Distemper Story Part 1: Milo

Prior to March 2017, I had never heard of the canine disease called distemper. In my mind, I had believed that parvovirus was the deadliest sickness that could attack a dog because of posts I often see on my Facebook feed. But when the airborne distemper virus started making rounds in my home and affecting my dogs, I had to act fast and learn as much about treatment options to save my furbabies’ lives.

From being told there was no cure to distemper from one vet, to inconclusive studies about antibody injections, and dangerous risks involved in spinal taps, I was desperate to find the least invasive treatment for my two dogs who got infected by distemper: my chow chow, Milo and my corgi, Pancake.

Part 1 will touch on how my almost 2-year old corgi, Pancake, contracted distemper, as well as commemorate the passing of our barely 3-month old chow chow, Milo, who survived parvo but succumbed to distemper. Part 2 details Pancake’s day-to-day progress from initial diagnosis, to transferring vets, and to treatments that enabled his survival! Yes, Pancake is healthy and strong today!

Milo’s Story

Milo, born January 12, 2017, was only turning two months old when he was given to us as a gift on March 6, 2017. He was really gentle and quiet when we received him. At home, he liked to lay down in corners and be on his own. He did not socialize much with our dogs (aside from Pancake, we also have a corgi-shihtzu mix breed, and three other spitz–shihtzu mixes) at home, which I did not think too much of. I figured (a) it was his first night at my house, and he could still be settling in; (b) it’s just not in the nature of his breed.

The day we received Milo on March 6, 2017.

The next evening, I came home from work to news that Milo had vomited three times that day. Thus, on March 8, 2017, we immediately brought him to a 24/7 clinic, Marikina Veterinary Hospital (MVH), a 30-minute drive from where we lived in Antipolo. He was diagnosed with parvo, and confined subsequently on his first vet visit. Apparently, he was not de-wormed nor vaccinated; contrary to what the breeder declared on his health card. I can save Milo’s long story about the breeder’s irresponsibility for another post.

My sister and I are happy to bring Milo back home.

Fast forward to one week later, March 14, 2017, Milo was discharged and evidently looked happy to be going home! The worms were successfully removed, and he was healed from parvo due to proper hydration and sugar intake for energy via dextrose water injected through IV.

However, on March 22, 2017 we had to bring him back to MVH to treat a cyst he had developed on his leg due to pressure from daily IV insertions during his 6-day stay in MVH for parvo. While the doctor was squeezing thick white fluid out of the swelling, he observed dried mucus on Milo’s nose and proposed to take a distemper test. Lo and behold, Milo was positive. We were asked to bring Milo outside the clinic abruptly by the staff. This was to avoid the contagious airborne virus from spreading to other canine patients in the vicinity.

Our doctor from MVH removing the cyst on Milo’s leg.

In MVH, at least when I went in March 2017, they did not believe there was clinical cure to distemper. I asked if they could consider performing the spinal tap on Milo, but MVH had not recommended this because of the risks involved, and especially at Milo’s tender age at only months’ old. Moreover, there is no assurance of our chow chow’s recovery despite the abrasive spinal puncture. They only offered us two resolutions: (a) giving Milo Vitamin C and other medicines to relieve his fever, coughs, and sniffles (which I discovered later on did not truly address distemper, but only eased the symptoms); and (b) euthanizing Milo if his condition did not improve in two weeks time.

According to the doctors in MVH, which I was also able to confirm with online research, distemper is irreversible once it has infected the dog’s central nervous system. Basically, once neurological manifestations such as twitching, limping, or other signs of muscle tremors become apparent, the dog is already in the deep end. The hospital said euthanasia would be the most humane way of avoid more pain for our puppy.

We felt powerless but hopeful at the time. That maybe with prayer and religious implementation of MVH’s prescription medicines to Milo, he could emerge strong, and fight distemper like he did so courageously with parvo! We were convinced our supportive care could get him through.

Over the next nine days, Milo was cared for personally by my sister who stayed with Milo in an isolated room, and ensured he ate, drank water, and took his medication accordingly. We thought Milo was doing okay as we followed our vet’s instructions conscientiously; until we witnessed him spasm for the first time on April 1, 2017. He also stopped responding to his name, whereas the day before, he would approach anyone who called “Milo” so endearingly. Milo was aloof and seemed very disoriented.

When Milo would still run towards me after calling his name

My sister was crying by then, because we knew how seriously endangered Milo’s life now was. And we frantically wanted to save him. We cogitated bringing Milo to Vets in Practice in Madaluyong which we heard offered Spinal Tap. While my dad suggested that putting him to rest might potentially be the best recourse for Milo at this point to prevent further suffering.

Before we could decide for Milo, he died quietly at dawn the next morning. We found him resting in peace on his bed at approximately 5am on April 2, 2017. We buried him in the garden.

Rest In Peace, Milo. January 12, 2017 to April 2, 2017

We brought all our other dogs to the MVH to test for distemper on April 3, 2017. Among all the dogs, only Pancake was diagnosed positive. We were advised to instantly relocate Milo’s body to an area that was inaccessible to our pets to mitigate further contamination. As the accepted hypothesis for Pancake’s exposure to distemper was his free access to our garden and possibly contracting it there.

We were not over mourning for Milo’s demise, but we became additionally proactive with seeking more effective help for Pancake. We lost Milo, and we refused to accept the same fate for Pancake.

Read Part 2 for Pancake’s story (he survived by the way, in case you missed it on the first few paragraphs of this entry!)

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