Canine Distemper




This article was provided to Pet Guardian Angels of America by Adam Conrad

Canine Distemper (Distemper in Dogs)

Every pet owner values their furry friend’s health over many other things. As a dog owner, it’s
important to know what illnesses are out there as well as how to prevent them. One of the
more contagious and serious diseases is distemper, a respiratory virus spread through airborne
contact. While a vaccination is available to prevent distemper, puppies under four months are
very susceptible as they aren’t yet vaccinated. It’s important to know what distemper is, its
symptoms, and treatments to better know and prevent the disease from infecting your pets.

What is distemper?

Distemper is a viral infection that attacks a dog’s respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous
systems. The most common way of infection is through airborne contact or close contact with
infected animals. This can happen from sharing water bowls or toys or coming in contact with
wild animals who carry the disease. Dogs can also contract it from consuming feces or particles
from infected dogs’ coughing or sneezing. Mothers can also pass the disease to their puppies.

The most susceptible dogs are puppies who haven’t been vaccinated and adult dogs who
haven’t been properly vaccinated, such as rescue dogs and those from a pet store. The disease
is very hard to treat because it presents itself in different strains. There is no cure for distemper,
and it usually results in death.

Canine Distemper Virus (CDV vs. CD)

Canine distemper (CD) is the official name of the infectious disease, while
canine distemper virus (CDV) is the virus that causes the disease. There are many different strains of CDV, making it hard to treat and cure. Despite its name, CDV also affects many wild animals, particularly raccoons. Household ferrets are also susceptible to contracting CDV.

Canine Distemper Symptoms

Many of CD’s symptoms are similar to canine pneumonia and other sicknesses. Some dogs don’t
develop many symptoms, and some might even fight off the virus. Effects of the virus depend
on the dog’s age (puppies and older, unvaccinated dogs are most likely to contract CD), health
and strength of it’s immune system, and the strain of the virus. In all cases, it’s important to
watch out for these early symptoms:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Sticky discharge from the eyes
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite

Dogs infected with CD may also experience vomiting and diarrhea. The virus affects the brain
and spinal cord in later stages, causing seizures, paralysis, and anxiety. If your dog is
experiencing any of these symptoms, you must see a vet immediately as it could be canine

Vets diagnose distemper through a series of diagnostic tests. Treatments aren’t meant to cure
the dog but to alleviate symptoms. The most important treatment is in preventing secondary
infections. Infected dogs are usually hospitalized as well, kept away from other animals to
prevent further spread of the disease.

Canine distemper vaccine

The canine distemper is one of the first vaccines puppies receive. The shot is administered
several times from the time the puppy ages six weeks and then every two to four weeks until
the puppy is aged 16 weeks. Vets recognize it as one of the most important vaccines because of
the contagiousness of CD.

The vaccine injects a live strain of CDV that allows the dog to build immunity against it. While
the dog may experience some side effects, it cannot contract CD from the vaccine. The side
effects include a low fever, fatigue, lack of appetite, and redness and irritation at the shot site.
There is another CD vaccine that injects another virus that contains only a part of distemper.
The chance of side effects is slimmer, and this vaccine still allows the dog to build immunity
against CDV.

As one of the most common vaccinations, the CD vaccine has proven very successful and is
highly recommended by veterinarians.

Can distemper pass from dogs to humans?

History shows that the canine distemper virus is very closely related to human measles, and
while humans can get CD, it doesn’t affect them. However, as humans can carry the virus, it’s
important to be careful with dogs. Dogs can contract CD from humans through close contact. If
you’ve owned a dog in the past who had CD, be sure to have any future canines you own
vaccinated against the disease to prevent spreading.

Adam Conrad is the writer an researcher at He is very keen on eradicating canine Distemper and Parvo and in his spare time away from researching these topics, is an avid sports enthusiast, and a lover of canine companions.