Ask A Shelter Vet: Caring for Suspected Distemper Survivors in a Foster Home

ask-a-shelter-vet-art-600QuestionDear Shelter Vet,

I recently watched Dr. Crawford’s Everything Shelters Need to Know About Canine Distemper Webcast.

Now I am trying to ascertain the viral shedding period of puppies who may or may not be distemper survivors. These puppies have received their first round of vaccines and will be getting their next round of vaccines before they are transferred to our rescue group.

Our group has heard mixed information on the regular distemper tests showing false negatives or false positives. Our biggest concern is determining the viral shedding period if we cannot trust the regular distemper test. Can you tell me the name of the viral shedding test we should ask our veterinarian to give and advise us on the safest protocol to follow?

–Distemper Survivors? 

AnswerDear Distemper Survivors,

The shedding of distemper virus can continue for three weeks up to three months or even longer with an average shedding time of five weeks after the dog appears to be fully recovered. Dogs will remain contagious to other dogs as long as they are shedding so should be kept away from at-risk dogs during that time period.

At-risk dogs include all puppies under six months of age, immunocompromised dogs, dogs with any other health problems, and adult dogs who are not current on their DHPP vaccine. Healthy adult dogs who are up to date on their vaccinations should have immune protection and be at low risk. Perhaps the safest course of action would be to keep dogs suspected of shedding distemper as the only dogs in the foster home.

Distemper Survivors
Distemper Survivors

Distemper PCR testing can be used to determine if distemper virus is being shed. Eye, nose, and throat swabs can be collected by your veterinarian; your veterinarian can send the samples to a veterinary diagnostic lab for PCR testing (such as IDEXX, Antech, or Cornell). Repeat the test every one to four weeks and consider the dogs clear when they have had two negative tests.

Here is a video with details about collecting, submitting, and interpreting the distemper virus PCR test for your veterinarian.

Additional resources you may find helpful:

Collection of Swabs for Diagnosis or Respiratory Pathogens by PCR

Overview of Canine Respiratory Infections In Shelters

Everything Shelters Need to Know About Canine Distemper Webcast.