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Colchester veterinarians share advice on distemper and vaccinating

Renee O’Neill, who lives with Ruby, a one-year-old Pug-Chihuahua has had her dog vaccinated to protect her from diseases such as distemper.
Renee O’Neill, who lives with Ruby, a one-year-old Pug-Chihuahua has had her dog vaccinated to protect her from diseases such as distemper.

TRURO, NS - The news that two dogs brought to Nova Scotia from Cuba recently died from distemper has worried some dog owners, but loval vets say distemper isn’t the only potentially deadly threat to dogs that haven’t been vaccinated.

As dogs from other areas arrive, they sometimes bring diseases and parasites, but veterinary care ahead of the move could remove most of these dangers.

“It’s great that people are bringing dogs from other countries, giving them a life and neutering them so they don’t reproduce,” said Dr. Gwen Mowbray-Cashen of Truro Veterinary Hospital. “I recommend vaccination and parasite treatment be given before travel if possible. The stress of travel will amplify any issues the animal already has.”

The dogs taken to Halifax’s Metro Animal Emergency Clinic in late June hadn’t been vaccinated for distemper before entering Canada. (Canadian Food Inspection Agency regulations only require rabies vaccines be given.) They were with different families and each had been in HRM for a few weeks before showing signs of illness.

“The distemper vaccine is very effective,” said Mowbray-Cashen. “If a vaccinated dog comes into contact with the virus it might have a few off days. Dogs who aren’t vaccinated can be left with serious health issues, including seizures, if they survive.”

She has been a veterinarian since 1985 and has never had a dog with a case of distemper brought to her, even though it exists in the wildlife population. It can even be carried by mammals that live in water, such as seals and dolphins, but is rarely seen among pets because of vaccines.

Dr. Kayla Collins, who works at Central Nova Animal Hospital, said she has only seen one case of suspected distemper but she worries that the movement against vaccines could result in diseases such as this showing up more often.

“If large numbers of animals aren’t vaccinated we’ll see more animals who are sick with diseases that are preventable,” she said. “Choosing not to vaccinate is dangerous.”

Other threats that may travel with animals from southern areas include heartworm and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Heartworm showed up in several dogs that came to Canada after being rescued during Hurricane Katrina.

Daisy Beck, who lives with Boots, a six-year-old Jack Russell-Cairn terrier, said she is worried about distemper making her dog ill because he’s vaccinated.


Canine distemper

Can spread through sneezing, coughing, and sharing dishes and equipment.

Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and it can be passed through the placenta from a mother to her puppies.

Symptoms: A watery or pus-like discharge from the eyes usually appears first. This can be followed by fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite and vomiting. As the virus spread to the nervous system, dogs may walk in circles, tilt their head, and have muscle twitches and convulsions, and partial or complete paralysis. The footpads often thicken and harden, leading to the nickname ‘hard pad disease.’

There is no cure.  Treatment usually involves efforts to control vomiting, diarrhea and neurologic symptoms, and combat dehydration.

Distemper is not a risk to humans.  

Norma Stewart, who lives with 11-year-old Jupiter, a Staffordshire terrier, isn’t worried about her dog contracting distemper. Jupiter has been vaccinated against the disease.



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