Pet Health

Canine Distemper: Things You Need to Know About This Disease

Everything pet owners should know about Canine Distemper including signs, symptoms, treatment and how to prevent this disease.

8
min read

Being a pet owner comes with worries and we want to protect our beloved dogs. Canine Distemper is a contagious disease that comes from a virus and can be fatal to puppies and dogs. 

If you’re a new dog owner, you may be wondering: 

How do I protect my dog from this disease? 

Distemper can be found in other wildlife besides dogs, including wolves, coyotes, raccoons, foxes and skunks. 

It can be helpful if you know what to look for and the signs and symptoms of Canine Distemper. 

Here are some essential things you need to know about this disease to ensure your dog gets proper vaccination or treatment if necessary. 

What is Canine Distemper and How Does it Spread?

If your dog is updated on vaccinations, you have probably heard the term Canine Distemper. Many veterinarians emphasize that canine distemper is one of the core vaccinations alongside parvovirus and the rabies vaccine

Canine Distemper is highly fatal and contagious in dogs. The virus that causes distemper is called a paramyxovirus. It’s related to the measles illness and causes respiratory issues, resulting in a widespread infection that's challenging to treat.

There are three ways that your dog could contract distemper, which are:

  • Direct contact with an infected animal
  • Airborne contact
  • Through the placenta at birth

Dogs with distemper can have the virus for several months, so they can put many animals at risk. If your dog is in contact with the airborne virus, there is some hopeful news. 

According to the American Kennel Club (AKC), the virus doesn’t last long in an environment and can be destroyed by most disinfectants. 

Signs and Symptoms of Canine Distemper

Veterinary experts at Bond Vet in Boston share about the severity of this condition after it has reached a certain point in the dog’s system. 

Depending on how far the disease has been in your dog’s system, many signs and symptoms can sprout from your dog. 

Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Watery discharge from the eyes
  • Fever (within 3-5 days of coming into contact with the virus)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Nasal discharge
  • Wheezing or coughing
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The virus attacks systems in the body, including the respiratory tract, lymphatic tissue, gastrointestinal tract, nervous system and optic nerves. 

Other symptoms happen when the disease spreads to the central nervous system and neurological signs develop, including:

  • Circling 
  • Shaking the head or tilting frequently
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Muscle twitches
  • Repetitive eye movements

Distemper can lead to death in dogs, depending on how severe the case is and how damaged the nervous system becomes. Unfortunately, there is no real cure once a dog has distemper in its system and it’s far enough along.

How Dogs are Diagnosed and Treated 

If you suspect your dog may be infected or has come into contact with distemper, you must take them to the vet immediately. 

The veterinarian will diagnose the distemper with a combination of laboratory tests. Once your dog is diagnosed with distemper, your vet can start treatment.

Dogs are treated by what symptoms they show, such as diarrhea, respiratory issues, and more. They may need antibiotics, vitamins, or supplements to help with dehydration. Most veterinarians will likely recommend that your dog be hospitalized and separated from other animals to prevent the spread of the infection.

If you’re lucky and catch the virus early on, some cases can resolve within a week to ten days. However, there is the chance that your dog could still have neurological symptoms for weeks and even months afterward.

What Dogs Are More at Risk for Distemper?

Dogs and puppies who haven’t been vaccinated are at risk. If your puppy is less than four months of age, they are also at high risk for distemper as they most likely haven’t received the vaccine yet. 

The age of your dog can play a large role while the breed of your dog is less of a factor. 

It can be a risk for all dogs who come into contact with the virus, so prevention is the best option in order to protect your pet. 

How to Prevent Canine Distemper in Your Dog

Prevention is the best way to ensure your dog doesn’t get distemper. 

While you need to be aware of other animals or dogs that have the virus to keep your dog away from the infection, there are plenty of different methods you can adopt to prevent the disease:

  • Get your puppy a complete series of distemper vaccinations to build up their immunity.
  • Ensure that you keep your dog updated on vaccinations as needed; check with your veterinarian if you have any questions or concerns so that you don’t miss their shots.
  • Vaccine additional pets you may have for distemper that may require it, such as a ferret.
  • Take caution if you socialize your puppy or a dog that hasn’t been vaccinated, mainly if you go to a dog park or beach or enroll your dog in obedience or training classes, where it will have increased exposure.

Since distemper can impact wildlife, you should also be cautious with contact between your dog and other animals since they could be exposed to or spread the virus. 

Take Responsibility as a Dog Owner

As a dog owner, it’s your job to protect your pet from contracting illnesses. You can keep your pup safe from getting canine distemper by following steps and preventative measures. 

If you have any questions or concerns about the virus, don’t hesitate to speak with your veterinarian. Your vet can help provide insight and give you recommendations to help keep your dog safe and help you identify if you suspect your dog has been exposed to or contracted the illness.

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