Diagnosis and Treatment of Canine Distemper
Tippy is the researcher behind this article.
Because canine distemper in the first stages is so close to
the common cold it is usually uncaught until it reaches
third stage and there is usually nothing that can be done.
Diagnosis is very difficult because it is based on the dog's
vaccination history, symptoms and tests.
Blood tests are not the preferred method of diagnosing
Canine Distemper as they are usually inconclusive. In some
cases Lymphopenia, a deficiency of lymphocytes in the blood,
is found in the first stages of infection and then
Leukocytosis, which is an increase in the white blood cell
count, becomes apparent later in the second and third stages
of the viral infection. But these conditions can also point
to many other diseases.
X-rays and CT scans are helpful in diagnosing whether
Pneumonia, a common secondary symptom of Canine Distemper,
Unique cell structures called inclusion bodies may be
detected in the cells of centrifuged blood through
microscopic examination. Secretions from the inner lining of
the eye (conjunctiva) will also show the presence of
inclusion bodies. A negative result will not rule out Canine
An immunofluorescent assay may be used to detect proteins
that the immune system manufactures to fight the viruses
(viral antigens). This test is performed when inclusion
bodies are not visible but the dog's symptoms still point to
Immunofluorescence is done by using special proteins
identified by use of a fluorescent chemical. These proteins
will bind to the antigens and make them visible under the
microscope. Again, a negative result does not rule out the
possibility that the dog has distemper.
Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), a technique that helps
identify the virus's genetic material, is usually more
sensitive than the previously described methods but it can
be a difficult procedure and it is not always successful.
Cerebrospinal fluid may be examined for elevated levels of
particular cells and proteins and CDV-specific antibodies
that indicate the presence of the virus. This is the one
test that can determine for sure whether your dog has CDV or
not. However the test itself is painful and should only be
performed after all other tests have failed.
Because Canine Distemper symptoms look like many other
diseases it is very hard to diagnose. That is why other
diseases are usually ruled out first before Canine Distemper
is looked for. Respiratory symptoms can be caused by many
disorders, from the common cold to Bacterial Pneumonia.
Intestinal symptoms can be caused by Influenza or
Gastroenteritis. Seizures and other neurological symptoms
can point to Toxoplasmosis or Epilepsy. It is important to
rule these out first before looking for Canine Distemper as
these diseases are treatable.
Treatment of Canine Distemper:
Since there's no cure for distemper, treatment is simply
supportive. Never give up as your dog may recover from this
disease on its own.
- Antibiotics or bronchodilators are prescribed for pneumonia.
- Anticonvulsants may help to control seizures. Many
veterinarians suggest giving them before any seizures start.
- Keep discharge cleared from the dog's eyes and nose.
- Treat diarrhea with antidiarrheals.
- Give anti-nausea and anti-vomiting drugs (anti-emetics)
if there is vomiting.
- Watch closely for dehydration. Dogs that have no appetite
and are vomiting and have diarrhea may need intravenous
- Twitching (Myoclonus) is untreatable and irreversible.
- Keep the dog in a clean, warm, draft-free room where it
will not be disturbed by other pets or family members.
Puppies who recover from Canine Distemper but have teeth
that lack enamel and erode quickly (hypoplasia) can have the
tooth enamel restored to prevent further tooth decay.
Glucocorticoid therapy can sometimes help blindness due to
optic neuritis (inflammation of the optic nerve).
In short, prevent Canine Distemper when at all possible, but
if your dog is diagnosed with the disease, don't give up
without a fight.
Keep your Dog Healthy