Originally Published: January 31, 2012 9:56 p.m.
As cases of the highly contagious, often fatal distemper disease surface throughout Maricopa County, the Yavapai Humane Society (YHS) is issuing a community-wide health alert to pet owners.
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.
There is also evidence to suggest that two new strains of distemper indigenous to Europe have made their way to the United States. While the typical incubation period for distemper is one to two weeks, the new strains may have even longer incubation periods.
Distemper was once thought of as a disease that primarily affected puppies who have not had all of their puppy shots; however, there is evidence of older pets with unconfirmed vaccination histories becoming infected with the distemper virus.
This 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 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.
It is imperative that people update their pets' vaccinations as directed by their veterinarian. Distemper, just as the equally fatal parvovirus, is a community problem. Therefore, people must be very careful when taking their pets to communal areas such as dog parks or other 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.
For dogs suspected of having distemper, it is vital that they be checked by a veterinarian immediately and isolated from other dogs within the home. In the event your pet is diagnosed with the distemper virus, a thorough cleaning of your home with disinfectant is necessary.