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.  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.
 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.