When to Euthanize a Dog With Distemper?

If you’ve just found that your dog has distemper and are wondering whether or not to put them down, you will find the facts about the distemper in this article.

When to put a dog down with distemper

When to put a dog down with distemper

The virus has no cure and usually results in death. Since the disease is highly contagious, most dogs diagnosed with distemper are euthanized to prevent the spread of the disease.

Most fatalities occur in unvaccinated dogs, puppies born in backyard breeding situations, or unvaccinated adults exposed to shelters or other high-population environments.

It’s also important to know that even if your dog is showing symptoms of distemper, he may not have it at all. Because of its resemblance to a number of other conditions, such as parvo, kennel cough, and coronavirus, you’ll need veterinary care to make an accurate diagnosis.

Therefore, instead of making a decision based on guesswork, seek professional advice first. It may be more expensive than simply putting the dog down on top of everything else, but not knowing what’s wrong with your pet can lead to more costly mistakes later on.

Vaccinations can prevent the disease, but they don’t eliminate it entirely. So even a vaccinated dog exposed to distemper can become infected but vaccines remain critical to reducing disease severity and death.

Distemper in dogs

In human and veterinary medicine, when a disease has been efficiently controlled with a simple vaccination procedure, there is a tendency to become complacent and neglect the very procedures that brought about a diminution in the incidence of the disease. This has happened with canine distemper.

Veterinary practitioners in the U.S. have reported seeing a higher than usual number of cases of distemper. In most cases, the dogs involved had not been vaccinated.

Distemper in dogs is caused by a virus infection. The earliest signs of the disease are usually of yellowish discharge from the eyes and nose, accompanied by a mild fever. The owner often ignores these early signs as he thinks the dog merely has a cold.

As the virus proliferates in the dog’s body, it may attack the respiratory system causing tonsillitis and coughing, and eventually pneumonia.

If it attacks the digestive system, vomiting and diarrhea occur, but the worst feature of the distemper virus is that it frequently attacks the nervous system producing a variety of serious symptoms.

The dog first develops localized nervous spasms affecting the muscles of the head or limbs. These gradually become more severe, producing violent fits and paralysis.

As the cause of the distemper is a virus, antibiotics are useful in controlling only the effects of secondary bacterial infection. Once nervous symptoms become apparent the chances of recovery are very poor.

Some dogs seem to recover from the initial respiratory or enteric forms of the disease only to develop nervous symptoms 2 or 3 weeks later.

Vaccination is the only method of preventing canine distemper. The newer form of the vaccine is produced from live, non-virulent viruses grown in tissue cultures.

Such pure standardized vaccine eliminates the problems that were experienced with older type vaccines, which occasionally included virulent infections or produced ill-effects due to the animal becoming hypersensitive to some of the impurities.

It is recommended that puppies be given the first distemper vaccination at 6 weeks of age. A second vaccination is then necessary at 12 to 14 weeks, then again a year later. Subsequent vaccination is then advised every 1 or 2 years, depending on the preferences of the individual veterinarian.

Breakdowns in immunity from vaccination are now fortunately rare. Where they have occurred they have usually been traced to the animal not receiving vaccinations after the initial puppy vaccination.

The immunity gained from a single vaccination before 12 weeks can be affected by the presence of immune factors derived from the mother. These can be present up to 12 weeks of age, hence the recommendation to vaccinate again after 12 weeks.

Dogs kept either in their own backyards or on rural properties do not have the opportunity to have their immunity challenged and subsequently reinforced by contact with other dogs carrying the natural disease. It is therefore most important to regularly re-vaccinate animals in isolated situations.

Are dogs in pain with distemper?

Yes. The disease is the result of a virus that attacks the dog’s body and causes many serious problems. It can cause seizures and chronic severe pneumonia that is very painful and difficult to manage. The virus also attacks the nervous system and can cause paralysis.

The most common result of distemper is significant neurologic damage, causing permanent changes in behavior and personality. Some animals become recumbent, unable to walk or stand, but this is rare. Most affected animals will have chronic respiratory problems due to the damage done by the virus to the lungs, which can require long-term antibiotics, oral medications and/or nebulization therapy.

How can I help my dog with distemper?

If your dog has been diagnosed with canine distemper, supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections are the best treatment options.

Treatments may include fluids and medications to control vomiting and diarrhea, nutritional support, and seizure medication.

Supportive care includes keeping your dog hydrated, making sure she has enough electrolytes and calories to maintain her weight and treating fever or dehydration as it occurs.

You may also need to provide special attention to any dogs you have that live nearby but are not infected with distemper. As a precaution, you may want to keep your healthy dogs away from infected pets for at least a month after all symptoms have resolved.

How much does it cost to treat distemper?

Treatment for distemper can range from $500 to $2,000 or more. The cost of treatment for distemper may include:

  • Intravenous fluids to treat dehydration
  • Medications to control vomiting and diarrhea
  • Antibiotics to help fight secondary infections caused by bacteria that enter through the respiratory tract or gastrointestinal system
  • Hospitalization and care for severe neurological symptoms (which may include coma, seizures, paralysis)

Conclusion of euthanizing a dog with distemper

In conclusion, after a dog has been diagnosed with distemper, the battle to save his life is a hard one. It is recommended that you treat your dog immediately after he has contracted the disease. This can help him survive in most cases. However, you must understand that dogs with distemper are not always lucky enough to live through it.

Distemper typically lasts a few weeks but can last over a month. It usually affects puppies, but adult dogs are also at risk. There is no cure for distemper, but the symptoms can be treated. Your vet may administer intravenous fluids, antibiotics, and anti-nausea medications to help your dog recover.

The decision to euthanize a dog with distemper is usually made when the dog has developed too many complications and cannot be treated any further. However, if you feel that your dog is more of a liability than an asset, you should make the tough decision yourself and put him out of his misery.

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Hannah Elizabeth is an English animal behavior author, having written for several online publications. With a degree in Animal Behaviour and over a decade of practical animal husbandry experience, Hannah's articles cover everything from pet care to wildlife conservation. When she isn't creating content for blog posts, Hannah enjoys long walks with her Rottweiler cross Senna, reading fantasy novels and breeding aquarium shrimp.

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