Officials at Animal Control say that the incidence of distemper has doubled this year.
Tammy McKee, veterinary technician and kennel manager, said, “If we have been seeing 25 percent of the animals coming in with distemper in previous years, this year it’s more like 50 (percent). This is not just here. It’s at the Humane Society and in veterinary offices.”
According to McKee, the increase has become particularly noticeable in the past two months.
Distemper is an airborne virus. She could not say why the increase; however she felt that the weather may be a contributor. “It’s a lot drier this year, so the infection is not being dissipated as quickly.”
Heat may also be a factor, with animals being physically stressed by the hot weather, their resistance may be down.
The symptoms include fever, nasal discharge, runny eyes, and diarrhea. “The first symptom is fever between 103 and 106 degrees. It will peak within 3 to 6 days,” she said.
The normal temperature for a dog is around 101 degrees. In distemper, the fever will return and spike again a few days later. “You may not notice it at first,” said McKee, “but there will be loss of appetite. It may appear depressed,” listless or lethargic.
Distemper affects the central nervous system. The animal may exhibit muscle twitching, paralysis and seizures. If the animal survives, these may become permanent.
The symptoms may recur within weeks. “Dogs that get it may appear to recover, but there can be long-term affects.”
As an airborne virus, the infection will stay around. “Animals can get it just from going outside if another animal that had it has been in the yard. They can pick it up from the soil on the pads of their feet and then they scratch themselves or lick themselves,” McKee said. “The incubation period is between three to six days. It attacks lymphatic tissues in two to five days and in five to six days, it will spread throughout the blood.”
McKee asks people who have lost an animal to distemper not to reintroduce another animal into the same area for at least one month. “Inside you need to wash everything with a 1-to-3 bleach-water mixture.”
The most urgent message is for people to get their animals vaccinated. People should understand that exposure does not have to come from another pet. “Wildlife can get it.” Therefore if a fox, a feral cat or a stray dog has wandered through the yard, then the ground could be saturated. Because it is airborne, the infected animal may not have been that close.
The survival rate is about 50 percent in adult dogs and less in puppies.
Feline distemper is caused by a different organism, but the effects are just as devastating. Kittens younger than 16 weeks will die at a rate of 75 percent. Adult cats that get through the first five days have a better chance of surviving if veterinary care is sought early.
“If you love your animal, get them vaccinated. You can get a series of shots, but you have to get them yearly,” McKee said.
She wanted to reassure people that the disease cannot be passed on to humans. She recommends, though, if anyone has to handle an animal with distemper to wash their hands thoroughly.