While distemper is well under control in London and most parts of England this is still a leading cause of death in dogs worldwide. Clinical signs vary but often develop from an initial fever, lethargy and runny eyes and nose into vomiting, diarrhea, dehydration, coughing and a sticky yellow eye and nose discharge. With antibiotic treatment many individuals improve but then weeks later brain inflammation (encephalitis) occurs causing convulsions, confusion and irrational behaviour such as constant chewing. Some dogs go blind.
Diagnosis is usually based upon clinical signs. Analysis of spinal fluid is sometimes undertaken. Pups that survive distemper infection develop mottled adult teeth. Other survivors may develop intermittent painful spasmic muscle jerks (myoclonus), initially while sleeping or relaxing but later occurring at any time. Affected dogs often whimper or cry. Muscle spasms occur throughout life but become less severe with time.
Antibiotics control opportunist secondary infection, fluid therapy controls dehydration and anti nausea drugs stop vomiting. Anticonvulsants, sedatives and pain killers are needed for dogs that develop neurological signs. Success depends upon how effectively a dog, usually a pup, mounts an immune response. This, in turn, is influenced by the general health and nourishment of the individual.
Breeding bitches should be vaccinated two weeks before mating to ensure high levels of protective maternal antibody for her pups. Pups are vaccinated at eight and ten or more weeks. Efficient vaccines provide long protection.