Dog owners in Dubai warned of highly contagious viral disease distemper

Dog owners are urging others to test their canines’ immunity against the distemper virus, which has left some pets fighting for their life.

The virus is a highly contagious disease spread through airborne exposure and direct contact. It has no cure and affects a canine’s respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems. The disease cannot be passed on to humans.

A number of distemper cases were reported in the Dubai Hills area about two weeks ago. Some dogs died and others were in critical condition.

There is a vaccine that helps to prevent the distemper but vets have said immunity drops over time and an annual booster shot would be needed.

He got discharged from the vet a couple of days ago but he spent four days in the intensive care unit and now we are tube-feeding him

Amy le Roux

Poor immunity is caused by inappropriate or incomplete vaccination courses, as well as puppies being vaccinated too young.

The disease is often fatal, with a mortality rate of 50 per cent in adult dogs and 80 per cent in puppies.

Amy le Roux, a British resident in Dubai Hills, said her dog Paddington is vaccinated but still contracted distemper.

She said she had taken Paddington to the vet because he was not playing or eating his food. He had a high fever and was tested for the virus, which came back positive.

“He had no prior health issues to this whatsoever,” Ms le Roux said. “He’s a rescue dog, so he’s not got any history of illegal breeding, he was actually born stray. But he still got the diagnosis with the virus on May 8.

“He got discharged from the vet a couple of days ago but he spent four days in the intensive care unit and now we are tube-feeding him, he’s on a lot of probiotics, vitamins and antibiotics.

“We’re literally doing everything we can to boost his immune system so that he can fight the disease because it’s not actually curable.”

She said she has spent about Dh14,000 ($3,810) so far and was told by the vet that it could take several months for recovery with round-the-clock care needed.

Paddington is also fighting pneumonia, caused by the distemper, and has to be fed through tubes every couple of hours.

“He’s very weak,” said Ms le Roux. “It’s a horrible disease that I wouldn’t wish on any family at all.

“I really recommend people to get their dog’s immunity against the virus tested, so they know if a booster shot is required.”

She posted about the virus on social media and said other people experiencing the same problem have reached out to her.

Purvi, another resident in Dubai Hills, said her vaccinated puppy Coco died from the virus on May 6.

She said there needs to be more awareness about the disease and that owners should get a blood test to measure their dog’s immunity against the virus during each visit to the vet.

Purvi said Coco “was vaccinated as required from the same doctor that we go to”.

“The question is ‘why there is not much awareness on this topic?’, she said. “Nobody told us that once they take the vaccination, they need to take an antibodies test.”

The virus is not limited to Dubai Hills. An American resident in Dubai Investment Parks said her two golden retriever puppies Ronin and Skye are fighting the disease.

Kathy Guthrie, who got the dogs from a breeder in Ras Al Khaimah, said she was told they were suffering from the distemper virus early this month, even though they were vaccinated.

“At this point, it’s affecting them neurologically,” she said. “I’m having to having to force-feed them. They won’t eat on their own because their jaws are moving uncontrollably. They’re losing a lot of weight.”

Ms Guthrie said she is trying to spread awareness of the antibodies test to other dog owners, so they can get a booster shot in time.

“I think, at this point, with the outbreak and where it’s at, it needs to become required as part of your vaccinations,” she said. “I think owners need to be aware of it because if we had done that, this would have changed the outlook completely on everything.

Sam Westhead, a vet at the Amity Veterinary Clinic in Dubai, said distemper is a common virus across the world and he sees a dog with the disease every couple of months.

“The virus generally affects puppies younger than four months,” he said.

“Correct vaccination provides excellent protection – it’s not a breakdown in immunity that leads some dogs to be susceptible to the virus. Poor immunity results from inappropriate or incomplete vaccination courses, as well as puppies being vaccinated too young.

“Regular annual booster shots are required to maintain immunity against these infections.”

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Updated: May 18, 2022, 9:30 AM

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