Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Doin' the Distemper Dance

Distemper is a horror--it is highly contagious, and almost always lethal.  Plus, it's dicey to diagnose since the early symptoms mimic other common ailments, including bordetella (kennel cough), upper respiratory infections and the early stages of parvo.

My little foster Chihuahua, Arabella, who we're calling Princess, probably has it.  It's tentative because obtaining a distemper diagnosis is not easy.  We've got fever (highs up to 104.9 degrees F, currently averaging about 103.4 degrees F), lethargy, despondency, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, excessive salivation, dehydration and gummy eyes with red rims.  The kitchen-sink approach (described two posts earlier in this blog) didn't work.  Four days of IVs and antibiotics worked only as long as the catheter was in place. 

So now we're trying something new and controversial--the Dr. Sears treatment, which is based on the "Newcastle" vaccine.  One of our area Vets who has treated animals from the Shelter is offering the three-day series of serum vaccines (taken from healthy donor dogs).   Today, our little Chihuahua received the first of the vaccines, along with an injection of Baytril.

Her sponsor has taken her home tonight because she wants to oversee the dog's treatment.  The sponsor is convinced she can do a better job getting the dog to eat (good luck with that).  Plus, she doesn't have kids.  I'll get the dog back on Thursday, which provides me with a chance to catch my breath.  I have another foster dog, plus my own dog.  Taking care of this dog has been a challenge because my family is still grieving the loss of our dog, and her symptoms have caused her to look a lot like he did (although he didn't have distemper), which pains my 16-year-old to tears.  I don't know if the Newcastle approach will work.  All we can do is try.

According to an ABC news report in March, "Spring is considered to be distemper season. But what's happening now is believed to be more than that. Harris County Animal Control is seeing about 20 percent more distemper cases than normal. Then there's the wildlife population. Raccoons are susceptible to distemper. Since January more have been brought into Houston's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center."  Distemper outbreaks are also reported in Autstin, and are affecting other states as well as Texas--California and Florida are experiencing upticks in cases.  In Toronto, Canada, there is an outbreak of distemper in raccoons that is spreading to dogs.

What galls me is that distemper is one of the most preventable diseases that afflicts dogs.  Years ago, of course, it was a rampant killer, but vaccinations for puppies have put a huge dent in the disease's power.  However, many people don't vaccinate their puppies--and almost all the puppies from unwanted litters arrive at the Shelter vulnerable to the disease.  They are sentenced to death because they are exposed before the vaccines have a chance to take effect.

We can't do much about wild-animal transmission of distemper to dogs, but we can save lives, not mention tons of money, by vaccinating.  As for Arabella, only time will tell.

1 comment:

  1. Dang! I hope Princess will be ok. Nursing a dog through distemper is a full-time job and then some. It really is a shame, with free or super cheap clinics for shots, that this disease is still so prevelant.


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