We now know that DISTEMPER is in the Houston area. We personally know of pups rescued from the area having the disease. It is related to the human measles disease and is spread by airborne droplets. There is no approved treatment as of yet. Vets can merely treat the symptoms and hope for the best. There is a 50% recovery rate depending on whether it attacks the nervous system or not. Most at risk are pups under a year old. It is the number one infectious killer of dogs, but easily preventable.
I am by no means a veterinarian expert. My experience is, unfortunately, from personal experience. My hope is that by writing this I can prevent others from going through this terrible experience.
We rescued Beta from the Montgomery Animal Shelter in May. The next day we took her to our vet for a check up and vaccinations. She had heartworm, hookworms and an infection. All treatable. Little did we suspect, distemper was incubating. There is usually a 1 or 2 week incubation, but it can also be 4-5 weeks. She went on antibiotics and seemed better after a few days. Then the upper respiratory problems appeared with a loss of appetite, nasal discharge and listlessness…then she seemed to improve again. Eventually, there was no denying it; a terrible cough, conjunctivitis, anorexia, listlessness, hardening of the skin on her nose and foot pads. It was Distemper. If there is no hardening of the skin, there is a better chance of survival. The hardening of the skin is associated with a bad prognosis and progression to neurological disease. She was given a 20% chance of surviving. Still we pressed on with antibiotics, probiotics, steroids, magic meatloaf and salves. Because her feet were as hard as rocks she had no traction or feeling in her feet when she walked so we ignored the fact that she fell down a lot. Denial. Eventually, the skin on her foot pads peeled off, revealing new, soft skin, but it was too late. The disease had progressed to her nervous system. She had Chorea; painful, rhythmic jerks and twitches all over her body, which is a permanent condition. She couldn’t hold her head up and would fall down while trying to walk. She cried in pain in her sleep. I am grateful that she did not develop a sensitivity to touch, another common side effect, so she could appreciate our love until the end. We took a few days to say goodbye and let her experience as much love, life and junk food as possible. She is sorely missed.
Please make sure all your pets are vaccinated. If you adopt a pup, get it vaccinated as soon as possible. Ask you vet about a booster shot for your resident dogs in case the pup already has the disease. Do not take your pup in public places where infected dogs could have recently been (dog parks, pet stores, etc) until the pup has had the entire series of puppy shots. An infected dog can shed the disease for up to 3 months after it appears to have recovered, as well as exhibit neurological symptoms months after the disease seems to be gone. Some dogs do not exhibit such acute symptoms. They could go undiagnosed but still be carriers.
On a personal note, I would like to thank Dr. Dennis Mangum and his staff for their compassion and support through Beta’s battle. The phone calls to check on her, the treats (including “to go” bags of her favorites) the tissues for me and finally the Rainbow Bridge card and pin all meant a lot to us.
Beta’s foster mommy