The Franklin County Dog Shelter has had to euthanize fifty-some dogs in the last week due to an outbreak of Canine Distemper. We would like to take a minute to share some information about Canine Distemper. If your dog is current on vaccinations, hopefully this will greatly set your mind at ease.
Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) is a disease mainly of terrestrial carnivores. Seals, ferrets, exotic cats and one non-human primate have been confirmed to have contracted CDV or a related virus. It does not pose a risk to humans or cats. After inhalation (the virus replicates in nervous, lymph and epithelial tissues) of secretions from saliva, eyes, urine or feces of an infected animal, the animal shows symptoms in 8-14 days. Infected dogs can shed the virus (meaning they can infect other dogs) for 60-90 days. Symptoms are mainly respiratory, and can be confused for kennel cough. Neurologic signs also occur and can include seizures, clonus (rhythmic muscle contraction), head tilt and/or ataxia (appearing dizzy/falling). Gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea also occur. Occasionally vision disturbances and stillbirth/abortion will happen. Dogs usually die of complications to their presenting symptoms without supportive care. If dogs survive they can have permanent neurologic and vision damage. Two very important things to note about CDV: 1) if a dog is vaccinated appropriately their risk of contracting CDV is virtually zero, and 2) the virus is EASILY destroyed on surfaces with basic household cleaners an can only survive in secretions for about 20 minutes. NO VACCINE is 100% effective, and viruses, by their very nature, mutate as they infect hosts. That being said, CDV is a model of why vaccines are important, why we recommend them, and how effective they are. The CDV vaccine has been around for decades and is highly effective. Mutations of the virus are monitored by researchers and any mutations warrant altering the vaccine. If your dog is current on his/her vaccines, please be at ease. This means everything possible has been done to prevent this terrible illness, and, barring any intense/unexpected mutation of the virus, which is possible but unlikely, the risk to a well vaccinated dog is EXTREMELY low. If your dog is NOT vaccinated, two vaccines are required before their immunity to distemper, or any illness they are vaccinated against, will be high. When vaccines are given the initial vaccine exposes and "primes" the immune system, and the second, or "booster" is the really important vaccine to re-challenge the animals immune system after initial exposure. Therefore, an animals immunity to something isn't really very high until a week or so after a booster is administered. The booster is administered 3-4 weeks after the initial vaccine.
We hope this helps inform you and calm your fears. If your dog is not vaccinated and you would like to schedule an exam and initial vaccine, please give us a call!