I’ve heard that distemper in dogs is like measles in people. Is this true?
Not really. Canine distemper and human measles are different diseases, affecting different species (dog vs. human), with different clinical symptoms.
However, the viruses are genetically related. Before the advent of modern vaccines, the earliest canine distemper vaccines actually contained human measles virus. This is no longer a recommended practice.
In summary, people cannot get measles from a dog with distemper, and vice versa.
How would I know if my dog is infected?
Initial clinical signs resemble those of kennel cough, including the characteristic coughing, often with nasal discharge, fever and goopy eye discharge. Some dogs have a poor appetite, and vomiting or diarrhea.
Fido may seem to recover, and then become sick again one week later. This time, his signs are neurological. You may see dizziness, weakness, facial twitching, or seizures that may range from mild to severe. “Chewing gum” seizures are common, during which the patient has rhythmic jaw-chomping behavior that resembles chewing on gum. Severe seizures may be uncontrollable and may lead to death.
One challenge is that canine distemper can mimic a lot of other illnesses. This classic biphasic pattern of clinical signs helps your veterinarian establish a diagnosis of distemper.
What is the treatment if my dog comes down with distemper?
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the distemper virus. Affected dogs are supported medically, and secondary problems are addressed. For example, proper hydration is managed with fluid therapy; secondary bacterial infections are treated with appropriate antibiotics; medicines are prescribed for coughing and gastrointestinal upset; and seizures can often be controlled with anti-seizure medication.
About fifty percent of dogs that become ill with canine distemper virus will not survive. The dog’s immune system plays a large role in whether or not he will recover.