I'm sorry to hear that Griffin's been suffering from this illness.
Do you know if there are other puppies that got sick at the same shelter, assuming that you rescued him form a shelter. It is true that if the doctors wanted to know what these masses really are, they need to obtain samples from them, either with a needle aspiration or surgery.
But I'm curious whether Griffing may have Distemper disease. The typical distemper suspect is a rescue or pet store dog or puppy, usually with questionable vaccination history or an as yet incomplete vaccination series. The dog or puppy has been housed with other rescue dogs.
Symptoms begin with:
- Gooey eye and nose discharge
- Fever, which often comes and goes unnoticed
- Poor appetite
- Coughing and development of pneumonia
The fact that he already had pneumonia and now he is having issues with his abdomen, I would recommend discussing the possibility of Distemper disease with your veterinarian. Also calling to see if there are anymore puppies are sick at the same shelter would help.
The virus is attacking interfaces of the body with the environment (the mucous membranes) and starts with the respiratory tract, hence the pneumonia, but it does not stop there. The virus moves on to produce:
- Vomiting and diarrhea
- Callusing of the nose and foot pads (hence one of the old names for
distemper - hard pad disease).
After completing what is called the mucosal phase of Distemper infection where
environmental interfaces are attacked (as described by the above GI and respiratory disease), the virus proceeds to the central nervous system for its neurologic phase leading to:
- Seizures, classically starting with snapping or tremors of the jaws that
progress to convulsions of the whole body. This distemper classic sign is called
a chewing gum fit.
- Seizures are not the only distemper sign by any means. Tremors, imbalance,
and limb weakness all may occur. Signs may progress to death or may become non-progressive and permanent. Recovery is also possible.
This means that the dog appears to recover only to break with neurologic disease 1 to 3 weeks later. Younger puppies or individuals with weak immunity often die during the mucosal phase while stronger individuals may have relatively mild mucosal signs and not appear ill until the neurologic phase strikes.
As if it is not bad enough that this infection has a poorly defined endpoint
so you never know for sure if the dog is out of the woods, it is almost impossible to confirm a distemper diagnosis. Because of this, distemper is a clinical diagnosis, which means that rather than confirming infection with a test that is negative or positive, the veterinarian must look at the whole picture: what symptoms are there, is the history typical, etc. The virus itself remains elusive so that positive test results are meaningful in confirming the infection, but negative results do not rule it out. The following are tests that can be used.
Distemper Inclusion Bodies
Distemper inclusion bodies are clumps of virus that are visible under the microscope within infected cells. Post-mortem inclusion bodies are readily visible in the urinary bladder tissue, thus making confirmation of distemper after death relatively easy. In the living patient, we typically have ready access to blood cells and cells of the eye's
conjunctival membranes (the pink park of the eye socket). To enhance the visibility of inclusion bodies, immunocytology is used. In this technique, antibodies against distemper virus are tagged with fluorescent markers. The antibodies bind to virus, if it is present, effectively dying the inclusion body with glow-in-the-dark fluorescent color. The presence of inclusion bodies confirms distemper infection. The lack of detectable inclusion bodies does not rule out distemper infection as inclusion bodies ultimately become coated with the host's own antibodies, which in turn block the fluorescent-tagged antibodies used in the test.
If callusing of the footpads or nose is evident, a biopsy of this tissue can
be tested for inclusion bodies fairly late in infection.
Distemper Antibody Levels
Distemper titers (another word for antibody level) of either the IgM type (produced in early stages of infection) and the IgG type (produced in later phases of infection) can be checked. The problem is that distemper vaccination induces these same antibodies, and often distemper suspects have recently been vaccinated. A high IgM titer indicates recent infection or recent vaccination, but there is no way to tell which.
PCR Testing Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing involves amplification of the presence of DNA so as to allow detection of very small amounts of virus. Since the distemper virus is an RNA virus, not a DNA virus, a test called reverse transcriptase PCR must be used but the amplification concept is the same. Vaccination will interfere with PCR testing for approximately 2 weeks (i.e., the modified virus from the vaccine will be detected creating a false positive). Newer testing technology has made it possible for the amount of viral RNA to be measured and expressed as an amount. This process has made it much easier to distinguish true infection from recent vaccination.
Cerebrospinal Fluid Antibody Levels
In neurologic distemper cases, cerebrospinal fluid is often tapped and distemper antibody levels checked. Distemper antibodies in cerebrospinal fluid are highly indicative of distemper infection as vaccine-induced antibodies do not cross the blood-brain barrier into the CSF fluid.
Treatment for Distemper
Many bizarre protocols have emerged over time as we grope for meaningful
anti-viral therapy. The fact remains that recovery from distemper is all about
immunity and the only real treatment is supportive care while the patient mounts
an immune response. If the patient has pneumonia, antibiotics are used on the
secondary bacterial infections. Airway dilators are used as needed. Physical
therapy is used to promote coughing. If the patient has diarrhea, intravenous
fluids are used to prevent dehydration.
Distemper is extremely variable in its ability to produce symptoms and
recovery occurs at any stage. This has led to assorted therapies being credited
with effect when what was more likely witnessed was the natural removal of the
infection by the host's immune system.
Neurologic distemper is particularly difficult to treat. Still, it is possible for dogs to recover with livable deficits even from neurodistemper.
I hope my answers were helpful and