We just had some friends lose two puppies to canine distemper. They got a lab puppy from a breeder and a lab mix from a shelter. The lab mix had a cough when they got her and the lab was perfectly healthy. Several weeks later, both dogs had died from distemper, despite extensive attempts to save them with excellent veterinary care, and despite being on track with the standard course of puppy vaccinations.
Canine distemper is a virus related to measles and for puppies, only rabies has a higher mortality rate. Puppies from three to six months seem to be particularly susceptible to this infection, which spreads to new individuals through contact with bodily fluids including nose and eye secretions as well as feces and urine, or through food and water contaminated by these same products.
Symptoms include fever, runny eyes and nose, followed by vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration, excessive salivation, weight loss and loss of appetite, trouble breathing and coughing. Later symptoms include twitching, seizures, swollen foot pads, loss of muscle, incontinence, circling, and sensitivity to light and touch. Sometimes the serious symptoms show up right away, and sometimes they appear many weeks later.
Any suspicion of canine distemper should be followed by a consultation with a veterinarian. There is no specific treatment for the disease, although antibiotics can often help with the secondary bacterial infections that often result. Prevention is best accomplished with vaccinations, although obviously in puppies that is not always successful because it takes more than one shot to get full protection, and in the meantime, puppies can be exposed to the disease.
My friends who lost their puppies to canine distemper suggest being aware of puppies with a suspicious cough, which they originally thought was something milder such as kennel cough. I give my heartfelt sympathies to these friends and anyone else who has lost a puppy to this disease.
Would anyone else who has lost a puppy to a serious illness like to comment or offer any suggestions/empathy?