Translate This Blog

Friday, January 2, 2015

NDV To Treat Canine Distemper......Hogwash Or True?

One of my readers passed on this link and question....
Does your office employ the treatment discussed in this link?
I'd like to know if you've heard of this and if so, what is your take on it and why aren't more vet offices using this treatment?
My first thought when reading the website was "well, this is new..."  As I continued to read I was scratching my head in confusion, especially with some of the statements.  Several red flags were raised in my mind and I was at the point of writing it all off as "snake oil".  But I wanted to give a more informed opinion and really break things down, hence this blog post.  I'll warn readers that I may get technical with some of the discussion, so if you're not into virology you may want to skip this one.
Let's start with a quote from the website:
We have received reports from 21 vets who have used NDV to treat distemper dogs. Of those, 12 vets used NDV-induced serum in the early stages of the disease, and in 86 percent of those cases, the distemper dog survived. Dog caregivers — owners, fosters and rescuers — tell us that 63.39 percent of distemper dogs were saved by one of the treatments developed by Dr. Sears using NDV — Newcastle Disease Vaccine.
Okay, that sounds pretty promising!  So what's the issue? Why isn't this being used more?
Let's begin by talking about what these viruses are.  Canine distemper (CDV) is a RNA virus that affects a wide variety of mammalian carnivores, including canids (dogs, foxes, wolves, etc.), raccoons, skunks, and even seals.  It is highly contagious and spreads through aerosol droplets or contact with infected bodily fluids.  Puppies less than six months old are the most common pets affected.  The diseases typically starts out with fever, respiratory signs, and diarrhea.  With prolonged infection it can invade the nervous system, causing inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.  The early symptoms may be subtle and only appear as diarrhea and a runny nose, though the disease progresses quickly over a week or two.  About 50% or more of dogs will die from this disease once symptoms develop, and even if they recover some of them may have long-term neurological problems.  Diagnosis can be difficult, and typically is based on isolating the virus in cells collected from the conjunctiva around the eye.

Newcastle disease is also a RNA virus, but it affects wild and domesticated birds.  The symptoms are similar to what we would see in dogs:  upper respiratory signs, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, neurological signs, and problems with eggs.  The virus can be isolated from swabs of the trachea and cloaca of affected birds.  There really isn't a treatment in birds, and the main concern is the disease spreading among flocks and causing massive bird death.  It can pass to humans, but isn't considered severe in our species, only typically causing short-term conjunctivitis and flu-like symptoms.  Interestingly, Newcastle disease virus (NDV) has been studied as a potential treatment in certain kinds of human cancer.  Apparently a modified version of it can target and kill cancer cells, though there is variability of the result between strains of NDV and types of cancer.

Both viruses are in the family Paramyxoviridae, with NDV in the genus Avulavirus and distemper in the genus Morbillivirus.  As a point of reference, human measels is also in the genus Morbillivirus, while mumps and human parainfluenza are in the genus Rubulavirus.  For those who don't know a lot about taxonomy, "family" can include a fairly broad variety of organisms, though there are considerable similarities.  For example, the family Canidae includes domesticated dogs, wolves, jackals, foxes, and bush dogs.  The family Hominidae includes humans, chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans.  As you can see by the examples, members of a family have a lot of close similarities, but also some pretty big differences.  Nobody is going to confuse the skull of gorilla with that of a human, or look at a fox and think it's a wolf.

Okay, now let's get into the specifics of this supposed treatment for canine distemper.  Here's quotes from the website again:

The basic principle of the treatment is to use the NDV as an inducer to prompt a reaction in the dog’s immune system that can create a material to kill the distemper virus.....Today, the NDV treatments include the NDV-induced serum, the NDV as an IV injection to the body and the NDV spinal tap, which is for dogs in the neurologic stage of distemper.

Okay, so vets who are doing this are giving NDV vaccine to dogs, something that is not approved and not tested, as well as being a vaccine for a disease that only affects birds.  They they collect serum from that vaccinated dog, inject it into a dog with distemper, and somehow the NDV vaccine will "create a material to kill the distemper virus".  Someone might think that because NDV is a paramyxovirus like CDV that there would be some benefit of giving it.  But if that was the case, why wouldn't giving serum from a dog vaccinated for CDV help even more, since it's the same disease?  Or a measels vaccine, since that's in the same genus as CDV?  Stop and think about that for a minute...would we use serum from someone vaccinated against mumps as a treatment for measels?  Because that's basically what these vets are doing (go back to the taxonomy above).

"Yeah, but Dr. Bern, you already said that NDV has been studied because it kills cancer cells.  See, it's got something in it that helps cure diseases!"  Okay, granted, NDV may attack certain cancer cells.  But cancer cells are quite different from a virus, and these vets are claiming that NDV destroys the virus.  Even if it attacked the cells containing the virus, those cells are still very, very different from cancer cells.  You can't assume that something that destroys cancer would also destroy viruses.

The website presents data from a study they did.  Let's look at some of the comments about that "study" (yes, the quotation marks are intentional). 
The data for the report comes from two sources:
  1. Veterinarians using NDV
  2. Dog owners, caregivers or rescue groups.
Every case reported to us has been included in our statistics. We are not selective in compiling our information.
 Okay, there's problem #1.  This is in NO WAY a scientific study, based on these statements alone.  In any true medical study it's common for cases to be omitted for a number of reasons:  different diagnosis than expected, incomplete records, improper documentation, and so on.  So this was one of the big red flags to me.

For this survey, the diagnosis of distemper relied on the judgment of each vet. Very often, the dog owners did not want to pay the additional expense of a lab test. So, the vets would make the diagnosis based on their experience, the apparent symptoms and in the context of whether they were in the midst of a distemper outbreak.

And there's problem #2.  Remember that in the early stages there is diarrhea and signs of a sinus infection.  These symptoms may not be severe.  The only way to truly diagnose the disease is by doing swabs of the conjunctiva or the inside of the urinary bladder (rarely performed for obvious reasons).  So there may have been puppies that had diarrhea and runny nose, the vet suspected CDV, treated with the NDV treatment, and the puppy got better.  But it's very possible that many of these cases of unconfirmed distemper actually were not distemper.  A simple case of corona virus can cause diarrhea and be self-limiting.  There are several mild viral and bacterial infections that lead to sinus problems, but again may be self-limiting, with the pet resolving without treatment.  If these cases "responded" to NDV treatment, but were never confirmed to actually be CDV, how do we know that they are not animals who would have gotten better without any treatment because they didn't actually have distemper?  It's very possible that many of the dogs in the study who "responded" never actually had CDV in the first place.

There's also an issue with the variety of treatment protocols.  Some vets are using NDV serum intravenously, some are giving it into the spinal colum via a spinal tap, and some are giving the NDV vaccine directly IV.  Each of those methods is going to affect the body very differently, stimulating different responses.  This lack of consistency makes any conclusion difficult, as a scientific study would be limited to a single method.  In discussing the reports the website says that several vets gave NDV serum but never got follow-ups with the pets.  Are those cases still included in the data?  That's a prime example of the type of information that you delete from a study, yet they state that they didn't delete anything.

Here's a quote from the conclusions section of the website:

As to why these treatments work, our theory is that the NDV causes a reaction within a dog’s immune system that produces a previously unknown material or group of interacting materials, that is able to neutralize the invading virus. However, finding the answer would require extensive scientific research.

If that statement doesn't raise some serious red flags, you may want to go back to science classes.  We certainly don't know everything about the immune system, but postulating a "previously unknown material" that somehow neutralizes the virus is a rather bold statement.  Scientists have a pretty good idea of how viruses affect the body, the defenses the body has against them, and what "materials" are present.  I find it rather suspicious to propose a completely new and previously undiscovered immune system response with a vaccine and diseases that have been studied extensively.  It might be different if it was a completely new drug, but it isn't. 

Essentially vets using this protocol are saying "Well, it does something in the immune system and somehow that counteracts the virus, but we don't know how, where, or why."  Does it affect the cell membrane?  Does it affect antibodies?  Are there special proteins generated?  Does it strengthen the cell nuclear membrane?  I would be very, VERY hesitant to use any form of treatment where the method of action isn't even theoretically outlined.  The people developing this treatment are certainly not acting as responsible scientists, and are certainly not using proper scientific method.  Where is the control or placebo group?  Have they done double-blind studies to prevent bias on the part of the participants?

All of the above is my opinion and analysis.  I'm certainly not a specialist or a virologist, just someone who can look at the data analytically and without bias.  Feel free to ignore my opinion.  But here are some thoughts on this treatment by specialists in the field, as posted on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN).

From Dr. Melissa Kennedy, DVM, PhD, Diplomate American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine.  She is a clinical virologist at the University of Tennessee College of Veterinary Medicine, so with a double-doctorate and a speciality in internal medicine, she spends her career studying and teaching about viral diseases.....

"No cure yet.  There are a number of urban myths out there, like the Newcastle Disease serum."

Dr. Alice Wolf, DVM, Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine and Diplomate of the Amercan Board of Veterinary practitioners is even more blunt and vocal.

"He doesn't have to 'prove' that it works.  It's not a USDA or FDA product.  He can say anything he wants.  His argument would be for us to prove that it doesn't work."

"If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

When asked how he gets away with it she replied "A la P.T. Barnum... There's a sucker born every minute?"

So let's summarize.....We have vets using a treatment for one virus, stimulated by a vaccination for a completely separate virus, and neither virus affects the other species (birds and canines).  There are more closely related viruses that could be used (measels), yet aren't.  The treatment "works", but the people using it don't have an inkling about even how it possibly could, other than some vague and mysterious "unknown material".  The "study" performed has numerous holes in it that significantly calls into question any so-called results, and would be soundly refuted by any scientific publication.  Reputable experts in the field, including at least one virology specialist, have clearly stated that this is a "myth" and should not be considered a valid treatment.

I know that people really want there to be a cure for canine distemper.  So do I.  But based on what I can see from this information, the NDV treatment is not a valid one.



  1. I think that it's a bit unfair to dismiss it as hogwash until further studies/trials are done. I'm not saying it's a magical cure-all, but I don't think it can just be dismissed either. I personally know of several dogs who were diagnosed(with a blood test) with distemper. The ones who were treated with the NDV all survived. Considering the extremely high mortality rate, seems unusual, doesn't it?

    I also want to address what you said here: "There's also an issue with the variety of treatment protocols. Some vets are using NDV serum intravenously, some are giving it into the spinal colum via a spinal tap, and some are giving the NDV vaccine directly IV."

    There are reasons for the different treatment protocols. If a dog is diagnosed with distemper before it exhibits any neurological symptoms, the serum given as a shot is the initial protocol. Based on the data at hand(which I will admit, isn't much), there was a 90% survival rate in dogs given the serum.

    The other method(I don't know anything about it being given via IV), the spinal tap, is only given if the virus has already progressed to the neurological stage.Once the virus has gone neurological, the spinal tap with the NDV is the last resort. The spinal tap is not nearly as effective as the serum has shown to be, giving the dog a 50/50 chance from what statistics are available.

    I know there have not been official studies, but I still thought the data compiled was at least somewhat trustworthy, given the circumstances. On the Kind Hearts In Action website, it says "Also, 64 cases initially thought to be distemper were later diagnosed with a different disease. Of these, 51 dogs lived and 13 died. These were not included in the 941 cases listed above." So cases that were misdiagnosed were not included in the data.

  2. ". I personally know of several dogs who were diagnosed(with a blood test) with distemper. The ones who were treated with the NDV all survived. "

    That is not likely. The simple "triter" tests may indicate the presence of the distemper virus. If it does, another test must be performed to see is there is an increase in titer (indicating a developing infection). A positive test usually indicates that the dog had the distemper vaccine. Even then, it is still a difficult diagnosis. The only sure fire way to diagnose distemper is through a necropsy.

    " there was a 90% survival rate in dogs given the serum."

    And what ages were the dogs? Older dogs survive fairly well--with neuological problems that come years later. So, of those survivors, which of them had the bladder test that comes a little closer to an official diagnosis? Of those survivors, which of them succomed to neurological problems later on?

    Puppies usually die from this disease. So your "90%" claim is useless without facts. Medical fact: There are no cures for any virus. Ever. Not for humans, not for other animals. If a cure is found for ANY virus, the developer will receive a Nobel Prize.

    "I know there have not been official studies, but I still thought the data compiled was at least somewhat trustworthy, given the circumstances."

    Nope. The data was gathered by a mix of volunteers and docors in an unorganized manner. A strictly controlled study, double blinded and with all the prescribed protocols, is the only way to gather data. I cannot find where that has ever been done.

    This treatment has been around since the early 70's. It doesn't work. I wish it did, but it doesn't.

  3. My dog, Carmella was the first dog to verify this in the US, and she has lab confirmation that she did in fact have Canine Distemper in the Central Nervous System. It was not something else.

    She was progressing toward paralysis and had myoclonus in two limbs before treated and then after the injection into the spinal canal began responding within about 2 weeks. One of the limbs with myoclonus recovered within weeks and her hind leg took a bit longer since it had started earlier. By age 5 she had none of the neuro symptoms she'd had prior to treatment with NDV.

    There is no doubt in my mind that this saved her life and allowed her immune system to kill the virus. Clinical trials are all well and good but when your dog is dying because this horrible virus has breached the CNS you don't have time for that.

    I would love to see clinical trials done, but placebo-controlled is not the way to go given the fact that time is of the essence and there is a point beyond which delay in treatment renders neuro damage irreversible. That would be inhumane to the animals who got the placebo. There are other ways to study the biochemistry of how this works.

    I got my instructions from Dr. Sears himself and I know that he tried and tried to get these studies done and tried to get his discovery published for years, to no avail. Before Carmella came along he had pretty much given up that his discovery would ever see the light of day. While and after Carmella was successfully treated I wrote about it in my blog in 2007. Look up on Google Artlife Newsblog. Go back to the summer of 2007 in the archives and you will find a blow by blow account of her story. I included pictures too. I didn't have a video camera but documented it with still photos.

    This is legit! Don't be so quick to dismiss it. If you want further studies, then fight to have them done. Be a part of the solution.

    And one other thing; I am stricken with a severe neurodegenerative disease now and I only hope to God that some doctor will replicate the kind of work in humans that Dr. Sears did for my dog. If so I will not look a gift horse in the mouth, but be very grateful that he/she took a chance to save my life.

    We need to think about that before being so quick to assume something's BS, as animal models very often are the beginning of cures in human disease.

    1. Giftbearer, contrary to what you have evidently read, distemper is a survivable disease. Puppies generally die (80%) but adult dogs sometimes simply have flu-like symptoms and get over it. Some, like yours, have neurological symptoms that fade over time--sometimes over the span of just a few days.

      The "sure fire" diagnosis you mentioned is not the "most accurate" test. Distemper is very hard to diagnose even now. The most surefire way is a necropsy by examining the brain tissue.

      Lastly, your "cure" involved "volunteering" a perfectly healthy dog and injecting him with a chicken virus. Did you know that this donor dog will never, ever be able to received a transfusion for the rest of his life? Not many dogs get a transfusion but do you really think that is a "moral" thing to do?

      I know you would like to believe that your dog was cured but if he had distemper, he still has it--or, rather, he survived it. That is great! But the fact is that a chicken virus vaccine cannot "cure" a wholly unrelated virus in any shape or form. Not in a million years. If that could possible work, we'd have already developed a vaccines for AIDS using the measles virus and saved millions of people.

      It disturbs me that so many otherwise-good people are being suckered into this scam and the victims, like yourself, and helping spread the word.

      If healthy "donor dogs" were not involved with this I would have far less problems with this. But it is inhumane to expose healthy dogs to a chicken virus. That is probably how the Parvo virus developed that has killed millions of animals.

    2. My dog was clinically diagnosed with distemper (she got it from a foster pup). Within about 30 days of diagnosis, she had severe myclonic tremors in her rear legs, to the point that she had to wear socks to keep her skin from rubbing raw. She also started having seizures, so was prescribed phenobarbital, which weakened her already weak rear legs.
      At the time she was first diagnosed, I searched high and low for anything that might help her, and was ready to drive to Austin to seek out the NDV spinal treatment. Even then, there was so little documented data, other than what was being put out by Dr. Bond and his followers, that I decided I couldn't risk that.
      5 years later, her myclonic tremors are completely gone, she is on half the pheno dose we started her out on, her rear legs are not nearly as strong, but she can walk two miles, get up on the couch, wrestle and play with the other dogs, all without NDV.

  4. So, does it help or does it not help? I lost my dog recently to this virus and because at day 4, a stupid vet doc prescribed the wrong IV which causes internal bleeding and killed my dog.

    1. What kind of IV did they prescribe? It must have been something else because
      NDV doesn't cause internal bleeding. It does help for sure! Alot more vets are now doing it than back when my dog had it. Check out the organization Kind Hearts in Action and look at the numerous before and after videos of the dogs cured. Some of them are quite dramatic!

    2. I would go back to my original critiques and I am still extremely skeptical. By what mechanism does this treatment work? Why would it work with such different modalities and protocols? Why do prominent virologists and immubologists reject this treatment? Do any specialists support this treatment? When all of these questions can be sufficiently answered (and they aren't on the website as I've pointed outl then I might be willing to believe.

  5. Can anyone help us find a vet in Southern California that would be willing to administer the NDV spinal tap? Our little puppy doesn't have much time.

    1. If you find a vet that is willing to try this, you should find another vet.

      Some vets do perform this silly Newcastle treatment. If they were human doctors, they would have their license taken away. Why do we not demand the same from vets?

  6. Jim, you're my new best friend. Both comments are well stated!

    1. Thank you, Doctor. I am pleased to note that your page is rising in the ranks when one searches for "distemper cure." This sham needs to be exposed and put to rest for good.

    2. Jim Fisher you need to contact Dr. Ronald Schultz at the University of Wisconsin and ask what he thinks of the NDV serum.

  7. I'm really glad to read this article, Dr. Bern. I've been hearing about this "cure" since I began rescuing dogs from shelters in 1999 and have always wondered how the "cured" dogs were diagnosed, for certain, with distemper. My vet has always told me exactly what was said above - the only sure way is a necropsy.

  8. Ok so If my 2 dogs were with another rescue dog that had distemper for about 9 days, somewhat isolated, can my 2 dogs get the virus? They've had their shots but the same day I put the rescue dog with DT down, I gave them boosters. They both now have runny noses, no more mucus of the nose, a one time vomit and reverse sneezing. Not sure if its just kennel cough, Distemp, or something else. I am seeing a Dr here in Houston that does the NDV treatment. Need some suggestions please ASAP

    1. A properly vaccinated dog is at a very low risk of catching canine distemper, even if exposed. A clear runny nose and reverse sneezing are not typically symptoms of this virus and are more likely to be allergies or irritation. However, you should still have your dogs looked at by a vet. As you can tell from the above discussion, I do not believe that the NDV treatment has any basis in reality, and neither do veterinary virology specialists, so be cautious. I'd also be happy for any doctors who support this treatment to come here and address the concerns and criticisms that I've outlined above.

    2. But it can happen. My Frankie was over 2 years old. I adopted her from a rescue and she had been fully vaccinated (2 rounds) in March. July is when I brought some foster pups into my house, one had distemper and passed it on to her.
      When she initially got sick, my vet and a specialty vet did all kinds of testing (not for distemper - because they all said she was vaccinated). After receiving a diagnosis of "Fever of Unknown Origin" and a $1000+ bill from the specialty vet, I circled back around and had a distemper test done. Sure enough....she was off the charts positive.
      After everything had settled down, I actually submitted all my medical bills to the manufacturer of the vaccine, and they reimbursed me for quite a bit (although not all) of my medical expenses due to the proof that I had of her previous vaccinations.

  9. I can't imagine how this NDV treatment violates the principles of immunology, yet many veterinarians are still using this type of remedy.

  10. We have used the NCV. A couple years back, our rescue saved a shelter dog who we initially thought had kennel cough. He continued to have a poor appetite, and a slight cough, so we took him back to the vet where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and hospitalized for 2 1/2 days on IV fluids and IV antibiotics. He was still not eating, and started showing slight neurological signs. We were referred to a vet that offered the NCV. They did a PCR test which came back (days later) positive for distemper and corona virus. He was exhibiting respirator (thick yellow discharge from nose and then eyes), gastrointestinal (no appetite) and some head shaking and lack of lower body coordination prior to treatment. We did use the NCV, while also kept the dog on Baytril and Doxycycline. To further boost the immunity, a few days later, the vet recommended plasma which was administered subQ for 3 more days. With the above protocol, he did survive and no longer exhibited the symptoms. He stayed on the antibiotic therapy for 2 months, and we also then began adding immune boosting supplements. He did recover.

    1. Here's the problem with the case you present. This dog was treated with much more than NDV. With supportive therapy adult dogs CAN make it through canine distemper. This dog was also given multiple antibiotics, immune stimulants, and supportive therapy. I would be my next paycheck that this outcome would have been the same without the NDV treatment. If the dog had ONLY been given NDV treatment I would be more likely to believe that it helped. But the rest of the treatment means that we can't tell, and there is absolutely, positively NO REASON to assume that NDV was the reason for this dog's improvement.

      If anybody can give me rational, scientific reasons to refute the points that I brought up in the original post, I'm very willing to listen. But so far all I've heard from anyone is "it works because my dog got better!" That is NOT scientific proof. I have yet to have anyone bring up counter-points to my original discussion or even propose a valid method by which the immune system would respond to the NDV treatment. There hasn't even been a valid THEORY given! Until then, and until virology specialists are supportive, I will continue to be extremely skeptical of any benefit to this treatment.

    2. Criss Bern you are just an idiot full of shit....this treatment works you moron...get that to your stupid head ....most of the dogs i rescued with distemper made it trough either way ....and im talking about over 100 dogs ....People there is a cure use it if you want to save your pet !!!every day hour count.. dont listen to an idiot that did not had any experince or at list tried to see if it works or not .. your coments are full of crap based on nothing !!!!!!

    3. So, Adriana, the way to convince me that I'm wrong is to use personal insults and curse words? Is that how you normally talk to people, or only on the internet where you don't have to look someone in the eyes? You're also not helping people believe you when you can't even use spellcheck or get my name right. Whether or not you intend it to, it makes you sound rather unintelligent.

      So you think that the science behind the NDV treatment is correct? Please look at the criticisms above and tell me where the science I discuss is wrong. Rather than insulting me or saying "it works", discuss the science behind the treatment that you claim is a cure. Instead of resulting to curse words, engage in a rational discussion where you contradict the points I've made. Saying "this treatment works you moron" isn't exactly an intelligent way of proving your point. If this really does work, discuss it scientifically.

      Also, you're not insulting and disagreeing with me. You're deliberately contradicting specialists whose entire career is studying viruses like this. Who do you think knows more about these viruses? You? The doctors who peddle this treatment? Or someone with a double doctorate and a specialty in virology?

      I give you the same challenge that I've given everyone else....Give me a rational, scientifically valid theory of how this treatment works. Give me a valid method of action. Make counter-points to my original statements. Adriana, are you willing to try where others have ignored me?

  11. Depending on the age of the dog, about 50% Will Survive. You're antidotal story does not change the fact that a serum designed for one virus will be effective on another virus. Otherwise, we would be curing the cold with a measles vaccine. It just doesn't work that way. Sorry.

  12. Just anecdotally, we've had a couple of dogs in our rescue break with distemper (we deal with high risk populations). Puppies die. Almost always. No matter how hard we try. Or are severely neuro-impaired, the two that did live. Adults, supportive care works a great deal of the time. Rather than this fantasy science, a good protocol SUPERVISED BY A VET of subcu fluids and meds works. SUPERVISED BY A REAL VET. I don't know how many times we have to tell rescuers that. The ONLY thing I add to what my vet says -- and he allows it -- is to feed Spam. Seriously. 1080 calories per can. It comes in a low sodium version. It is the perfect consistency for force feeding if that's required. But about 80% of the time, subcu fluids will perk up a dog who's not eating. If you've simply GOT to get some calories in them, Spam. No way I'd try this whackadoodle NDV stuff. If you can buy some time with supportive care, they've got a chance. My two cents.

  13. I have 3 survivors. Thanks to Dr. Sears!!!

  14. I have 3 survivors. Thanks to Dr. Sears!


Thank you for making a comment on my blog! Please be aware that due to spammers putting links in their comments I moderate every comment. ANY COMMENTS WITH AN EXTERNAL LINK NOT RELATED TO THE TOPIC WILL LIKELY BE DELETED AND MARKED AS SPAM. If you are someone who is posting links to increase the traffic to another website, save me and you the time and hassle and simply don't comment. To everyone else.....comment away! I really do enjoy hearing from readers!