Dec 18 2009

Canine Distemper

Many people have heard of the canine distemper virus, whether through personal experience or hearing it on the news.  It is a particularly nasty virus that can have devastating consequences for survivors and even be fatal.  Luckily, it is not common nowadays because of vaccination- however this has led to the lack of information about the disease, even amongst veterinarian professionals.  Some practitioners may never see a true case of canine distemper.  This lack of experience can often lead to misdiagnosis of a sick animal with potentially severe consequences.

Distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus.  It affects dogs as well as other mammals including raccoons and ferrets.  Susceptible animals can be any un-vaccinated dog, but usually affects younger dogs.   I should also note that canine distemper and feline distemper are completely different.

The virus is shed in bodily fluids and secretions (i.e. feces, urine, nasal discharge etc) and infection can be from direct contact with an infected animal or contact with “fomites” which refers to contaminated objects or people.

Exposure to the virus generally results in infection after 1-2 weeks, but can take up to 4-5 weeks.  Early symptoms after infection can be as vagues as lethargy and fever, but if these symptoms are mild, they can be easily missed.

Clinical signs of disease are very similar to signs of “kennel cough”-nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, fever and anorexia.  Distemper infections differ in the fact that they are much more severe.  Kennel cough infections are generally somewhat mild and self limiting and respond well to treatment.  The distemper virus can affect other systems as well, such as the GI tract, the nervous system, the immune system, and even the eyes.  Other clinical signs can include diarrhea, inflammation within the eyes, KCS (dry eye), blindness and even neurological signs such as seizures.  The virus can cause immunosuppression, which makes the animal very susceptible to secondary infections.  Pneumonia is one common as a secondary illness.  Neurological signs can develop at the same time as other clinical signs or even months after infection.

Diagnosis can be difficult but should be based on clinical and diagnostic testing.  Sometimes diagnosis cannot be made until after death.  Testing is available for tissue or fluid samples, but false negatives can be common.  Microscopic examination of tissue samples obtained on necropsy is considered the best way. 

Treatment of distemper infections can be long and stressful.  Hospitalization is generally required in the beginning.  Antibiotics are used to help treat secondary bacterial infections; supportive care (i.e. IV fluids, maintaining proper nutrition and rest) is also necessary.  Recovery is possible but lengthly.  Survivors may be more susceptible to respiratory infections due to damage of the respiratory tract from the virus.  Animals may also experience neurological damage which could be permanent depending on the severity of the illness.

Vaccination is very effective in preventing the disease and dog owners need to be educated by their veterinarians to ensure new canine family members are properly protected.

As always if you have any concerns about your pets health, don’t be afraid to talk to your veterinarian and ask questions to make sure you understand what is happening with your pet.

Written by Dr. Cynthia Moon
Veterinarian at Wayside Waifs

Dec 16 2009

Feline Respiratory Disease

Watch Kenya & Dr. Moon's video on YouTube!

Watch Kenya & Dr. Moon's video on YouTube!

Cats are special creatures who like to make simple issues complicated ones- I suppose they find it amusing.  But for those of us who are caring for them, it can be very frustrating.  Here are the most common questions I am asked about feline respiratory disease.  Hopefully this will clear some questions you may have as well.

What causes URI’s in cats?
     Just like dogs, URI’s (Upper Respiratory Infections) in cats can be viral or bacterial.  However, in cats, viral infections are usually the primary cause with bacterial infections being secondary.  The major viruses in cats that cause the URI’s are the herpes and calici virus.  Cats can also be infected with bordetella (part of “kennel cough” in dogs) but this is not as common with the exception of shelter or large kennel situations.  Generally, one does not know which virus is causing the illness-routine URI’s are treated the same regardless of the cause (supportive care and antibiotics to name a few).  Testing is available but can be expensive so it is generally reserved for more special cases.

What are the clinical signs of a URI in cats?
     Clinical signs can vary, depending on the severity of the infection and also the cause.  “Routine” signs can include: nasal discharge (varying from clear to greenish, sometimes blood), sneezing, sometimes coughing, lethargy, decreased appetite, and fever.  Eye infections are also common as a secondary problem, unlike URI in dogs.  Redness, ocular discharge (clear to yellowish), puffy eyes, and even corneal ulcers can be present.  Herpes infections are generally the cause for corneal ulcers, they can also result in ulceration to the front of the nose and even the skin surround the eyes in severe cases.  In addition, just like in people, once a cat is infected with the herpes virus, they are infected for life.  For animals severely affected at a young age, this can cause chronic problems, but in most cases it is not noticed unless the animal becomes stressed, as stress can cause mild flare-ups such as sneezing or runny eyes.  Calici virus infections can cause ulcers in the mouth and lameness.

How does one diagnose a URI in cats?
Diagnosis is generally made based on clinical signs.  Testing is available to differentiate between viruses but in most cases is not necessary.

What is the treatment for URI’s in cats?
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the infection and the individual.  In mild cases, supportive care may be all that is necessary.  Supportive care would include making sure the animal keeps hydrated, ensuring low stress levels and keeping them comfortable.  In more severe cases oral antibiotics may also be required to treat any secondary bacterial infections.  Medication can be given to help reduce any temperature or to help with lameness.  Topical antibiotics may be prescribed for an eye infection.  Generally, most cats recover quickly with proper care and most infections are somewhat self limiting.  Individuals in lower stress environments are more likely to recover quickly and with less medication than ones in high stress situations, like a shelter with a lot of other animals.
Severe eye infections and corneal ulcers generally require more intensive treatment, with medication lasting several weeks.  In some cases, corneal ulcers may worsen to the point of removal of the eye is necessary.  Oral ulcers may also complicate treatment, especially if they are severe enough to cause anorexia.

Is a URI in cats contagious?
Yes.  Other cats are susceptible.  While cats are vaccinated against these viruses routinely (FVRCP, FVR and C are for herepes and calici), the vaccine does not 100% protect against the infection but it does help to decrease severity of the illness should the animal become ill.  Severity of the illness depends on the overall health of the animal and their situation.  Otherwise healthy individuals in low stress situations generally have mild illnesses, while highly stressed animals are usually the ones who get the sickest.  It is recommended that sick animals be kept separate from healthy ones until they have recovered.

As always, if your pet is displaying any signs of illness, consult with your veterinarian for a plan of proper treatment.

Written by Dr. Cynthia Moon
Veterinarian at Wayside Waifs

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