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The Distemper Vaccine for Dogs

distemperWe’ve all received the reminder in the mail that our pet is due for a vaccine that we don’t really know how to pronounce, much less know what it does. It doesn’t help that vet clinics may use the abbreviations or lingo that differs from clinic to clinic. In this article, we aim to discuss the “distemper” vaccine and the diseases it protects against. (In a separate article, the feline “distemper” vaccine will be explained).

For dogs, the “distemper” vaccine usually refers to a combination vaccine including vaccines against several common viral canine diseases. Sometimes separate vaccines are used for each of these diseases, but most practices are using the combination for puppies and dogs 8 weeks and older. You may see a variety of different vaccine combinations referred to as the “distemper” vaccine, such as:

DAPP – Distemper/Adenovirus/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus

DA2PP – Distemper/Adenovirus (type 1 and 2)/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus

DA2PPC – Distemper/Adenovirus (type 1 and 2)/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus/Coronavirus

DHPP – Distemper/Hepatitis virus (same as adenovirus)/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus

DHPPL – Distemper/Hepatitis virus/Parainfluenza/Parvovirus/Leptospirosis

*** The “A”, “A2” and “H” all refer to the same thing – typically a modified live canine adenovirus type 2 vaccine, which does protect against type 1 as well.

FAQs: Canine distemper virus

  • Who does it affect?
    It is primarily seen in young dogs (3 – 6 months old). The virus can also infect other canids (foxes, coyotes, etc.), cats, ferrets, and raccoons, and skunks. It does not affect humans.
  • How is it transmitted?
    It is shed through the respiratory secretions of infected animals, and most commonly transmitted by aerosol exposure. Direct contact with contaminated urine, feces, or skin may also transmit the infection. It can also be passed from mother to fetus through the placenta.
  • What are the signs?
    Distemper may cause a range of signs or even no signs at all, and it has a variable mortality rate depending on the severity of the clinical signs. There can be conjunctivitis (eye inflammation), eye or nasal discharge, lethargy, coughing, difficulty breathing, diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, and fever. It can also cause neurologic disease, so there can be seizures, balance and coordination problems, paresis (weakness), hypersensitivity to touch, or involuntary twitching.
  • Is there a treatment?
    There is no specific antiviral treatment available for distemper virus. Secondary bacterial infections are managed with antibiotics, and other signs are treated supportively (e.g. intravenous fluid therapy for dehydration secondary to vomiting and diarrhea).

FAQs: Canine Adenovirus

  • Who does it affect?
    It primarily infects young dogs (less than 1 year old), but can occur in any unvaccinated dog. It also can infect foxes, coyotes, and bears.
  • How is it transmitted?
    It is passed dog-to-dog from contact with contaminated secretions (urine, feces) through the oronasal mucous membranes. It can also be transmitted via contact with fomites (inanimate objects) and ectoparasites (e.g. fleas).
  • What are the signs?
    There are two well-known canine adenoviruses, type 1 and 2. Type 1 causes infectious canine hepatitis, and may manifest as fever, lymph node swelling, increased heart and respiratory rate, abdominal tenderness (with an enlarged liver), and icterus (jaundice). The eyes can also be affected, and have a blue-ish hazy appearance. Sometimes secondary to the liver disease, there can be neurologic signs (depression, seizures, disorientation, coma) or blood clotting disorders (bruising, nose bleeds). Canine adenovirus type 2 can cause a cough, and is one of the potential causes of kennel cough.
  • Is there a treatment?
    Treatment is primarily supportive, including fluid therapy, correction of coagulation abnormalities with blood product transfusion, liver antioxidants, and sometimes steroids for inflammation suppression.

FAQs: Canine Parvovirus

  • Who does it affect?
    It only affects dogs, typically (almost exclusively) less than 8 months old and unvaccinated adults. There may be a genetic predisposition towards the disease in Doberman pinschers, rottweilers, pit bills, German Shepherds and dachshunds.
  • How is it transmitted?
    It is highly contagious and passed from contaminated feces to the oral cavity.
  • What are the signs?
    There can be a wide range in severity of the disease. Signs include lethargy, dehydration, fluid filled intestines on abdominal palpation, diarrhea (often containing blood), vomiting or retching, fever, and even shock (due to sepsis or dehydration, signs including increased heart rate, hypoglycemia, and hypothermia).
  • Is there a treatment?
    Treatment includes supportive care, antibiotics for secondary bacterial infection control. Fluid therapy is of the greatest importance, as dehydration can be fatal. In addition to this, there may be need for antiemetics, pain control and nutritional support. Usually IV medications will be needed initially, especially if there is vomiting (where oral medications wouldn’t be tolerated). The diet should be high-protein and high-calorie foods in small volume.

FAQs: Canine Parainfluenza

  • Who does it affect?
    It primarily affects young dogs, and is more commonly found in dogs that have been kenneled or in close proximity to lots of other dogs.
  • How is it transmitted?
    Parainfluenza is spread by the inhalation of aerosolized secretions from the respiratory tract of infected dogs.
  • What are the signs?
    Parainfluenza virus causes rhinitis (nasal inflammation), conjunctivitis, and tracheobronchitis, usually a fairly short duration. Persistent cough may be the major problem. Bronchopneumonia may develop if the viral infection is compounded with a secondary bacterial infection (such as bordetella), which would show as lethargy, increased respiratory effort, potentially fever and loss of appetite. There is a variant of the parainfluenza virus that may cause neurologic signs such as ataxia and paresis.
  • Is there a treatment?
    Uncomplicated cases of parainfluenza may resolve on their own, but supportive care may be needed such as cough suppressants, bronchodilators, and fluid support to maintain hydration.

An obvious pattern has developed here – in these viral diseases, there isn’t usually a specific treatment but rather management focuses on supportive care. Preventive medicine is often the best choice. Vaccination helps us prevent the spread of these common diseases and protect our pets from serious illness. Many safety studies have gone into producing a reliable vaccine. There are several different vaccine manufacturers so there may be some differences in the exact mechanism of action between the different brands of vaccines (e.g. killed virus, recombinant virus, or modified/attenuated live virus), so if there are any specific questions about what your particular pet is receiving, don’t hesitate to ask your veterinarian! You should always feel confident and comfortable with what is being used, so be informed and not clueless regarding what all those vaccine reminders are all about!

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