Puppy Distemper

Distemper is very common among puppies and few dogs escape exposure to the virus. It is however preventable and vaccination is strongly advisable.

Distemper in dogs is a common and highly contagious disease caused by a virus that affects and causes serious damage to dogs' and puppies' respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. It is said to be the "greatest single disease threat" to the dog population. If contracted, over half of the adult dogs and as many as 80 percent of puppies die from it.

Although any dogs can contract canine distemper, those who are most at risk are young puppies (under four months of age) and dogs that have not been vaccinated against the virus.

Exposure to the distempter virus is through the air (from exhaling or sneezing) or by contacting contaminated bowls, toys, etc. Because canine distemper also affects animals in the wild (e.g. foxes, raccoons, ferrets, skunks, wolves, etc.), contact between these wild animals and domestic puppies and dogs may facilitate the spread of the virus.

Information on Puppy Distemper

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Signs and Symptoms of Puppies Having Distemper

Bulldog Puppy Distemper in puppies and dogs develops in stages. There is a six to nine-day incubation during which no signs of infection can be observed. After that, the puppy develops a fever and becomes lethargic. Afterward, the puppy may become normal for a few days or a week, and then it will suddenly show symptoms typically seen in dog distemper, such as:

  • fever (103-105°);
  • watery or pus-like discharge from the eyes;
  • nasal discharge;
  • coughing;
  • lethargy;
  • vomiting;
  • diarrhea;
  • appetite loss.

Within a short time the condition deteriorates and the puppy may develop one or more of the following symptoms:

  • eye inflammation (conjuctivitis) with a thick discharge that sticks the lids together;
  • heavy mucus or yellow discharge from the nose;
  • foul-smelling diarrhea.

Within the first two weeks of infection, the distemper symptoms tend to fluctuate. At this point, some dogs may be able to get over the disease. However, for those unlucky ones who cannot shake off the disease, the virus may affect the neurological system, resulting in seizures, encephalitis (severe inflammation of the brain or smaller areas in the spinal cord) and other neurological problems. Some dogs also experience a hardening of the nose leather and the footpads.

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Conventional Treatment for Puppy Distemper

There are no effective drugs that can kill the distemper virus. Conventional treatment is limited to the use of antibiotics to prevent secondary infections; the use of drugs to control vomiting, diarrhea, or neurologic symptoms; and the administration of fluids to combat dehydration.

If encephalitis is developed as a result of distemper, the puppy is usually euthanized because medical treatment is almost always ineffective.

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Natural Remedies for Puppies with Distemper

While natural remedies cannot kill the distemper virus, some remedies are effective in speeding up recovery from the infection. Also, natural herbs can be used as part of recovery support and to build up immunity weakened by the disease.

If your dog has developed a fever as a result of distemper, it is important to withhold solid food to avoid development of complications such as encephalitis. Fast your dog on vegetable broth and water until a day after the body temperature has returned to normal.

In the meantime, give vitamin C to your dog to fight infection. For puppies and small dogs, give 250 mg every 2 hours; for medium dogs, 500 mg every 2 hours; and for large dogs, 1000 mg every 3 hours.

As mentioned above, one symptom of puppy distemper is eye inflammation. To avoid permanent damage to the dog's eyes, special eye care is necessary. Mix about 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt with a cup of distilled water. Soak a piece of gauze in the mixture and use it to clean the eyes. After that, put a drop of olive oil in each eye to help with the healing process.

There are several homeopathic remedies (such as distemperinum, bryonia, arsenicum album) that can be used to alleviate some symptoms of puppy distemper.

Herbs and Supplements for Recovery from Distemper

It takes about a week for a puppy to recover from a not-so-severe case of distemper. The severity of course is dependent on the immunity of the puppy and the amount of treatment received.

While on the road to recovery, natural herbs can be used to help the puppy get well faster and to boost her weakened immunity.

For dogs who have suffered severe diarrhea and whose digestive systems have been affected, support and strengthen the system by supplementing probiotics and digestive enzymes.

Since distemper can also affect the nervous system, the herb oat can be given to the dog to strengthen and provide overall support for the system. A tincture of oat can be used. Cooked oatmeal can also be added to the dog's food to help the nerves.

Finally, to strengthen the immune system, herbs such as echinacea, Siberian ginseng, Ashwagandha, and Oregon grape are beneficial.

A Natural Supplement to Boost the Immune System

This all natural herbal formula contains immune boosting herbs such as Echinacea, Elderflower, Goldenseal, Lemon Balm, Licorice, and more and can greatly help a dog weakened by distemper.

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Prevention of Distemper in Puppies and Dogs

Distemper in puppies and dogs can largely be prevented by vaccination and, of course, by keeping our dogs from other infected animals.

Since young puppies are extremely vulnerable and can succumb to distemper easily, vaccinating our puppies against distemper is imperative.

There are two important points that we should bear in mind regarding vaccination and immunity:

  • First, although a newborn puppy (from 0 - 22 weeks) gets immunity naturally from the mother's milk, the immunity gradually wears off. In the meantime, the puppy's own immune system is still not strong and mature enough to defend the body against viruses and bacteria. Therefore, all newborn puppies should be isolated from other animals.
  • Second, a puppy should receive a series of vaccinations at different periods (e.g. when the puppy is at 16 weeks and again at 24 weeks) against distemper to ensure that she is getting full protection against the virus.

Also, as mentioned above, animals in the wild can also acquire distemper. Therefore, whenever possible, we should make sure that our puppies and dogs do not come into contact with such wild animals.

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