Distemper Virus

Distemper is one of the most common infectious diseases that we see in HK. We mostly see this condition in young puppies and when I first came to work in HK in 1992 it was very common. The virus is contracted by direct contact between puppies in pet shops and virtually every pet shop in HK at that time was selling puppies that were infected. This situation resulted in tremendous distress and heart-ache for people who had recently purchased a puppy only for it to succumb to this disease a week or two later. Characteristic Hong Kong government incompetence delayed the regulation of pet shops until 2007. Simply by requiring pet shops to sell puppies vaccinated and microchipped by a registered vet has all but eradicated the disease.

The incubation period for the virus is up to two weeks. Thus even a recently vaccinated puppy my start to show the following symptoms: nasal and ocular discharge, fever, poor appetite, diarrhoea, vomiting and coughing.  The virus will infect the nerve cells and muscle twitching and eventually seizures will follow. Death follows soon after.

There is no cure for this virus. The basis of therapy was to stimulate the bodies' immune system and covering antibiotics to control secondary pneumonia. Unfortunately the Hong Kong pet shops advised owners inappropriate feeding regimes and the puppies were presented emaciated with little body reserves to help fight off the infection. We would also nebulise the puppies a few times a day with an antibiotic to control the pneumonia. Many puppies died despite intensive care. In puppies that survived, many were left with permanent nerve damage and damaged tooth enamel.

Thankfully the HK pet shops are now better regulated.  It is absolutely essential that your pet is vaccinated properly as this is the only way to prevent your pet becoming infected.