( PHOENIX) – As cases of the highly contagious, often fatal distemper disease surface throughout the Valley, the Arizona Humane Society is issuing a community wide health alert to pet owners within Arizona. While increased occurrences of distemper typically arise in the spring due to an increase in the number of litters of puppies, signs of the disease are appearing much earlier as cases have recently emerged as far away as Florida and Tennessee.
The canine distemper virus, an extremely contagious, whole body, viral disease, is shed in bodily secretions of infected animals and spread via inhalation. Once inhaled, the virus moves to the lymph nodes where it begins reproducing. The virus then spreads to the blood and the cell lining of the respiratory, gastrointestinal, urogenital and central nervous system of infected animals. Symptoms materialize approximately 4 days after infection and vary from dog to dog, but often include: discharge from eyes/nose, coughing, lethargy, lack of appetite, callusing of nose/foot pads, vomiting, diarrhea and seizures.
While AHS vaccinates 100% of the adoptable animals in its care, it is imperative that the community does the same as distemper, just as the equally fatal parvovirus, is a community problem. Therefore, it is crucial that animals who are at higher risk for contracting the disease, such as puppies under six months of age, receive all of their “puppy shots” before exposing them to public areas with unknown dogs. In addition, unvaccinated dogs are at high risk for contracting the disease. Currently, there is no specific treatment or cure for the distemper virus nor is there a fool-proof test to confirm or deny the diagnosis.
“Distemper is a very serious disease with fatal consequences; however, it is completely preventable by simply vaccinating ones pets,” said AHS Medical Services Director, Dr. Bradley. “This disease is yet another example of the ill-effects of pet overpopulation and the impact that it has on the community as a whole.”
For dogs suspected of having distemper, it is imperative that they be checked by a vet immediately and isolated from other dogs within the home. Although routine cleaning of the home with disinfectant is advised, the distemper virus does not have the ability to live outside of the body for long.
For more information on the canine distemper virus, please visit the American Veterinary Medical Association’s website at www.avma.org.