Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that targets gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems. The virus affects unvaccinated dogs and is estimated to be fatal in 50 percent of adult cases and 80 percent of puppy cases. No specific treatment for canine distemper exists; care focuses on relieving symptoms. Recovery depends on a variety of conditions; many dogs suffer with lifelong complications.
Gastrointestinal and respiratory symptoms typically begin a week or two after exposure. At this point, the veterinarian will administer intravenous fluids to prevent dehydration and antibiotics for secondary infections. Recovery time from these symptoms depends on the severity of infection and on the general health and age of the dog. Neurological symptoms such as seizures or tremors can develop simultaneously with the other symptoms but typically develop one to three weeks after recovery from the initial respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms. These neurological symptoms can remain for life. Even after recovery, dogs are at risk of developing enamel hypoplasia, or lack of tooth enamel, as well as hyperkeratosis, or hardening of the nose and foot pads.
Even when your dog recovers completely from any symptoms, the risk of spreading the virus is not over. Dogs shed the virus through infected feces. Infected dogs shed the virus for up to four months after recovery.
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