Distemper Outbreak: Are Your Rabbit Dogs Vaccinated?

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Around the country there have been different reports of distemper outbreaks which are steadily growing in size and number, resulting in tragic loss of life. While this disease is also known to affect other species including wildlife such as foxes, wolves, raccoons, and skunks, it can also take hold of pet ferrets as well as dogs. This is especially problematic for dogs used in hunting as they may encounter one of the vector species which carry and transmit this very dangerous disease.

Distemper, which is also called Hard Pad Disease due to the hardening of paw pads it may cause, is a viral illness that is highly contagious amongst dogs. There is no known cure at this time, which makes prevention the only ally we truly have in fighting it. Because of the potential fatality of distemper, which is spread via air through direct or indirect contact (shared toys, bowls, or contaminated living space), vaccinating pups against this disease is very important. Once acquired, distemper can be managed at best but never cured and death often occurs within two to five weeks.

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Photo: World Class GSD

In its early stages, distemper begins to incubate in the tonsils and lymph nodes of dogs. It remains there for typically a week before them moving on to other areas of the canine body including gastrointestinal, respiratory, urogenital, and nervous systems. Fever will be present along with lethargy, anorexia, and liquid discharging from eyes and nose. As it advances, coughing, vomiting, and diarrhea present as well until finally the dog is affected by seizures, paralysis, or other similar behaviors. The threat of pneumonia and dehydration are also present.

Dogs suspected of having distemper can be diagnosed through testing but the test itself is not without flaw. Vaccinated dogs, for example, could test positive because some of the tests adminstered will recognize vaccine antibodies but is unable to distinguish between them and a new infection. The types of tests administered include urine analysis, serology testing, radiographs, CT scans, or MRIs. The type of test used varies in accordance with the area of the body being tested. For example, radiographs are used on hardened pads whereas MRIs are used to search for brain lesions. After testing is complete, the only treatment options available involve treating symptoms as opposed to the distemper itself. Antibiotics, phenobarbital, potassium bromide, and supportive fluids are commonly used.

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Photo: Plano Animal Clinic

The ability of a dog to survive distemper depends largely on the infected animal's age, prior health, vaccination history, and immune response. Despite this, however, many dogs found to be infected are ultimately euthanized to prevent further spread of distemper. In some cases a dog can recover and go on to experience affects several months down the road. Upon recovering, the dog will not be a carrier of the disease and thus cannot spread it, but during the infection period is very much contagious and a danger to other dogs in its presence.

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Photo: Our Beagle World

Because distemper is such a vicious illness, it is essential that canines are vaccinated to prevent them from acquiring it whenever possible. Due to the very nature of a rabbit dog's job, it is especially important that they are vaccinated. It is quite possible that your rabbit dogs could encounter a vector species in the hunt field, becoming infected, and then bringing the illness home to the detriment of your kennel. Also possible is your dog encountering other dogs in the hunt field that may have not been vaccinated and being exposed to distemper through such dogs should an infection be present. In cases such as this, an ounce of prevention in the form of a vaccine can save you from catastrophic loss.

Have you ever encountered an animal with distemper, be it canine or another species? Tell us about it in the comments.

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December 15, 2014  •  07:37 AM
When a person acquires a dog the seller can tell you
whatever. Should you give it a vac. shot or a series
of shots as a precaution?
December 26, 2014  •  09:05 PM
I went through this with a dog a few years back. I would vaccinate unless concrete ID is given, such as a verifiable microchip number that matches both dog and the vet's shot records. In the case I had where it was questionable, my vet advised another vaccination, which we had done to be safe.