Craig veterinarians report uptick in highly contagious dog distemper disease |

Craig veterinarians report uptick in highly contagious dog distemper disease

A hound gazes out of his kennel at the Craig Animal Shelter in 2011.
Courtesy Photo

— A rare but highly contagious canine disease known as distemper has reared its ugly head in Moffat County in recent months, with two local veterinarians seeing a sudden spike in cases.

Bear Creek Animal Hospital owner and veterinarian Kelly Hepworth saw his first case about six months ago in a four-month-old puppy, and again about two weeks ago in a litter of puppies and their mother.

“That’s why it’s a little more disturbing,” Hepworth said. “We’ve seen two cases in six months, and we hadn’t seen two cases in 15 years before that.”

Craig Veterinary Hospital owner and veterinarian Wayne Davis reported a similar scenario: five individual cases plus a litter of puppies in just the last three months. They’re the first cases he’s seen in 10 years.

“Distemper is on the rise nationally, and they’re having problems down on the East Slope with it,” Davis said.

Most of the cases have been among ranch dogs from various parts of the county, including southern, western and northern Moffat County, “but then we started seeing some in dogs in town,” Davis said, specifically two cases in Craig. “That made it a little more serious.”

All of the dogs who were infected with the disease have died except one, the vets reported.

Canine distemper is a virus that affects dogs’ respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. It has no known cure, but is easily protected against with vaccinations.

Symptoms first present as a high fever, reddened eyes and watery discharge from the nose and eyes, according to PetMD online. The disease then moves to the gastrointestinal tract, causing diarrhea, vomiting and persistent coughing, before affecting the central nervous system, causing twitching, seizures, paralysis or fits of hysteria.

The infection typically takes two to five weeks to run its course.

“It’s very debilitating,” Hepworth said. “It’s the main thing we vaccinate for, it’s so easy to prevent.”

Because the disease affects multiple systems in the body, it can vary widely in how it manifests, making it hard to diagnose at first, Davis said. The disease is also sometimes called ‘”hard pad disease” because it can cause the pads of dogs’ feet to harden.

Wildlife such as coyotes, foxes, raccoons, skunks can carry distemper, which can be spread through the air or through direct or indirect contact with an infected animal, according to PetMD, such as a shared water bowl. It is not transferable to cats.

“Vaccination is almost 100-percent effective,” Hepworth said, but dog owners should make sure they complete all three doses to ensure their dogs are protected.

The owner of the older puppy that died from the disease six months ago thought her puppy was immunized, Hepworth said, but the puppy had only received one vaccination, leaving it unprotected.

Davis also recommends regular boosters in adulthood; he gives dogs a yearly booster shot that combines distemper vaccine with other important vaccines such as parvo.

Contact Lauren Blair at 970-875-1795 or or follow her on Twitter @LaurenBNews.

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