How Maya overcame distemper

Submitted by Anna Tulchinsky (October 2003)
I wanted to submit our story for publication on your website, because I thought that other dog owners may benefit from our experience. This is especially so, because information on your website was instrumental in helping us save our puppy’s life. Our puppy’s story is a story of distemper.

4 months ago we got a 6-week old puppy and called her Maya. Maya is 80% Chocolate Lab and 20% Rottweiler. Before getting her, we spent a few weeks doing research and reading, and decided that we would adhere to the holistic veterinary approach, i.e. no processed commercial dog food, natural diet and natural remedies. One of the things that worried us was the question of vaccination, so we did a lot of reading about it before making the decision not to vaccinate Maya until she is 6 months old (i.e. when her immune system would have been formed) and then only vaccinate her against rabies.

One of the stories I read on your website was the story of distemper. I remember reading it over twice to try and memorize the symptoms and their sequence as well as I can, because I learned that it is extremely important to catch them early, right at the start of the disease, because this virus spreads very fast and it can make a difference between life and death for the dog.
When Maya was 12 weeks old, on July 16, 2003 (she was born April 18) we happened to stay up late that night. At 1:00 a.m. in the morning, all of a sudden, Maya gave a sharp loud scream, as if in terror, which lasted for about 10-15 seconds. Ten or fifteen minutes later, a clear but smelly discharge came out of her anus and she also vomited the same type of liquid. She was panicky and smelled horribly, like a rotten fish. We cleaned up, calmed her down, and almost went to bed, when I remembered that I’ve read about the scream like that on your website – and it was to do with distemper. Terrified, I ran to my computer and began retrieving pages that I stored in My Favorites precisely for this occasion. It became obvious to us that it was distemper, since all the symptoms were a 100% match. We had no access to a holistic vet, and we did not want to take her to the traditional one, because we knew that all they’ll do is give her antibiotics.

We reviewed a few possible treatment and then compared them (one using Aconite). In the end, we decided to stick with the Vitamin C treatment, because unlike Aconite, it was easy to find virtually in any store and it seemed more “reliable” to us (for no scientific reason, but we had to chose as it is important NOT to combine these two methods, because apparently one cancels the benefits of the other).

Our major problem was that we could not find specific instructions as to how much we ought to give her and how often and for how long. We were also afraid to overdose her. Only later we learned that when a dog (or a person) is sick, their bodies can take an incredible amount of Vitamin C without virtually any side affects, except for a liquid-ish stool for a couple of days until their bowels adjust.

Based on what we’ve experienced, I thought it will be useful to others if I give specific details of how we treated and cured our dear puppy from distemper. It has been 3 months after her first symptoms appeared (the date of this letter is October 3, 2003), but Maya is still on 6 gm (six thousand milligrams) of Vitamin C per day (3 gm in the morning and 3 gm in the evening, given one hour after food). Distemper may stay in the body for 2-8 months.

After we’ve heard her scream so horribly, within half an hour, we rushed to the only pharmacy in town that stays open at night and bought 2 bottles of vitamin C, time released. (Later we learned that this awful terrifying scream is a result of a seizure in the stomach). We knew that every hour mattered, and that it is very important to catch the distemper virus as early as possible – lucky for us it started at night when we were home!

We came home and gave her 8 gm of Vitamin C pills (each pill was 1000 mg) – this was done by shoveling the pills down her throat one by one. Two hours later, we repeated the same procedure and gave her the same amount.

Maya had diarrhea which smelled awful, like rotten fish, 4 times during that night and next morning.

I continued giving her 8 gm every two hours for the next day (later we learned that if we had given her 20 (twenty!) gm each time, she might have never needed another dose!

Maya’s temperature remained normal, although at the high end. She continued to have diarrhea but it was no longer foul. The outer corners of her eyes became red on the second day. She was lethargic and stayed in bed a lot of time, although she never seemed too ill. We were taking her outside 3-4 times a day for short walks.

After 2 days, her temperature lowered, becoming absolutely normal, she no longer had diarrhea (her bowel adjusted to the mega doses of vitamin C, i.e. her body was using it all!). She had a discharge from her eyes (the discharge stayed for about 4-5 weeks).
On the third and forth day, we decreased the dose to 6 mg but continued to give her the pills every two hours – day and night (we were lucky I stayed home during that time!)

At one point, about 3-5 days after the first scream, Maya started panting, and we immediately dosed her with 3 additional gm of Vitamin C and increased the dose back to 8 gm each time. The panting stopped within a couple of hours. We kept to dosage at 8 gm for another two days or so.

On the sixth-seventh day, we were exhausted, so we decided to gradually increase the number of hours between the doses, so it was 8 gm every 3 hours; then on the seventh and eighth day, 8 gm every 4 hours, and so on, until we reached 4 times a day, 6 gm each dose (we decrease the dose as well, eventually). We stayed on 4 times a day dose for another week or so and later we were able to decrease it to 3 times a day.

A month later, Maya was taking 6 gm 3 times a day. Then we gradually sled to 3 gm twice a day – the amount she is on now, 3 months after her first symptom. She’s been on this dose/frequency for at least 3 weeks now, if not longer.
Three weeks ago, about 2 months after the start of distemper, we all went camping and I forgot her vitamin C. She was off for 2 days, and we saw that some of the symptoms re-appeared (as it is often the case with distemper), so as soon as we got back, we continued her treatment.

At one point, we thought that we should increase the dose to help her recover faster, but she got loose stool, so we went back to her typical 3 gm twice a day, and we intend to keep her on this dosage for the next few months, later giving her only 2 gm per day until she us 2 years old (I’ve also read that vitamin C, when also accompanied by glucosamine, helps control and in many cases prevent hip dysplasia, but even if it is not so, we saw no harm in giving her Vitamin C as a supplement for a long period of time, since it is being disposed by the body very quickly, unlike Vitamin E, for example).

It is important to notice that the red eyes stayed for more than a month, and later would re-appear at night. Even now, three months later, we occasionally see the reddish shade in the outer corners of her eyes, although it is barely noticeable now.
Throughout the entire time, even during the first few days, Maya never lost her appetite, and I made sure she drank water. We kept her away from other dogs for 6 weeks, although we continued to take her for her regular walks. You could see she was getting tired very quickly.

It is also important to note what we think the cause of distemper in Maya’s case was. Since we decided not to vaccinate her until she is 6 months, we were very careful with watching what she eats and sniffs outside, but about 7 days before her first scream, she happened to “outsmart” us and gobbled a piece of feces. After this incident, we began giving her one clove of fresh garlic twice a day, but that only resulted in a pile of dead worms coming out of her body 5 days later. It did not help keep the distemper virus away, unfortunately.

After the first two days, we got tired of forcing pills into her throat, so we went and bought pure organic peanut butter (delicious! No comparison with the ones sold in groceries stores) and coated the pills in it – Maya loves her medicine!

In any case, Maya now is 5 and a half months old, she is a healthy, energetic and lively puppy who has survived and recovered from distemper without any side effects (hopefully nothing will come up later!). She eats 99% raw organic food, with cooked human food given only as treats (we never let her close to commercial dog foods, and would not let her take antibiotics unless for something major). We supplement her diet with organic flax oil, olive oil, sunflower oil, and fish oil (rotating it on a daily basis, about 1-2 table spoon per day). She takes a pinch of dry cloves, wormwood and black walnut with her food every breakfast to keep parasites away (wormwood and black walnut are available as herbal teas, whereas cloves are available as a spice, you’d need to grind them – this will save you money on expensive anti-parasite extracts). She never itches, smells like a baby bottom, and gets complements on her shiny soft coat every day!

If you ever do research on distemper, you would be amazed at the difference between information from the traditional veterinary sources and so-called “alternative” (or holistic) ones. The traditional ones would tell you that 70% to 90% of dogs die from distemper, and those who survive will either be paralyzed or suffer some serious and incurable side effects, sometimes months or even years after the onset of the disease. The alternative veterinary sources consider distemper “easy to treat and easy to cure”. The traditional vet would pump your dog with antibiotics (to prevent other “potential” infections) and administer intravenous liquid to prevent de-hydration – officially, this is no cure for distemper (like there is no cure for many other viruses!). But antibiotics will also kill all other friendly bacteria in the stomach that aid in digestion and immune defenses. Unless your dog refuses water for more than 24 hours, you won’t need to administer anything intravenously anyway. On the other hand, the alternative vet would tell you that you need to boost your pet’s immune system to help them fight the viruses. They will recommend herbal supplements and vitamins that would not harm your dog’s system and will help fight both infections and viruses. We decided to stick to the holistic approach and thanks to that our puppy is still with us, alive and kicking!