Canine Distemper: A very serious and potentially fatal disease in dogs

Canine distemper is a dangerous and highly contagious viral disease transmitted by contact with an infected animal. Since it can be fatal if contracted, the importance of knowing how the disease works and vaccinating your dog against canine distemper can’t be stressed enough.

Below, you’ll find more information about the signs, diagnosis, treatment and how you can prevent it with a dedicated vaccination schedule.

Susceptibility and Transmission

Distemper is commonly seen in young puppies between 3 and 6 months of age but can occasionally be found in younger or older pets. While it is primarily a disease of dogs, it can also be seen in other animals, including ferrets, coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks. The disease spreads in an aerosol-like manner—through infected droplets of body secretions from the nose, eye or mouth.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper:

Canine Distemper usually starts with several common signs of respiratory illness, including fever, cough, and eye and nasal discharge. Other, symptoms include:

  • Gastrointestinal (GI) signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite, dehydration and weight loss.
    • These signs are typically seen shortly after the onset of the respiratory illness.
  • Neurological signs such as tremors of the head, neck and/or one or more legs (most often seen when a dog is asleep), stumbling, seizures and/or paralysis.
    • These signs can accompany the respiratory and GI problems but usually occur one to three weeks after recovery from these signs.
  • Physical changes such as overgrowth of the foot pads can also occur. Teeth abnormalities can be seen in dogs that recover from the disease.

Diagnosis and Supportive Care

Diagnosing your dog with canine distemper can be difficult. It’s often based on clinical signs and the age of your pet. There is no specific test for canine distemper, but certain lab tests may be helpful in confirming the diagnosis. Your veterinarian can discuss these particular tests with you in greater detail.

Unfortunately, the prognosis for dogs with distemper is guarded to poor. It depends on the severity of the illness, but dogs that show neurologic signs generally have a poorer prognosis.

If your dog contracts distemper, supportive care is the only treatment available. This can include IV fluids, anti-seizure medications and medications to help control vomiting and diarrhea. Antibiotics are also often used to treat secondary bacterial infections that may be present as well.

Dogs that have been diagnosed with and are recovering from distemper should be separated from other dogs for at least two weeks after they have stopped showing clinical signs.

Preventing Canine Distemper

It’s important to note that canine distemper is preventable with the appropriate vaccination schedule. Your puppy should be vaccinated at 6 to 8 weeks of age and then every three to four weeks until your pet is 16 to 20 weeks of age.

This is then followed by a booster vaccination one year later, and then every one to three years in adult dogs or as determined by your veterinarian.

Did you know?

All Banfield Optimum Wellness plans for puppies and adult dogs include distemper vaccinations in addition to other important preventive care services.

Learn more about how you can protect your pet by building your Optimum Wellness Plan today.