Veterinarians are warning of a life-threatening epidemic that could mean the deaths of many dogs as four recent cases of distemper have been reported in the last 48 hours in the Nelson Mandela Bay area.

Many are concerned the virus could easily spread through the Western Cape and a number of vets and animal care associations are bracing themselves for a possible spike in arrivals.

Allan Perrins from the Animal Welfare Society says, “Cases of distemper are usually related to the weather and although we have not noticed a spike in the number of distemper cases at this point, we are bracing ourselves for an increase in cases because of the weather.”

Last year distemper made its way into Cape Town in June and reports of infected dogs were on the rise in late winter as well. These recent reports follow two other cases of distemper as well as several cases of parvovirus reported roughly two weeks ago.

“Currently we receive roughly five cases a week where dogs are displaying signs of distemper, often owners do not have the funds to afford a test for the virus and in this case we treat the animal with the appropriate antibiotics but this is all one can do. Otherwise we suggest humane euthanasia as there is no cure for distemper,” says Perrins.

Both viruses in question are highly contagious and rural areas are the most severely affected. This year alone hundreds of dogs in rural areas have already died from these dreaded afflictions.

These viruses do not only affect dogs, but are able to transfer to humans as well.

Dogs which have not been vaccinated and come into contact with other infected animals are at a high risk of contracting the disease. Locals are urged to ensure their dog is vaccinated and be cautious of allowing them to mingle with other unknown dogs.

Pet owners who cannot afford to pay for the vaccination may get them done for free.

Symptoms of canine 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”
About distemper: 
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, and is spread through contact with the bodily fluids of the infected animal.

Distemper attacks all organ systems, including the respiratory system, and ends up in the brain, while parvovirus causes acute vomiting and bloody diarrhoea, leading to toxic shock and death.

Picture: Pexels

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