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Distemper

In July of 2002, a reported 25 WCAS dogs were destroyed because they had contracted Parvovirus. Winnebago County Animal Control had been previously hit with Parvovirus in 2001, costing the lives of a number of innocent dogs, many were puppies. It is suspected that someone brought in a puppy that had not been vacintated against the disease. Before the puppy died, it had infected a number of other animals in the facility resulting in the death or destruction of 22 of them.

In March of 2002, a similar outbreak occurred at a southern Wisconsin pet store. Two families who had purchased their puppies spent hundreds at their veterinarians trying to save the lives of their new pets. The puppies died along with other puppies at the store. An investigation ensued.


Preventing Distemper
In Winnebago County, Illinois, the rabies vaccine is mandatory for dogs. The rabies vaccination protects both animals and humans from a very serious and deadly disease. But, what about the vaccines that do not effect humans, but only dogs?

The one that raises my deepest concern is the distemper combination vaccine. Working part-time in a veterinary office, I see first hand the suffering animals and owners go through when this disease strikes. Suffering that is unecessary, because distemper is a preventable disease.

It is reported that "better than 50% of the adult dogs and 80% of the puppies that contract distemper actually die of it." According to the AVAM (American Veterinarian Medical Association), it is also considered "the greatest single disease threat to the world's dog population." I would like to see the distemper combination vaccine reclassified as a mandatory vaccine for canines. The distemper combination contains six different vaccines: distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, parvovirus and coronavirus. If a dog gets any one of these viruses it goes through intense pain and discomfort and the end result may be permanent neuroloical complications or even death.

Distemper is caused by a particular morbillyvirus closely related to the measles virus. The symptoms of distemper are close to those of the human flu, characterized by fever, gastrointestinal and respiratory upsets and frequently complications that affect the nervous system. Distemper starts with a fever that lasts a couple day. Often there may be squinting, congestion of the eyes and a discharge of pus from the eyes. There is little or no appetite and possibly weight loss, coughing, vomiting and nasal discharge. The animal seems depressed and listless, frequently developing severe diarrhea. The dog may develop 'hardening of the foot pads' which is why distemper is sometimes referred to as 'Hard Pad Disease'. The initial symptoms can last anywhere from ten days up to several months. The dog may develop bronchitis, pneumonia and severe inflamation of the stomach and intestines. It may also affect the dog's sense of smell hearing and sight. The dog may appear to recover but soon show signs of the minor twitching to possibly major convulsions caused by the permanent brain damage which can also cause partial or complete paralysis. There is no cure for distemper and treatment consists only of supportive measures to make the dog as comfortable as possible while it suffers with this seriously debilitating, yet easily preventable, disease.

Some people think that the distemper combination vaccine is too costly and refuse to get it for their dog. It actually cost about the same as the rabies vaccine, sometimes a little less. It certainly is less expensive than the human cost of watching a beloved animal suffer.

Distemper is an airborne virus. This means that it is spread through the very air we and our pets breathe. Contact with the urine and fecal matter of an infected dog can also result in infection. It can also be transmitted by inanimate objects. Kennels and dog runs can harbor the canine distemper virus. People assume their dog will never get distemper because their dog may only go outside to go to relieve themselves. However, people do not realize, if the windows are open and the distemper virus is in the air; the dog will contract distemper unless it is vaccinated against it. "Short of raising a dog in total isolation, it is nearly impossible to prevent exposure."(AVMA) Only animals that are vaccinated properly will be protected.

Puppies are extremely susceptible to the virus because the only immunization they have is whatever the mother dog had. As long as the puppy is nursing it is slightly protected (if the mother has had her shots) however, even before it is weaned the vaccine's effect wears off (sometimes in as little as a few weeks) and the puppy is unprotected against the distemper virus. The distemper virus could easily infect the small puppy causing pain and suffering; possibly even death.

Some owners aren't easily persuaded and figure that if the puppy dies they can easily just get another one. Unfortunately, caring for a small puppy in severe pain (possibly dying) is difficult. It causes us intense heartache, especially where children are involved. Children become easily attached to a puppy and suffer intense feelings of loss when their favorite pet dies.

Dogs are man's best friend and we should treat them accordingly. We should take care of them like one of our own family. Our children receive shots when they are infants and continue receiving vaccinations until they enter high school. Why can't we treat our devoted animals with the same love and protection we treat other members of our family?

Jennifer Eccles-Freund
Veterinary Assistant
Roscoe Clinic 1998


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