May 2, 2018
Dear referring veterinarians,
We wanted to make you aware of the recent outbreak of canine distemper virus in Central New York. Several cases have been confirmed at Helping Hounds Dog Rescue, and they have temporarily suspended adoptions and acceptance of new dogs. We are fielding calls from both concerned pet owners and the primary care veterinary community, so wanted to provide a brief overview of this disease.
The symptoms of canine distemper range in severity and depend on both viral virulence factors and host factors, such as age and immune status. It is important to note that mild forms of the illness are indistinguishable from “kennel cough,” and are characterized by fever, lethargy, cough, and nasal discharge. Fulminant symptoms result in worsening respiratory signs, vomiting, diarrhea, neurologic abnormalities, and death. Any dog that has been infected with canine distemper virus may develop neurologic sequelae; this usually occurs 1 to 3 weeks after initial infection but may be delayed indefinitely. The development of neurologic signs significantly worsens prognosis.
Canine distemper is most typically spread via respiratory secretions, although other bodily fluids including urine are also infective. Viral shedding typically begins approximately one week after infection and may persist for 60 to 90 days in rare cases. Typical hospital decontamination procedures with quaternary ammonium disinfectants are efficacious.
Treatment is largely supportive.
Cornell University’s Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory offers a canine respiratory disease panel (performed via PCR) that includes canine distemper. This is the method VMC has been using to screen suspected cases. Nasal or conjunctival swabs are easily obtained; urine may also be utilized if testing for only canine distemper. Unfortunately, PCR testing does not distinguish between natural virus and modified live vaccination, so a thorough vaccine history is necessary when interpreting these results.
We encourage you to be on the alert for new cases in the area and potentially recommend viral testing in these patients to better characterize the outbreak and allow owners to be more informed. Please do not hesitate to contact us at the VMC with any questions you may have.
Excellent information regarding canine distemper virus can also be found in Greene’s Infectious Diseases of the Dog and Cat, and further information regarding testing can be found at Cornell University’s Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory.
Elise Craft, DVM, DACVECC