2 cases of canine distemper detected in Halifax-area

Two cases of canine distemper have been reported in the Halifax area and dogs that are not vaccinated or are not up to date on vaccines are at risk of contracting the potentially fatal illness.

Unvaccinated dogs or dogs not up to date with vaccines at risk

Most pets are vaccinated against distemper, but the ones that are not and puppies are most vulnerable to it. (Shutterstock/826A IA)

Two cases of canine distemper have been reported in the Halifax-area and dogs that are not vaccinated or are not up to date on vaccines — like puppies — are at risk of contracting the illness that can be fatal if left untreated.

"Distemper is a disease we don't typically see in Nova Scotia. It's generally eradicated and most pets are vaccinated for it," said Shannon Murphy, an emergency veterinarian at Metro Animal Emergency Clinic in Dartmouth.

Murphy said the two dogs that were diagnosed came to Nova Scotia from Cuba and had not been vaccinated. The cases were reported to the Metro Animal Emergency Clinic a few weeks ago.

"These are the first cases I've heard of in 12 years of practice," said Murphy. "This is not something that is typically on our radar.

It's possible the two dogs may have come into contact with other dogs around the municipality, said Murphy.

Signs of distemper

The first signs of distemper typically develop about two weeks after exposure, said Murphy. It usually starts with respiratory symptoms including runny noses, coughing, respiratory distress or fever.

Symptoms then typically progress to gastrointestinal signs such as vomiting and diarrhea. 

In advance stages of the illness, distemper can lead to seizures.

Murphy said distemper can sometimes be treated if caught in the early stages.

"The treatment is mostly supportive care so intravenous fluids, antibiotics, nutritional support — but if they progress to the point that they develop neurological signs, then the prognosis becomes much more poor and often there's not a lot we can do at that stage," said Murphy.

How distemper is spread

Murphy said distemper can be transmitted through direct contact through things like nasal discharge, nasal secretions, urine and feces from an infected dog.

"Some of the early symptoms are so vague a person may not realize their pet has distemper because it can be mistaken for something like kennel cough or just gastroenteritis," said Murphy.

Murphy said concerned pet owners should check with their vet if they think their dog has distemper. Since the alert was sent to animal hospitals across the province in the last few days, she has not heard of any other cases or calls.

"I guess the big thing is to make sure that their dogs are kept up to date on their vaccinations and if you have a young puppy who hasn't finished their initial vaccine series it would be best to avoid contact with other dogs until they've had their vaccinations," said Murphy.