Berrien County sees an increase in canine distemper cases among mystery dog respiratory illness

BERRIEN COUNTY, Mich. --The Berrien County Health Department is warning pet owners to keep an eye out for symptoms of canine distemper, with a significant increase in cases.

While it can be preventable, canine distemper is considered a highly contagious, incurable and deadly disease caused by an airborne virus.

“I've been in practice for 13 years and this is the first time I’m seeing confirmed positive cases of distemper. The fact that there was an outbreak in Berrien County is something that people should be aware of,” veterinarian and owner of Arrow Pet Clinic Dr. Kristyn Hunter said.

Some of the symptoms that pet owners should look out for include coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, thick yellow discharge from the eyes and nose and seizures. It is common among young dogs or dogs that have not fully developed an immune system.

The virus is spread through close contact with infected animals through respiratory droplets or contact through food bowls, toys or any objects that were contaminated by infected animals.

Dr. Hunter says the best way to prevent it is to make sure your animals are up to date on their vaccinations.

It is recommended dogs get a distemper vaccination once a year for their first two years and then every three years.

“We certainly don’t want to cause mass panic. Chances are older dogs can come in contact with illnesses and be able to fight it off if they have a full immune response and a healthy immune response. I don’t want every pet parent with their coughing dog to panic and rush to their pets to the vets or ER. But I do think you should be aware if your pet is showing any symptoms of illness to be conscious that it might be contagious and that don’t bring them to holiday parties or dog parks, things like that. Just like you would keep a sick kid home from school,” Dr. Hunter said.

This comes after at least 16 states have an outbreak of what they are calling a mystery respiratory illness in dogs.

Dr. Hunter says the illness presents a lot like kennel cough. Coughing, sneezing, runny nose, lethargy and loss of appetite are some of the symptoms. In some cases, it can lead to pneumonia and potentially be deadly.

What’s causing the illness is unknown. Because of this, she says it makes treatment a little difficult as dogs are not responding to traditional therapy and medicine that’s used to treat kennel cough.

If your dog develops a cough, do not panic, Dr. Hunter advises. But stay mindful about its progression and your pet's overall health, she says.

One way to prevent the illness, she says, is to keep dogs away from areas where they’re likely to come in contact with other dogs like dog parks and nose-to-nose street greetings.

“If you have questions or concerns, don’t hesitate to reach out to your veterinarian. Most of us are doing all that we can to collect the information and stay up to date on things. It's really easy to go down the rabbit hole of the internet and get concerned or false information. If you’re ever wondering what’s going on, just touch base with your veterinarian. They're going to give you the most up to date information and what’s most applicable for your pet,” Dr. Hunter said.

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