Doggy Dash and Distemper

July 25, 2011

Dr. Nate Lam and his dog, Cali

On Sunday, August 7, The Animal Medical Center Doggy Dash will give man (or woman) and his or her best friend the chance to compete in tandem over a 5-mile run course in New York City’s Central Park.

The AMC’s Doggy Dash is part of the 11th Annual Nautica NYC Triathlon and one of The AMC’s own — Dr. Nate Lam — will be participating in the triathlon to raise money, in part, for The AMC’s Buddy Fund for Cancer Care.

Dogs in the Dash must be healthy and current on vaccinations. One Doggy Dash participant contacted The AMC asking what the “D” in DHPP vaccine was so he could find out if his dog had been properly vaccinated. This question gives me an opportunity to write about canine distemper – the “D” in DHPP.

Before the distemper vaccine was developed in the 1950s, canine distemper caused serious illness and could wipe out an entire neighborhood’s dog population. Today, distemper in dogs can easily be prevented, and vaccination against distemper is considered a “core” vaccination for dogs. Distemper vaccine is commonly administered in a combination vaccine often called DA2PP or DHPP for distemper, adenovirus 2 (also called canine infectious hepatitis), parainfluenza and parvovirus. Rabies vaccination is the other core canine vaccine. Non-core vaccines include bordetella (kennel cough), canine influenza, Lyme disease, leptospirosis and corona virus. Vaccination guidelines recommend non-core vaccines be administered only to dogs with risk factors for the disease.

The name canine distemper is a bit misleading. The disease does not cause an ill temperament in an infected dog. The word comes from a Middle English word meaning to upset the balance of the humors. Medieval theories of medicine proposed the body was composed of four substances called humors and when the humors were out of alignment, illness occurred. The distemper virus infects a wide variety of animals including the black-footed ferret, Tasmanian tiger, African wild dog and lions. Distemper virus cannot infect humans but genetically it is closely related to the measles virus.

Distemper has several clinical manifestations. The initial clinical signs are fever, vomiting and nasal or ocular discharge. These might go away without treatment, or could progress to systemic illness such as pneumonia. Neurological signs such as seizures may accompany the illness, or may occur months later. Dogs may also develop thickened footpads or nasal planum (the hairless part of their nose) giving the disease its colloquial name, hardpad disease. Years after their initial infection, old dogs may develop “old dog encephalitis” in which the brain becomes inflamed from chronic distemper virus infection. Canine distemper virus can even affect the teeth. Puppies infected before their permanent teeth develop have a decreased amount of enamel covering their teeth.

Distemper virus infection is easily prevented by vaccination. Following a puppy series of shots, your veterinarian will discuss the frequency of distemper vaccination that is appropriate for your dog during its annual physical examination.

For more information about other diseases veterinarians commonly prevent with vaccinations, click on the following links:

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This may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog on WebMD.com.

For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit www.amcny.org. To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.


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