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What is distemper?

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Quick Answer

Distemper is a viral infection that affects the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems of various types of carnivores. There are canine and feline varieties of the disease.

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Full Answer

Paramyxovirus is the causative agent of distemper. The disease is extremely contagious, and infection occurs through inhalation of aerosolized droplets, direct contact or ingestion of infected material. Coughing, sneezing and mucus in the eyes are some initial symptoms of distemper. Fever, vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite and lethargy follow the initial symptoms. Wild animals, such as raccoons, often exhibit abnormal behavior when suffering from distemper and may become less wary of humans. These symptoms sometimes cause distemper in wildlife to be misdiagnosed as rabies.

Canine distemper affects all canids, including wolves, coyotes, foxes and domestic dogs. Feline distemper affects both domestic cats and wild feline species. Dogs cannot contract feline distemper and vice versa; however, raccoons and some members of the weasel family can contract both canine and feline distemper.

As of 2015, there is no cure for distemper. Domestic dogs and cats receive supportive care from veterinarians, such as antibiotics and fluids. Even with supportive care, there is no guarantee of survival for an infected animal, and young animals have a higher mortality rate than adults. There are, however, preventative vaccines available to prevent contraction of distemper.

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