Karen B. London
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Losing Puppies to Disease
Canine distemper strikes close to home.
Bhudan enjoys a toy weeks before he died.

Some friends recently lost two puppies to canine distemper. During the time when first one puppy, and then the second was succumbing to the disease, they were caught up in a painful swirl of grief, loss, information-seeking, medication use, and continuous attempts to comfort the puppies, their children and each other.

Obviously, it is painful to lose a dog of any age, but there is a particular kind of unbearable heartbreak associated with the loss of a puppy.

Have you lost a dog prematurely to disease? What happened and what would you like other people to know to try to prevent it happening to them? Do you have any wise or comforting words if, despite all the best efforts, it happens anyway?


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Carolyn | June 26 2009 |

Gosh, I lost my first puppy, whose name was Peppy, when I was 4 years old, to distemper. This was back in the '50's. I remember clearly walking with him scampering along, a beige and white floppy eared pup, that I LOVED, with my daddy. I had such a hard time understanding that he had gotten sick and died. I recall my parents taking him to the vet, but in those days, he was unable to be saved.

Submitted by Anonymous | June 27 2009 |

I am so sorry about the deaths due to distemper of these young pups! The story immediately reminded me of a recent conversation with a very dedicated person who runs a dog rescue organization. I asked her what vaccinations she would recommend people get for their dogs; her response was none (we did not specifically discuss distemper. I am seeing this anti-vaccine attitude more and more in articles. It seems to parallel the growth of a belief (with no scientific proof at all) of a link between vaccines and human autism, and I wonder, are these movements related? Coincidental?

Submitted by Carrie | July 5 2009 |

The puppies written in this blog were mine. I just wanted to share their vaccination history, as it shows how the vaccinations are so important, but also how a window of susceptibility can lead to this awful situation. Distemper is part of the routine DHLPP (its the D) given to puppies in a series of 3-4 shots every 2-4 weeks. My healthy pup shown in the blog recieved his first vaccine at the appropriate 6 week marker by the breeder. We brought the pup home at 8 weeks, and in the window before his next vaccination (and its effectiveness) he was exposed to our other puppy. The other puppy had a slight cough (vet and I both assumed kennel cough) and did not yet exhibit the other typical symptoms of distemper (fever,greenish discharge). This other puppy had been vaccinated at the humane society where we had gotten her. Here are the facts that were stacked against us: first vaccination is effective against the distemper virus in only 25% of puppies. The mother's immunities are critical in a very important way; they can 'kick out' that first distemper vaccine in the other 75 percent, but also provide her own immunities to the pup. This is why it is so critical to follow the routine vaccinations, as the first shot may not be affective, and because the mothers antibodies wear off slowly. The second shot covers the dogs whose first vaccination did not take hold.
The third shot is required as a booster for those puppies whose bodies only respond to the 2nd vaccination. We assume our female had probably had an unvaccinated mother, and had been exposed to the virus before arriving at the humane shelter and recieving her first shot. The virus can be dormant for weeks and did not manifest itself until we brought her home. Unfortunately, we had just hit the unfortunate, but thankfully rare, lottery of exposure and susceptibility. If the mother of the humane society pup had been vaccinated, she probably would not have succumbed to the disease. And if we hadn't exposed our other pup inbetween the 1sr and 2nd shots,those dogs would probably be happy healthy 5 month old dogs now. We really miss our pups, and cannot underscore how important vaccinations are to preventing the heartache that comes with watching your pup suffer, and the spreading of this really awful disease.

Submitted by VZ | July 17 2009 |

A family member JUST lost his puppy two days ago to distemper. For anyone suffering through this horrible disease, please do everything you can to save your dog. The smallest early sign (like a cough) should be enough for a trip to the vet.

My poor family member, unfortunately did not have the chance to do what this site says may be a cure (it all happened too fast), but this is wonderful information that may help and may be a cure:

Also, very high doses of Vitamin C have been shown to help. Magnesium can help with calming a the dog down and also help with the neurological symptoms. And Vi-Pro Plus can also help support everything else you are doing: http://www.nativeremedies.com/petalive/vipro-canine-distemper-symptoms-t...

To all those going through this, do EVERYTHING you can to save the poor pup. You still have a shot at saving him or her. Don't give up!

Best wishes and healing!

Submitted by VZ | July 17 2009 |

In vitro, ribavirin, an antiviral effective in treating measles and other viruses, has also shown effective against Canine distemper virus.

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