A Disease We Hardly See Anymore


I have been doing some volunteer work in different countries over the past few years. The work involves population control (spaying and neutering) of stray and owned dogs and cats. I have been to different countries with different organizations and have worked with many fantastic people and met some really sweet dogs and cats.


In all these areas we visit the people who own or live with dogs and cats cannot afford proper health care for themselves let alone their pets. Most pets are not spayed or neutered and even fewer have had any vaccinations or parasite control. The large numbers of intact males and females leads to a huge population problem with packs of stray dogs and cats roaming the towns and villages. These strays become dangerous and spread disease.


As I mentioned very few of the dogs are vaccinated and because of this it has allowed me to see the effects of poor immunity and the devastation it has. Canine Distemper is a viral disease we vaccinate against in Canada. Puppies get three immunizations over 3 months and adult dogs receive boosters every one to three years depending on their age. These vaccinations are very effective at preventing infection with the Canine Distemper virus and in 32 years of practice I have never seen a case of Canine Distemper in Ontario. I have seen and tried to help dogs with Canine Distemper in different countries.


Canine Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease of dogs. Infected dogs show signs of fever, cough, pneumonia, eye and nose discharge and often times diarrhea. Occasionally the virus will travel to the brain and cause seizures. A change in color of the eyes to “blue eye” is a hallmark of a serious infection. Infected dogs, if they were healthy before infection, have a 50% chance of survival. Malnourished dogs, which most are, almost always succumb to the diseased and die within 2 weeks. While they are sick they spread the virus to other young dogs.


The vaccinations available are highly affective and prevent disease in nine out of ten dogs. In Canada, we rarely see Canine Distemper because we are able to vaccinate dogs. There is a movement towards using  less vaccines and if this practice takes hold we will once again see outbreaks of this terrible disease.  Until that time, it is very nice not to have to see dogs with Canine Distemper, at least in Ontario.
By:  Dr. David Kerr, DVM