This most dreaded of all diseases of the dog generally develops in the first year of life at a period approaching maturity, or is associated with the cutting of the permanent teeth. The disease has been compared to typhoid fever in man, but really resembles measles, as both are infectious infantile disorders transmitted through, similar channels, and one attack successfully overcome renders immunity from a second. For a great many years distemper was thought to be the result of kenneling in damp, cold, or poorly ventilated buildings, defective drainage, exposure, general neglect, improper or putrescent food, and other anti-hygienic conditions. This is a mistake, as distemper, like many other diseases, is due to a germ, and unless the germ is present distemper never exists. The unhygienic conditions previously mentioned simply favor its propagation and dissemination, as dogs living in an unhealthy atmosphere have low powers of resistance.
There are innumerable channels through which a dog may be infected with distemper. The germ is of remarkable vitality, and is conveyed through the air or on a person’s clothes, or a dog which has already had the disease can convey the germ to a well dog. The use of kennel, feeding dishes, or shipping crates that have been used previously by an affected animal is a common mode of inoculation. Dog shows are active mediums for the spread of the disease, and when portable benching is used it is highly important that it should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected.
Symptoms.-Distemper attacks dogs in different ways, but the most familiar form is that in which the membranes of the eyes and nasal passages are affected, the principal symptom being a catarrhal discharge. Any attack of this kind is usually preceded by listlessness and lack of appetite. The patient avoids the light and courts solitude. All the symptoms of a common cold then manifest themselves, as sneezing and a dry, husky cough. Complications, however, frequently develop early in the disease and result in the death of the animal. The symptoms mentioned are those of the catarrhal form, and a great many people have an idea that this is the only form in which distemper appears, and that a dog does not have the disease unless there is a discharge from the nose. This is a mistake, for in some cases the virus attacks the intestines alone, and in others the liver or the bronchial tubes. The action of the virus that is least understood, and in which the symptoms are most commonly ascribed to some other cause, is when it is concentrated upon the brain and nervous system. In this form the animal dies from collapse or develops epileptic spasms and convulsions with other symptoms that are ascribed to worms, and accordingly the puppy is doped without avail, for in these cases death ensues in a few hours or the patient lingers along for a week, and a post-mortem reveals neither worms nor any other exciting cause, and from the absence of all catarrhal symptoms distemper is not suspected. In the treatment of distemper most breeders and owners make the mistake of neglecting the premonitory symptoms and do not begin to treat or properly care for the patient until the disease is fully developed. As previously stated, the disease develops slowly. First, the dog is off his feed, then the cough develops; and, presuming that the dog is otherwise well and the cough will pass off in a day or two, the patient is allowed usually to occupy his usual quarters, sleep out of doors and exercise in all kinds of weather, or dismissed from the mind until the eyes show a suspicious stickiness or the nose discharges a purulent mucus. The owner always should be on the lookout for distemper, and when a dog, at the distemper age, which has never had the disease presents a suspicious symptom, should lose no time in placing him in good, warm, dry, comfortable quarters, and keeping him there until he has entirely recovered. The prime factor in treating this disease is good care and nursing. The patient’s bedding must be changed frequently, discharges from the nose and eyes carefully sponged away, and the appetite catered to, and highly nutri tious and easily digested foods given. (See chapter on nursing.) If there are any symptoms of worms, treat for them with vermifuges.
Treatment.-The specific germ of this disease has never been isolated, therefore a true culture of the germ has never been made. The best-known remedy is Dent’s Distemperine, the result of experiments made by veterinarians connected with the United States Department of Agriculture, and in a public test, showing that ninety per cent of the cases in which it was used recovered.
Vomiting.-A number of complications are liable to develop with or follow a case of distemper. Among them are vomiting, which can be prevented by carefully selecting those foods that the stomach digests most easily; but if the stomach refuses to retain even the most digestible of these, give from two to four drops of Schell’s strength of hydrocyanic acid, combined with from two to eight grains of pepsin and ten to forty grains of bismuth.
Diarrhea.-Diarrhea must not be checked unless it is very severe and the discharges are tinged with blood. In such cases give a gruel made of toasted wheat flour and milk. The tannate or sub-gallate of bismuth is useful in these cases in doses of from ten to forty grains, and one dose may give satisfactory results; if it does not, from five to ten grains of chalk with from five to twenty grains of ether or laudanum should be administered in a little milk or soup.
Fits.-Epileptic fits and derangement of the nervous system are difficult to treat during the course of the disease. If they are caused by cutting teeth, lance the gums; if due to worms, treat for them before the system becomes too debilitated to stand the drugs necessary to remove them. If, however, the convulsions are severe, frequent, and exhausting, they can be relieved by giving bromide of potash in doses of from five to twenty grains four or five times a day, either in a capsule or watery solution. If the excitement is extreme the bromide can be combined with from three to ten grains of chloral. The latter drug should be mixed with mucilage to prevent its irritating the throat.
In conclusion, the owner should be cautioned again against exposing the dog to the cold during the course of the disease or convalescence. In some cases after a few days’ treatment a marked improvement will be observed in the patient’s condition, and the caretaker, correspondingly elated and encouraged by a spring-like day, particularly if the weather has been damp and stormy, will admit the puppy to the kennel yard for a breath of fresh air. The puppy, after blinking in the sun and stretching, often will select some damp spot on which the sun strikes and curl up for a nap. A few moments’ exposure under these conditions are sufficient to induce serious conditions, and the next morning all the symptoms are present, or the labored breathing indicates a fatal congestion of the lungs.