The American Veterinary Medical Association defines Canine Distemper as “a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.” Picture: Supplied

Are your pet's vaccinations up to date? Dr Guy Fyvie, nutritional advisor at Hill’s Pet Nutrition, says, with the recent Canine Distemper virus outbreak this question should be top of pet parents’ minds. 

The virus is said to have originated with 10 cases in Hornlee near Knysna earlier this year and has now spread to the Western Cape. 

Although, not an epizootic yet – a disease event in pets, equivalent to an epidemic in humans – the virus is spreading, with almost 300 dogs euthanised between March and August 2018.

The American Veterinary Medical Association defines Canine Distemper as “a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs.”

“The only way to prevent and avoid Canine Distemper is to take your dog to the vet and have them vaccinated,” says Dr. Fyvie. “If your dog hasn’t been vaccinated, and they come into contact with an animal infected by distemper, they’re at a very high risk of contracting the disease themselves. There is also a possibility of the virus spreading by secondary contact or even airborne.”  Distemper is traditionally a young dog disease but can easily affect older dogs that are not properly vaccinated.

Pets should be getting a yearly health check, with a vaccination usually given at the same time. Especially in times when specific diseases are common, it is imperative to follow your vet’s recommended vaccination schedule, which may be specific to your region. A general physical examination facilitates the early detection of several very common conditions and diseases such as heart disease, kidney disease, osteoarthritis, obesity and cancerous tumours, and is an ideal opportunity to remind pet parents about parasite control like fleas, ticks, lice and worms, discuss skin disease management, as well as sterilisation.

Dr. Fyvie says, “Pet parents shouldn’t wait for things to go wrong with their dogs or cats before paying a visit to their vet. Prevention is key.”

When it comes to Canine Distemper, watch out for the following symptoms:

  • Diarrhoea
  • Pneumonia (Characterised by mucopurulent nasal discharge and possible laboured breathing and coughing)
  • Vomiting
  • Hardening/thickening of the pads of the feet and nose.
  • Ataxia, an inability to coordinate the muscles
  • Hyperesthesia, a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, like touch and pain
  • Myoclonus, muscle spasms, often seen in the facial muscles as a “tic”
  • Paralysis, partial or complete
  • Seizures affecting any part of the body.

“At the first sign of any unusual behaviour or symptoms, take your pet to a veterinary professional for a check-up,” says Fyvie.