If you’ve been following me on Facebook (facebook.com/lushangelblog), Twitter and Instagram (@lush_angel), I got a new puppy, Dolce, two months ago. Unfortunately, he got the deadly disease called Canine Distemper. I spent so much time researching about it online, which made me decide to do this post. Because of the low survival rate of the disease, most veterinarians here in the Philippines do not give so much hope to affected pet owners. Some even suggest to do the last resort, which is euthanasia. Because of Dolce’s fight for two months, I promised myself to share his experience to at least give chance to our furry best friends infected by the disease to live. How I wish I knew everything I’ve written here early on. Sorry, this may be a very long post but I know how it feels to be a pet owner trying to look for information on Distemper. I’ve been there and it is very uplifting to read articles knowing that THERE IS STILL HOPE. Here are some ways how your dogs could survive distemper. I really hope this article helps.
What is Canine Distemper?
First of all, what is Canine Distemper? It is a viral disease that affects different kinds of animals, including dogs. It’s more common in puppies, but adult dogs can also get the virus. It is a highly contagious disease in dogs. They can easily be infected through airborne exposure to the virus contained in respiratory discharges or secretions (like urine, blood, saliva) of an infected dog. Distemper can also be passed on through sneezing, coughing, and sharing of food and water bowls. Unfortunately, it is fatal and there is no specific drug that can kill the virus.
How to Prevent Distemper?
- There is a Canine Distemper vaccine and this is the most effective way to prevent the disease. It involves a series of shots and these should not be taken for granted. The shots must be given on time. Ask your veterinarian about it.
- Both you and your dog should avoid contact with infected animals. If you touched an infected animal, make sure to sanitize well or you might just transfer the virus to your dog.
- Keep your dog’s immune system strong by giving them vitamins. I give Ceelin Vitamin C to my dogs. Ask your veterinarian on what vitamins you can give and the dosage.
- Give your dog healthy food. High quality dog food contains the vitamins they need to keep them healthy, which is why you could skip giving multi-vitamins. I just give Vitamin C to boost my dog’s immune system.
- Lastly, until your puppy gets his complete series of vaccinations, do not bring him to pet places like parks, pet shops, pet grooming, daycare, classes, etc.
But what if your dog is already infected with Distemper?
Canine Distemper is quite hard to detect during the early stage because some pet owners or vets think it’s just a normal fever or diarrhea. There are 2 stages – mucosal phase and neurological phase. It needs to be detected ASAP as it is harder to treat when the virus is in the neurological phase or has reached the brain already.
It starts at the dog’s tonsils and lymph nodes. Some symptoms include high fever, red eyes, and discharge from eyes and nose. An infected dog is usually lethargic and loses appetite. The disease can also result to vomiting and diarrhea.
In the later stage, the virus attacks the nervous system, which causes seizures, twitching, partial or complete paralysis.
First of all, do not give the Canine Distemper vaccine if your dog is already infected. This will just worsen the disease.
Although there are no specific drug to kill the virus, as said earlier, further studies have proved that the options below could help in the survival of Distemper patients. I learned about these options through Vets In Practice Animal House located in Mandaluyong.
Canine Distemper Treatments
Option 1: Canglob D injection
This is an antibody injection given for 5 days. It’s PHP 250 per shot. (Based on what I’ve read, this is usually effective only if the virus is on its first stage.)
Option 2: Body Shot of NCD Vaccine
Newcastle disease vaccine, also known as NCD vaccine, is originally used for chickens. Further studies show that this could also help cure dogs that are infected with distemper. This costs PHP 500 per shot.
Option 3: Serum Injection
A serum is collected from a donor dog. Three doses should be given with 12 hours apart. If with donor dog, it’s PHP 150 per injection. If without a donor dog, it’s PHP 1,500 per injection.
Option 4: Spinal Tap
This uses the same NCD Vaccine above but injected on the spinal cord, which means the dog must be sedated. The owner will have to sign a waiver for this because of the possible risks that come with it. First the dog will be sedated, which means he may or may not wake up after the procedure. Two, just like in humans, anything that involves the spinal cord is very critical since it has a lot of nerves.
Sedation costs PHP 1,500, while the procedure is at PHP 2,000.
Prices above are from Vets in Practice Animal House Mandaluyong and they may or may not change without prior notice. Also, they charge additional consultation of PHP 500 for Distemper cases.
Aside from the treatments above, all patients will be under antibiotic treatment and must be given supplements like B-Complex, Vitamin C, and Vitamin E.
Again, since there is no real cure for Distemper, there is no guarantee that your dog will live even after trying out the options above.
Dolce’s Fight and Experience
I promised myself to write this post to share Dolce’s fight and shed some light to parents who are trying to save their babies. Ever since I learned that Dolce had the virus, never a day passed that I didn’t research about the disease. I’ve had a share of sleepless nights trying to look for cure and vets that could help me. I was more than willing to spend just so my baby Dolce would survive.
I got Dolce when he was 2 months old. He had his first shots of vaccines already, including Canine Distemper. On his first few days, he didn’t had appetite. I thought it was just the change of environment. I tried to change his food as well since I thought he didn’t like what the vet used to feed him. (He lived in a vet, by the way.) He started getting diarrhea. I thought it was the sudden change of food. Note that change of dog food must be done gradually since abrupt transition can lead to loose stool. Although I had a hunch that it was just because of the dog food, my sister decided to bring him to Vets in Practice Animal House in White Plains. A test was done. A blood sample was extracted from him and placed on a test kit, similar to a pregnancy kit. One line would mean negative, while two lines would mean positive. To our relief, Dolce was negative. At that time, I thought he was tested for Canine Distemper since the vet even said, “good thing it’s negative or else it’s over.” I’m quite familiar with Canine Distemper, its symptoms, and its survival rate. By the way, during his first week, I already noticed he had a hard time balancing himself. He falls down while eating or walking. The vet checked him for sprains, but he said he might just have weak bones and muscles since he was underweight. He was just given antibiotic for his diarrhea and vitamin B-Complex. A few days after, he was better except for his balance problem.
After a week, I had to rush Dolce in the same vet since he was vomiting and suffering from diarrhea again. He was eating, but not his usual appetite. At this time, I already noticed he was having seizure episodes. He would start limping, as if he sprained one of his leg. Then, he would lie on the floor suddenly, with his front legs stiff, his hind legs cycling, and his eyes not responding. After the episodes, he would be very tired. He would try to stand up, but would fall down. Another vet attended to us at Vets in Practice in White Plains. She did the same test as before and it was negative. Again, at that time, I thought the test was for Canine Distemper. Additional blood tests were done when I told the vet about his seizure episodes. One of the results revealed that Dolce had high ammonia. This made the vet rule out that Dolce might have some birth defect called Portosystemic Shunts, wherein the liver doesn’t work the way it should that can result to seizures. He was given Lactulose to lessen the level of ammonia in his liver, hoping his seizure episodes would lessen.
His stool eventually formed and he got his appetite back. After a week or so of giving lactulose, I didn’t see any improvements on his seizure attacks. I noticed he gets it every three days. If not for those episodes, he was a normal playful and hyper puppy.
Dolce was then scheduled to go back to the vet for his second shot of Canine Distemper. I brought him to Vets in Practice Animal House in Alabang since I wasn’t so convinced with the vet that attended Dolce at White Plains branch. When she saw Dolce having a little discharge on his eyes and sneezing, she did a Canine Distemper test, which is also like a pregnancy test kit. Then, it revealed one strong line and one faint line – yes, two lines which means positive. My heart broke right there and then. All the while I thought he was tested for Canine Distemper in his first two trips to the vet. I honestly do not understand why they never thought of the disease since it’s a common virus in puppies. When they said the tests were negative, I thought they were talking about Distemper. The vet in Alabang checked the records in Vets in Practice White Plains and apparently, Dolce was only tested for Parvovirus on those visits. She was even puzzled why so many tests were done on his second visit that led to our expensive bill. Dolce was vomiting and suffering from diarrhea at that time. Laboratory tests shouldn’t be done when a patient is sick since it will just give altered results. Therefore, Dolce didn’t really have Portosystemic Shunts. His seizures were due to Canine Distemper – second phase.
Anyway, Dolce was given Option 1, which is Canglob D. Instead of injection though, it was given through IV. I was asked to give the shot daily for 5 days. I had to stop on the third day though since the IV line clotted. He was crying when I pushed the medicine. I noticed though he was getting better.
Ten days after he was diagnosed with Distemper and his first dose of Canglob D, his twitchings and head bob started (signs that the virus is in his nervous system already). He never had any twitchings before until this day. He couldn’t walk so much and he was crying the whole day. This was when I decided to bring him to Vets in Practice in Mandaluyong, their main hospital. It’s the only animal hospital that I know of that has a separate facility for Distemper patients. Since Distemper is highly contagious, infected animals must be isolated. They still do not confine Distemper patients though, but at least they have a facility where they can conduct the Distemper treatments.
Since it was quite obvious that Dolce’s Distemper is already in the neurological phase, I went for the most invasive treatment, which is the Spinal Tap. As much as I didn’t want to because of the risks that come with it, I wanted the vaccine to take effect immediately. The procedure lasted for less than 5 minutes. Dolce was sedated, then injected with NCD Vaccine. Waking him up was the longest wait in my entire life. I’ve been calling his name the whole time. Finally, he woke up after more than an hour. He was having seizures. I was also told that the NCD vaccine could cause seizures in the next few days. When his attack stopped, we went home. I was asked to continue giving his antibiotic, Vitamin B-Complex, Vitamin C, and Gabapentin for his twitchings and seizures.
The next few days (for a week) were sleepless nights for me and Dolce. There were good nights but most of the time, he would cry the whole night. I would comfort him by massaging him. I also had to help him eat, drink, pee and poop. It was hard for him to move around. See video below.
After one week, he started moving around. He was limping, but at least he could walk. At this point, his twitchings didn’t improve. His seizures lessened though. He only had few episodes, that is when he gets stressed. I read in one website that if a dog survives after one week of giving the NCD vaccine, he could be out of the woods. This gave me high hopes and I was definitely relieved.
Two weeks after the Spinal Tap, Dolce was due for a follow up check-up. Since there was minimal improvement on twitching, the vet suggested to bring Dolce back after 2 more weeks to do the Distemper test once again. At this time, the vet instructed me to stop the antibiotic and continue the two vitamins and the Gabapentin. See his improvement in the video below.
Four weeks after the Spinal Tap, his condition got worse. Ever since the Spinal Tap, his front legs got weak. A month after though, one of his hind legs became weak too. He could barely move around. He lasted like this for two weeks. See his video below.
Six weeks after the Spinal Tap, he was completely paralyzed. He couldn’t move his four legs. His condition was like this for about 5 days. I had to put him on diapers since he was already having a hard time standing up to pee and poop. He was also hand-fed.
By the way, he had good appetite ever since he was diagnosed with Distemper. But on days he didn’t want to eat, I gave him Royal Canin Recovery or Hills Prescription Diet Critical Care. This was also his food during his first two weeks after Spinal Tap to help him recover fast. It’s packed with nutrition and easy to put in a syringe, in case you need to force feed. On good days, I gave him dry solid puppy food of Royal Canin.
On his 5th day of being paralyzed though, which is also exactly 7 weeks after Spinal Tap, he didn’t eat at all. He was forced to drink water, but towards the end of the day, he wasn’t swallowing the water given to him. Early morning the next day, which is August 30, 2015, Dolce passed away.
Things To Remember
- Early detection is the key. If you noticed any signs of first phase of Distemper, like diarrhea, redness of eyes, discharges from eyes and nose, fever, ask your vet to do a Distemper test right away.
- Get a puppy that’s three months old and above to make sure he was given more than one dose of vaccine.
- Make sure your dog has strong immune system and is healthy by giving vitamins. Also, never ever forget the vaccines! Keep a record and make sure you don’t lapse.
- Based on what I’ve read, Canglob D works when the Distemper is just in the first phase.
- When Distemper is in the neurological phase, there’s a slimmer chance for the dog to survive. Although Vets in Practice Mandaluyong had several successful cases so it’s not a hopeless case.
- If the dog survives Distemper, the twitchings and head bob may or may not disappear in his lifetime.
- Follow the dosage of the medicine given by the vet. If the vet said it’s for 7 days, make sure to give it until the 7th day. Do not cut it short just because you already see improvements.
- Canine Distemper does not have a cure. The options above can help in the dog’s survival, but it may or may not work. But as any parent, I know we would do anything and everything for our babies. It’s worth a try. Discuss with your vet the best option for your dog.
- Based on experience, if your vet decides to do the Spinal Tap, your dog is not out of the woods even a week after the procedure. In Dolce’s case, he lasted for almost 2 months.
- There’s also a need to prevent further complications of Distemper, like pneumonia.
- It’s best to bring your dog to a vet who has handled a lot Canine Distemper patients. I could say Vets in Practice Animal Hostpital in Mandaluyong knows what they’re doing. As said earlier, they even have a separate facility for Distemper patients. In fact, they are the only animal hospital here in the Philippines that I know of that have the Canine Distemper Treatments above.
- If you decide to fight for your dog, make sure you have a lot of patience. You might need the help of other people around you. An infected dog needs someone beside him most of the time until he is completely well. Remember, a Distemper patient may not be able to stand and walk. Water must be given every now and then. He would need help to pee, poop, and move around.
- Don’t underestimate what Tender Loving Care or TLC can do. It gives strength to your baby and gives him a reason to live.
I am not a veterinarian and I am not an expert when in comes to Canine Distemper. Everything written here are based on my research from other websites and veterinarians and my experience as a pet owner of a dog infected with Canine Distemper.