Keep Your Pet Safe From Distemper and Rabies

Distemper is a hardy enemy, and that makes it a dangerous one. The virus is long-lived, and it’s everywhere. For an unvaccinated puppy or dog, shelters, dog parks and pet stores can be breeding grounds for a disease that causes great suffering, and for many, death. Unvaccinated cats are also at risk for feline distemper, known as panleukopenia virus, which can also be fatal.

Prevention is so easy that we take it for granted: vaccination, as recommended by your veterinarian. But Dr. Hurley says there’s more that you can do. When you adopt a shelter dog or cat — and she and I both recommend you do, with no hesitation — don’t expose other pets to whatever diseases yours may be shedding. Even if your pet seems healthy, wait a couple of weeks before you head to the dog park or any other place your dog or cat is likely to come into contact with other pets.

Such good advice, and so simple, it will save many lives if we all follow it. Distemper will likely always be with us, but we can keep it from killing, if we just don’t take it for granted.

Protecting Pets and People

And that goes double for rabies, and then some. While distemper is deadly to dogs and cats, rabies is a terrifying killer of countless species, including our own. It’s so serious that people who work around animals — such as veterinarians and veterinary technicians — are vaccinated against rabies as a precaution. What makes rabies so frightening is that unless it’s caught early — which too often, it’s not — it’s deadly.

We veterinarians take it seriously (after all, we are sometime bitten by animals whose health status is unknown), and so does the law. Many decades of vigorous public health efforts have made human deaths from rabies in the United States a rare event. The veterinary profession’s role in keeping it that way is one we’re proud of, and determined to maintain in the future.

Distemper and rabies were once spoken of in the same fearful tones as malaria and cholera, and all these “old-fashioned” diseases bide their time, hoping to catch us with our guard down.

Don’t let them. Talk to your veterinarian about the vaccines and other preventive care your pet needs to protect his health — and your own. If it doesn’t seem like a big deal, think about what it was like when it was. And do your part to help your veterinarian help keep everyone healthy.


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