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Although more than one hundred years have elapsed since this was

first imported to this country from France, a great amount of

misunderstanding still prevails among a large section of dog-breeders

regarding its true nature and origin. The fact is, the disease came to

us with a bad name, for the French themselves deemed it incurable. In

this country the old-fashioned plan of treatment was wont to be the

usual rough reme
ies--emetics, purgatives, the seton, and the lancet.

Failing in this, specifics of all sorts were eagerly sought for and

tried, and are unfortunately still believed in to a very great extent.

Distemper has a certain course to run, and in this disease Nature

seems to attempt the elimination of the poison through the secretions

thrown out by the naso-pharyngeal mucous membrane.

Our chief difficulty in the treatment of distemper lies in the

complications thereof. We may, and often do, have the organs of

respiration attacked; we have sometimes congestion of the liver, or

mucous inflammation of the bile ducts, or some lesion of the brain or

nervous structures, combined with epilepsy, convulsions, or chorea.

Distemper is also often complicated with severe disease of the bowels,

and at times with an affection of the eyes.

Causes--Whether it be that the distemper virus, the poison seedling

of the disease, really originates in the kennel, or is the result of

contact of one dog with another, or whether the poison floats to the

kennel on the wings of the wind, or is carried there on a shoe or the

point of a walking-stick, the following facts ought to be borne in

mind: (1) Anything that debilitates the body or weakens the nervous

system paves the way for the distemper poison; (2) the healthier the

dog the more power does he possess to resist contagion; (3) when the

disease is epizootic, it can often be kept at bay by proper attention

to diet and exercise, frequent change of kennel straw, and perfect

cleanliness; (4) the predisposing causes which have come more

immediately under my notice are debility, cold, damp, starvation,

filthy kennels, unwholesome food, impure air, and grief.

The Age at which Dogs take Distemper--They may take distemper at any

age; the most common time of life is from the fifth till the eleventh

or twelfth month.

Symptoms--There is, first and foremost, a period of latency or of

incubation, in which there is more or less of dullness and loss of

appetite, and this glides gradually into a state of feverishness. The

fever may be ushered in with chills and shivering. The nose now

becomes hot and dry, the dog is restless and thirsty, and the

conjunctivae of the eyes will be found to be considerably injected.

Sometimes the bowels are at first constipated, but they are more

usually irregular. Sneezing will also be frequent, and in some cases

cough, dry and husky at first. The temperature should be taken, and if

there is a rise of two or three degrees the case should be treated as

distemper, and not as a common cold.

At the commencement there is but little exudation from the eyes and

nose, but as the disease advances this symptom will become more

marked, being clear at first. So, too, will another symptom which is

partially diagnostic of the malady, namely, increased heat of body

combined with a rapid falling off in flesh, sometimes, indeed,

proceeding quickly on to positive emaciation.

As the disease creeps downwards and inwards along the air-passages,

the chest gets more and more affected, the discharge of mucus and pus

from the nostrils more abundant, and the cough loses its dry

character, becoming moist. The discharge from the eyes is simply mucus

and pus, but if not constantly dried away will gum the inflamed lids

together, that from the nostrils is not only purulent, but often mixed

with dark blood. The appetite is now clean gone, and there is often

vomiting and occasional attacks of diarrhoea.

Now in mild cases we may look for some abatement of the symptoms about

the fourteenth day. The fever gets less, inflammation decreases in the

mucous passages, and appetite is restored as one of the first signs of

returning health. More often, however, the disease becomes complicated.

Diagnosis--The diagnostic symptoms are the severe catarrh, combined

not only with fever, but speedy emaciation.

Pneumonia, as we might easily imagine, is a very likely complication,

and a very dangerous one. There is great distress in breathing, the

animal panting rapidly. The countenance is anxious, the pulse small

and frequent, and the extremities cold. The animal would fain sit up

on his haunches, or even seek to get out into the fresh air, but

sickness, weakness, and prostration often forbid his movements. If the

ear or stethoscope be applied to the chest, the characteristic signs

of pneumonia will be heard; these are sounds of moist crepitations,


Bronchitis is probably the most common complication; in fact, it is

always present, except in very mild cases. The cough becomes more

severe, and often comes on in tearing paroxysms, causing sickness and

vomiting. The breathing is short and frequent, the mouth hot and

filled with viscid saliva, while very often the bowels are constipated.

If the liver becomes involved, we shall very soon have the jaundiced

eye and the yellow skin. Diarrhoea is another very common

complication. We have frequent purging and, maybe, sickness and

vomiting. Fits of a convulsive character are frequent concomitants

of distemper. Epilepsy is sometimes seen, owing, no doubt, to

degeneration of the nerve centres caused by blood-poisoning. There are

many other complications, and skin complaints are common after it.

Treatment--This consists firstly in doing all in our power to guide

the specific catarrhal fever to a safe termination; and, secondly, in

watching for and combating complications. Whenever we see a young dog

ailing, losing appetite, exhibiting catarrhal symptoms, and getting

thin, with a rise in temperature, we should not lose an hour. If he be

an indoor dog, find him a good bed in a clean, well-ventilated

apartment, free from lumber and free from dirt. If it be summer, have

all the windows out or opened; if winter, a little fire will be

necessary, but have half the window opened at the same time; only take

precautions against his lying in a draught. Fresh air in cases of

distemper, and, indeed, in fevers of all kinds, cannot be too highly


The more rest the dog has the better; he must be kept free from

excitement, and care must be taken to guard him against cold and wet

when he goes out of doors to obey the calls of Nature. The most

perfect cleanliness must be enjoined, and disinfectants used, such as

permanganate of potash, carbolic acid, Pearson's, or Izal. If the sick

dog, on the other hand, be one of a kennel of dogs, then quarantine

must be adopted. The hospital should be quite removed from the

vicinity of all other dogs, and as soon as the animal is taken from

the kennel the latter should be thoroughly cleansed and disinfected,

and the other dogs kept warm and dry, well fed, and moderately


Food and Drink--For the first three or four days let the food be

light and easily digested. In order to induce the animal to take it,

it should be as palatable as possible. For small dogs you cannot have

anything better than milk porridge. [1] At all events, the dog must,

if possible, be induced to eat; he must not be horned unless there

be great emaciation; he must not over-eat, but what he gets must be

good. As to drink, dogs usually prefer clean cold water, and we cannot

do harm by mixing therewith a little plain nitre.

[1] Oatmeal porridge made with milk instead of water.

Medicine--Begin by giving a simple dose of castor oil, just enough

and no more than will clear out the bowels by one or two motions.

Drastic purgatives, and medicines such as mercury, jalap, aloes, and

podophyllyn, cannot be too highly condemned. For very small Toy dogs,

such as Italian Greyhounds, Yorkshire Terriers, etc., I should not

recommend even oil itself, but manna--one drachm to two drachms

dissolved in milk. By simply getting the bowels to act once or twice,

we shall have done enough for the first day, and have only to make

the dog comfortable for the night.

On the next day begin with a mixture such as the following: Solution

of acetate of ammonia, 30 drops to 120; sweet spirits of nitre, 15

drops to 60; salicylate of soda, 2 grains to 10. Thrice daily in a

little camphor water.

If the cough be very troublesome and the fever does not run very high,

the following may be substituted for this on the second or third day:

Syrup of squills, 10 drops to 60; tincture of henbane, 10 drops to 60;

sweet spirits of nitre, 10 drops to 60, in camphor water.

A few drops of dilute hydrochloric acid should be added to the dog's

drink, and two teaspoonfuls (to a quart of water) of the chlorate of

potash. This makes an excellent fever drink, especially if the dog can

be got to take decoction of barley--barley-water--instead of plain

cold water, best made of Keen and Robinson's patent barley.

If there be persistent sickness and vomiting, the medicine must be

stopped for a time. Small boluses of ice frequently administered will

do much good, and doses of dilute prussic acid, from one to four drops

in a little water, will generally arrest the vomiting.

If constipation be present, we must use no rough remedies to get rid

of it. A little raw meat cut into small pieces--minced, in fact--or a

small portion of raw liver, may be given if there be little fever; if

there be fever, we are to trust for a time to injections of plain

soap-and-water. Diarrhoea, although often a troublesome symptom, is,

it must be remembered, a salutary one. Unless, therefore, it becomes

excessive, do not interfere; if it does, give the simple chalk mixture

three times a day, but no longer than is needful.

The discharge from the mouth and nose is to be wiped away with a soft

rag--or, better still, some tow, which is afterwards to be

burned--wetted with a weak solution of carbolic. The forehead, eyes,

and nose may be fomented two or three times a day with moderately hot

water with great advantage.

It is not judicious to wet a long-haired dog much, but a short-haired

one may have the chest and throat well fomented several times a day,

and well rubbed dry afterwards. Heat applied to the chests of

long-haired dogs by means of a flat iron will also effect good.

The following is an excellent tonic: Sulphate of quinine, 1/8 to 3

grains; powdered rhubarb, 2 to 10 grains; extract of taraxacum, 3 to

20 grains; make a bolus. Thrice daily.

During convalescence good food, Virol, Spratts' invalid food and

invalid biscuit, moderate exercise, fresh air, and protection from

cold. These, with an occasional mild dose of castor oil or rhubarb,

are to be our sheet-anchors. I find no better tonic than the tablets

of Phosferine. One quarter of a tablet thrice daily, rolled in tissue

paper, for a Toy dog, up to two tablets for a dog of Mastiff size.