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Canine Diseases (I) – Distemper, Hepatitis and Rabies

Distemper, hepatitis and rabies are 3 of the many diseases that can affect our dog, all with potentially fatal consequences. In the case of humans, we can detect our progress toward such diseases when we begin to feel different, for example experiencing chronic fatigue or general discomfort. By contrast, dogs do not communicate verbally such sensations, which leaves us as solely responsible for observing their body language and changes in attitude that could give the alarm. Among them we have:

– Diarrhea: may be due to inappropriate food, eating snow, or an imbalance in the intestinal flora. If blood appears in the stool it´s urgent to take him to the vet.

– Vomiting: not always a symptom of disease and may be a reaction for eating too fast or too much.

canine diseases - dog vomitingImage / Joan Valencia.

– Frequent vomiting: may indicate that he´s choked with a foreign body or suffering from poisoning. Vomiting together with fever is a serious sign of illness.

– Fever: unequivocal sign of infectious disease or inflammation.

– Dragging his butt: usually indicates a blockage or saturation of the anal glands or the start of an abscess.

– Shaking his head: he may have an ear wax plug, a foreign body inserted or an ear infection.

– Lameness: may be due to a fracture, injury, torn ligaments, circulatory disorders, senile debility or a stucked thorn.

– Coughing and sneezing: may be a reaction to a foreign body in the nose / throat or a cold, and if the latter is accompanied by fever he may have distemper.

– Strong odor in the mouth: may be a symptom of caries, gingivitis, gastritis, or low quality food.

– Bulge: may be a malignant or benign tumor. Better go to the vet immediately.

female dog with tumorFemale dog with tumor

Image / L. Mahin.

– Scratching constantly: may be due to fleas, ticks, skin diseases or an eczema.

All dogs have worms transmitted by his mother at birth. At 8 weeks he should be taken to the vet for deworming and after 4 months the treatment should be repeated.


canine diseases - dog with distemperDog with distemper

One of the most contagious and deadly diseases for dogs, caused by a virus of the Paramyxoviridae family. It can occur in 3 ways:

  • Bowel Distemper with diarrhea.
  • Lung Distemper with pneumonia.
    • Nervous Distemper with paralysis.


– Nasal secretion and watery eyes.

dog with watery eyeImage / Sean Bernard.

– Gastrointestinal symptoms: loss of appetite and continuous vomiting after several hours of high fever and diarrhea.

– Respiratory symptoms: breathing difficulties and swelling of the bronchi.

– Nervous disorders: inflammation of the brain. It shows convulsions and motor disorders in advanced stages.

– Hardening of the footpad´s skin: one of the main features of this disease.

Modes of transmission

Sick dogs spread the virus when they cough near other dogs. These viral particles in the air can also reach dogs that are far in the distance.




As it´s a viral infection, there are no medications for curing this disease; the only objective is to reduce the pain and symptoms. If symptoms are recognized in a very early stage there will be more chances of saving his life, otherwise he can die, especially if most of the symptoms have already appeared.

Thus, the treatment is as follows:

  • Using antibiotics to reduce secondary bacterial infections.
  • Application of intravenous electrolytes for dehydration caused by diarrhea.
  • Providing vitamins and immune system enhancers (the dog is weakened by not being able to eat).

Any treatment is ineffective after neurological symptoms have appeared. If the dog is suffering too much, the veterinarian may recommend euthanasia.


Vaccination is the best way to protect him.

This disease is not dangerous to people.

Infectious Canine Hepatitis (ICH)

A highly contagious viral disease caused by Canine Adenovirus Type 1 (CAV-1), affecting the liver and kidneys.


  • Fever, lack of energy and vomiting.
  • Inflammation / bleeding in the oro-nasal region.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Abdomen pain.
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eye´s white membrane).
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (deterioration of brain functioning due to liver disease).
  • Enlarged liver.
  • Hematomas.

Modes of transmission

  • Sharing the same food bowl and/or utensils with a sick dog.

dogs sharing the same food bowlImageTony Alter.

  • Contact with blood, feces, urine and/or bodily and nasal secretions of an infected dog.
  • It´s not transmitted to humans, but if you’ve been in contact with an infected dog, you´ll have the virus on your skin or clothing, carrying it home with you and possibly infecting your dog.


It´s aimed at reducing the symptoms and waiting for his immune system to respond. Antibiotics are used to combat secondary bacterial infections, as well as intravenous fluids and medications to minimize pain, and in severe cases, blood transfusions.


Don´t allow your dog to drink water from the street.

Vaccination is the best way to protect him against this disease.


Viral disease from the Rhabdoviridae family which infects the central nervous system, causing inflammation of the brain, followed by paralysis and death.

canine diseases - rabiesRabid dog


Rabies has three stages, and symptoms vary according to each.

1) First phase (lasts 1 – 3 days): slight symptoms may go unnoticed, but basically you can see a change in behavior: doesn´t obey, distances himself from others, hides and shows lack of energy.

2) Second phase: furious rabies (lasts 2 – 4 days): here the dog shows an erratic and aggressive behavior. Symptoms include: excitability, restlessness, insomnia, excessive salivation, dilated pupils, inability to swallow, aversion to water, muscle dysfunction and convulsions.

3) Third phase: dumb rabies (lasts 2 – 4 days): characterized by hiding in dark places, avoiding human or animal contact, lethargy and lack of appetite; he may end up losing control of his hind legs, contracting cramps or suffering jaw and larynx paralysis (causing death by respiratory failure). In this picture you can see a dog in the late stage of dumb rabies, with jaw paralysis.

canine diseases - dumb rabiesDog in dumb rabies phase

Modes of transmission

The virus is found in the saliva of an infected animal; it´s transmitted through a bite, scratch or wound. It can also be transmitted to humans through saliva. Unvaccinated dogs are at higher risk of contracting this disease.

What should I do if a rabid dog bites my dog or another human being?

  • Clean the wound with soap and water but don´t rub it (wear gloves and protective clothing). This allows you to eliminate as many virus as possible from the wound.
  • Call or go immediately to the vet (or doctor in the case of a human).
  • Contact local animal control officials so that they capture the sick dog (in case he ran away) to prevent him from biting other animals/people.


There´s no effective treatment once all symptoms show up.

Note: If you are interested in more information about dog diseases, you can receive a notification when I publish the e-book in which I have been working during the past year, which includes detailed analysis of the most common diseases, as well as advice on how to prevent accidents in dogs. Sign up for our [thrive_2step id=’2900′]email newsletter[/thrive_2step] in order to get notified.


The vaccine protects dogs and humans from this disease.

On Canine Diseases II we examine the parvovirus, kennel cough and leptospirosis.