The number of dogs affected by canine distemper in Knysna has increased from 80 cases to more than 100. Two weeks ago, only 10 cases were reported on Charlie Lawack Street in the Hornlee neighbourhood.

Canine distemper is considered an ‘aerosol’ virus – this means it is spread via the bodily fluids of an ill animal such as fluids from the eyes, mouth and nose.

Spokesperson of the Animal Welfare Society (AWS) in Cape Town, Allan Perrins, said AWS sees dogs suffering from canine distemper on a daily basis, but have not noticed an exponential spike in the number of cases treated recently.

“One thing that I can say about canine distemper is that it occurs all too frequently,” Perrins said. “This is a direct consequence of dog owners not taking their puppies to be vaccinated”.

Canine distemper is commonly seen in young puppies between three and six months of age but can occasionally be found in younger or older pets. While it is primarily a disease of dogs, it can also be seen in other animals, such ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks.

Perrins adds that if caught early enough, canine distemper is treatable, but dog owners should remember that it is also 100% preventable. “The cost of preventing distemper is a tenth of the price of treating it. It is quite expensive to treat the virus, because the price can go up as far as thousands.”

Despite the disease being preventable it is also treatable, but survivors are often left debilitated to some degree – depending on when the treatment regime is started.

Dogs who are treated for distemper are kept in an isolation ward, as the virus has the capacity to ‘spread like wildfire’.

According to Perrins, the devastating outbreak of distemper in Knysna could be a result of uncontrolled dog breeding. He also said that other wild animals in the area may also fall ill with distemper, such as seals.

Retha Havenga, spokesperson Kynsna Animal Welfare Services (KAWS), told IOL that since the outbreak, more people have begun to bring their dogs in for vaccinations.

Havenga regards this as a positive step in the right direction.

“In the month of May we did 106 vaccinations, and I know that the private vets also had loads of bookings,” she said. “We urge animal owners to continue coming. Sadly 111 dogs had to be put down as 111 cases were reported.”

The symptoms of distemper include:
– Diarrhea
– Continued fever
– Pneumonia (Characterised by laboured breathing and coughing)
– Depletion of white blood cells
– Vomiting
– Hardening of the pads of the feet
– Unusual tooth enamel
– Depression
Ataxia, an inability to coordinate the muscles
Hyperesthesia, a heightened sensitivity to sensory stimuli, like touch and pain
– Myoclonus, disabling muscle spasms
– Paralysis, partial or complete
– Deterioration of mental abilities and motor skills
– Seizures affecting any part of the body. One type of head seizure that is unique to distemper is sometimes called “the chewing gum fit” because the dog appears to be chewing gum.
Picture: Kev Costello/Unsplash

Article written by

Lucinda Dordley

Lucinda is a hard news writer who occasionally dabbles in lifestyle writing, and recent journalism graduate. She enjoys reading the works of Stephen King, and exploring the beauty of Cape Town and its surrounds.