When you see the floppy ears and playful antics of your new puppy, the last thing you're thinking is that he could be carrying a frightening disease. If your new pal seems a bit under the weather, it could be the first signs of distemper, which can be spread easily to other dogs in your home.
What is Distemper?
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Distemper is a disease caused by a virus that's related to the measles virus in humans. The virus affects your pup's respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. The earliest symptoms are kind of like a cold, causing sneezing, coughing, and runny nose and eyes. As the disease progresses, your dog will develop a high fever, physical weakness, diarrhea and vomiting. In the latest stages of the disease, he might suffer from seizures, paralysis or hysteria when the virus starts attacking his nervous system. Sadly, the virus is deadly in up to 50 percent of cases, and there currently isn't a way to cure distemper.
The most likely way your four-legged friend will catch the disease is when he's a young puppy and hasn't had his shots yet, but dogs of any age can get the disease if they haven't been vaccinated against it. Because an older dog's immune system isn't as strong, he's especially at risk if he never got a distemper vaccine. If you rescued a puppy and are unsure of his vaccination and health history, he should visit your vet to get a clean bill of health before your bring him home. If your other pals have been vaccinated, they should be safe.
How is Distemper Spread?
Distemper is easily spread from dog to dog. If your dog comes into contact with pee, blood or saliva from an infected dog, it could make him sick. If your new puppy has distemper and shares a water dish, pet bed or hangs out anywhere in the same living space as an older dog, he could get your older dog sick. If your older pal already has another infection, it could make him even more at risk for catching distemper.
Always consult a qualified veterinarian about the health and welfare of your pet. Getting your pup vaccinated is the best way to keep him protected. He'll need his first vaccination when he's between 6 and 8 weeks old. His vaccine might have a name that consists of a seemingly random sampling of the alphabet, but each letter indicates a disease the vaccine targets. DHPP is a common way to abbreviate the vaccine. The "D" in the name stands for distemper. The "H" means it protects against hepatitis. The "P"s stand for Parvovirus, a deadly virus, and parainfluenza, a common cause of respiratory disease in dogs.
By Melissa Schindler
About the Author
Melissa Schindler has been writing professionally since 2010. She writes about pets, animals, technology and parenting for various websites. Also a fiction writer, she is author of "Houston After Dark." She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from Texas State University.