“Tell the man in the paint shop not to serve him.” So goes the old music-hall joke. But how did a once common disease of pet dogs get the same name as a kind of paint?
Distemper – also known as Hardpad first appeared in the UK in the mid-1840s, though it had been known in Europe since the Middle Ages. ‘Hardpad’ refers to one of the symptoms of distemper known to veterinary medicine as hyperkeratosis.
Keratin is the hard protein that toughens skin, hair and horn. In hyperkeratosis, so much extra protein is laid down in a dog’s feet that its pads become hard enough to make a tapping noise as it walks over hard floors of wood or stone.
‘Distemper’ comes from the Latin ‘distemperare’ meaning ‘to mix in the wrong proportions’, which later came to describe a whitish water-based paint mixed with glue and used on walls and murals. As hyperkeratinsed skin breaks away in large, white flakes, an infected dog’s face and coat look like it’s covered in flaking white distemper paint.
The first signs of canine distemper
In the mid-1500s distemper came to mean ‘bad temper’ and eventually ‘upset’ or even ‘deranged’. The first signs of canine distemper might be a dog that’s ‘out of sorts’; sneezing and coughing with thick mucus around the eyes and nose. Fever, a general lethargy, vomiting and diarrhoea are also symptoms of the distemper ‘paramyxovirus’ virus.
Before the discovery of the paramyxovirus, veterinary scientists suspected the weather and climate of spreading the infection. Modern veterinary research shows that infection is dog-to-dog through contact with fresh urine, blood, saliva, and through shared food and water bowls – especially among puppies.
A call to your vet is essential as soon as symptoms are suspected
Although an effective vaccine is readily available, distemper is still a serious health risk to young dogs prior to vaccination, and to dogs with a weakened immune system. A call to your vet is essential as soon as symptoms are suspected or whenever you give a home to a new pup.
With the FASTest Distemper Strip veterinary diagnostic test, your vet’s veterinary laboratory will be able to quickly and accurately diagnose the cause of your dog’s symptoms and determine whether or not paramyxovirus is present.
Distemper is no music hall joke and can prove fatal, or leave your dog with serious neurological damage. But with the right diagnostic test, your vet will be able to recommend the best course of action to treat your dog and recommend methods to prevent further infection.