One of the core vaccines both dogs and cats receive is the distemper vaccine. From their first visit as a puppy or kitten all the way through their geriatric days, they continue to get this vaccine to protect them from the deadly illness. Both feline and canine distemper are very contagious and life threatening without treatment. How lucky we are, then, to have such an effective tool in the prevention of distemper!
Distemper in dogs starts out looking like an upper respiratory infection, and is most often spread from dog to dog through exposure to respiratory fluid via coughing. Once acquired, the virus causes respiratory signs like a runny nose and pneumonia before it spreads to the gastrointestinal tract, causing vomiting and diarrhea. From there, the virus attacks the central nervous system. Inflammation of the brain causes tremors that can progress to full-blown seizures.
In cats, distemper is a different beast. It is also called panleukopenia (which translates to “all-white-shortage”) because the virus causes suppression of the entire white blood cell line in the bone marrow.
These cells are important for fighting off illness. Distemper also causes diarrhea and, in turn, life-threatening dehydration. If a pregnant mama cat is infected, her kittens will be at risk of developing cerebellar hypoplasia, which is abnormal brain development causing tremors, lack of coordination and balance issues.
Even in an age where distemper is rare, deaths still occur. Protect your four-legged friend’s brain power (for now and for the future) with a distemper vaccine!