Canine Distemper: What You Need to Know

Nobody ever wants to see their dog sick or go through any type of suffering. This is why most veterinarians urge dog owners to get their dogs the proper vaccinations to help protect them against commonly known diseases that have unfortunately been known to be fatal. Canine distemper is one of those unfortunate, sometimes fatal diseases.

It is a highly contagious disease that affects many of a dog’s body systems. Fortunately, there is a vaccine that veterinarians highly recommend to help prevent your dog from ever having to suffer from this terrible disease.

What is Canine Distemper and What Causes it

Canine distemper is a viral infection that spreads quickly throughout your dog’s system. When infected the virus spreads quickly, which is why it is so hard to treat. Distemper in dogs can easily be transmitted through the air from coughing or sneezing or bodily fluids like blood, saliva, or urine. This means distemper can be spread airborne or simply by sharing a food or water bowl.

How to Contract Distemper:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Blood
  • Saliva
  • Urine

How Can You Detect Canine Distemper

There are many symptoms of canine distemper, but it usually isn’t until the more severe symptoms come on that you realize it is serious. Distemper symptoms are runny nose, goopy eyes, vomiting, coughing, lethargy, and a fever. Many people mistake distemper for the more commonly known virus called kennel cough. If your dog indeed has canine distemper, they will, unfortunately, experience seizures or, in the worst-case scenario, paralysis. If there is any suspicion of your dog suffering symptoms of canine distemper, it is recommended to notify your veterinarian immediately. 

Signs of Distemper in Dogs

  • Runny nose
  • Goopy eyes
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Lethargy
  • Fever
  • Seizure
  • Paralysis

Who is at Risk for Canine Distemper

If your pup is vaccinated against this disease, the chances of suffering from canine distemper are unlikely. Distemper usually turns into a breakout, and those affected are dogs who are not vaccinated. Unfortunately, puppies who didn’t have a chance to get vaccinated yet, are victims of this awful disease. Distemper outbreaks are also commonly found in places where there are many dogs, like shelters or breeders. It is more uncommon but still a possibility if your dog encounters another dog that is not vaccinated against distemper, putting your pup at a higher risk when they are young. Their immunity isn’t strong enough against it.

How to Treat Canine Distemper

The sad truth about canine distemper is that most dog owners opt to put their pup down when they contract it because of their intense suffering. Distemper in dogs is not an easily treatable virus. When distemper attacks, it doesn’t attack only one body system but several. These include the gastrointestinal, nervous, and respiratory systems. This widespread viral infection is complicated to treat. It will not react to antibodies as a bacterial infection will respond. Veterinarians can diagnose and confirm distemper by laboratory testing.

Extensive veterinary care is required to treat the distemper’s symptoms, keep your dog comfortable, and monitor their vitals. This can quickly become very costly, and many dog owners cannot afford this expense. If you decide to allow your dog to fight through distemper and your pup survives, there is a risk of neurological damage to consider as well. It is recommended to speak to your veterinarian about your different options because every situation is different.

Possible Lasting Health Issues After Distemper:

  • Brain Damage
  • Muscle Twitching
  • Jaw Spasms
  • Nerve Damage
  • Seizures

Vaccination Against Distemper

After discussing all of the disasters that distemper can happen to your pup, it is common to feel a little disheartened. Luckily, there is a way to prevent canine distemper from affecting your dog! The distemper vaccine for dogs is critical to get when they are young puppies. Puppies can receive the distemper vaccine as early as six weeks of age. Your puppy will continue getting the vaccine every three to four weeks up to sixteen weeks old to be able to build up immunity against the disease. 

The vaccine will protect your dog up to a minimum of three years, sometimes even longer. Once your pup turns three, your veterinarian will revisit the distemper vaccine discussion to continue their immunity against it. It is essential not to have any gaps in their immunization, so they are not at greater risk for distemper. 


Canine distemper is an awful disease that no dog owner wants to witness their pet suffering from. Whether you adopt a puppy or adopt an adult dog, it is highly encouraged to speak to your veterinarian if your dog is up to date on its vaccinations. Preventive care is essential for your dog’s health and well-being. It might be wise to be cautious with allowing your new puppy around other animals or adult dogs who might not be vaccinated. If you will put your dog in obedience school, doggy daycare, etc., make sure the facility only allows dogs with up-to-date vaccinations only. All of these preventative measures may be the difference between your dog contracting distemper or avoiding it altogether!

What is distemper in dogs?

Distemper is similar to measles, and it can cause serious illness in dogs causing it to attack their different body systems. The attack causes a significant infection that is not easily treatable.

How do dogs get distemper?

Dogs can come down with distemper through airborne exposure from other dogs or wild animals. Coughing and sneezing are the most likely culprit. Distemper can also be transmitted between dogs through shared water or food bowls.

Can a dog recover from distemper?

Distemper is commonly a deadly disease because it is so difficult to treat. Being that distemper is a virus, not a bacterial infection so antibiotics will not work. Most owners opt to put their dog down because of the immense suffering their dog goes through, but each case is unique to the dog.

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Written by Petsmont Editors

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