Wednesday, May 23, 2012

CANINE DISTEMPER

If you have something called distemper, it might sound like you are just in a bad mood.  But distemper is actually a horrible, awful disease that can KILL YOU, so if you have it, you have an excellent reason to be in a bad mood!

Our word distemper started out as the Middle English word distemperen, which meant to upset the balance of humors.  Messing up the humors was a bad thing, because people back in those days thought that the body was made up of several different humors, and that if you were going to have good health, they all had to get along nicely with each other.  But anyway, the Middle English version of the word distemper came from the Old French word destemprer, which meant to disturb.  And this French word came from a Vulgar Latin word, distemperare, which described something that didn't mix properly.

In the world of doggy diseases, distemper is a Really Big Deal, because it is so contagious and deadly.  Other animals besides dogs can get canine distemper, and some of these animals are:  raccoons, ferrets, African wild dogs, lions, and seals.  Cats usually don't get it, but they have their own distemper-like disease to deal with, which is called feline leukemia.

A picture of paramyxovirus.
Don't be fooled by the pretty colors--
this is mean and nasty stuff!
The name of the canine distemper virus is paramyxovirus.  It is related to the virus that causes measles in people and rinderpest in hoofed animals such as cattle.  People can't get distemper, but if you are a dog, you should be Very Afraid of this disease unless you have been VACCINATED, and then you are safe!

A French veterinarian named Henri CarrĂ© first described a case of distemper in 1905.  The vaccine was developed in 1950, but many dogs don't get vaccinated, and that's how distemper spreads among dogs and also to wildlife.

There are lots of ways to get distemper.  You can get it very easily from an infected animal by coming into contact with their pee, poop, saliva, or the gunky stuff that comes out of their noses or eyes.  You can also get it by breathing in little droplets that fly into the air when sick animals cough or sneeze.


Puppies who are between 4 and 6 months old are the most likely to get distemper.  This is because even though they still have a little immunity left from their mamas, it's not enough to kill off the virus.  But it is enough to keep their vaccinations from being very effective, at least until they have had the whole series of shots.








Distemper can have lots of different symptoms, and some of these symptoms are the same as the ones for other diseases.  So it is hard to know for sure if a dog has distemper.  The most usual symptoms are vomiting, loss of appetite, dehydration, diarrhea, coughing, difficulty breathing, and fever.  Sometimes distemper affects the nervous system, so there might be twitching of the mouth and legs.  And if it's a really bad case, the dog can get seizures and paralysis.  Also, older dogs might have a condition where the footpads and nose get really hard.

Dogs who have neurological symptoms probably won't survive, but even if they do, they may have a permanent tic.  Later on, they might also have seizures, and they might go blind.  Puppies could end up with teeth that don't have all their enamel.  This is because the virus kills the cells that make the enamel.  So if there is no enamel to protect they teeth, they will end up rotting.


There is no real way to treat distemper, but a dog can get antibiotics so that he doesn't end up with a bunch of bacterial infections.  Some dogs get totally well again, but others will always have some twitching and other leftover effects, as I mentioned before.

Anyway, the very best thing to do about distemper is to GET VACCINATED!  I know those needles are sharp and it doesn't feel good when somebody sticks one in you, but I'm pretty sure it would feel much worse to have distemper!

2 comments:

  1. Hey Piper. I really enjoyed this post, as I often enjoy your posts, but there's a little bit of an inaccuracy.

    You said, "Puppies who are between 4 and 6 months old are the most likely to get distemper. This is because even though they still have a little immunity left from their mamas, it's not enough to kill off the virus. But it is enough to keep their vaccinations from being very effective, at least until they have had the whole series of shots."

    This is not exactly true.

    To write in a similar style, what is more accurate is:
    "Puppies who are between 4 and 6 months old are the most likely to get distemper. This is because puppies receive some immunity from their mamas, but it wears off at different rates. This immunity protects them from the virus, but also prevents any vaccine from working. That's why we vaccinate puppies a lot: To try to get the vaccine into them as soon as the mother's immunity wears off. Vaccination is normally effective from about 18 weeks of age and older."

    Immunity is like pregnancy: You can't just have a little bit of it!

    Keep up the good work, Piper.

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    1. Dear Tegan,
      Thank you very much! I understand better now, and I can see how I got the information "not quite right." I hope my readers will also look at these comments so that they can benefit from your explanation!
      Piper

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