is generally healthy.
Her problem has been one that happens to many cats who recover from cat flu. They become carriers of the virus, and for reasons we don’t fully understand, it causes severe and persistent oral inflammation and ulceration. These cats suffer from painful gingivitis and stomatitis (mouth inflammation), progressing to periodontitis. In Princess’ case, she was in severe pain from infection and loose teeth.
In these situations, it is often necessary to remove all the teeth behind the canines. As shocking as this may seem, it usually results in a cure to the mouth problems and pain. We are always asked, “How will they eat with no teeth?”.
The simple answer is that their mouth is so painful from the infection that they always eat a lot better afterwards. Most cat food really doesn’t require teeth anyway!
It’s important to remember that in protecting your cat, these viruses are highly contagious. Many stray cats are shedding the virus, and any shared objects such as rubbing posts or water bowls as well as hands and clothing can spread the disease. Vaccination is the safest form of prevention, and over time it has dramatically reduced the number of sick cats we see with these diseases. Read how we prevent these diseases at Cat Vaccination Explained.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on Facebook and Twitter. The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet has has a problem, please seek veterinary attention.
Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours of lodging.