Canine distemper is a contagious viral disease that affects dogs. The disease is also known to affect some species of wildlife, including skunks, wolves, coyotes, ferrets, raccoons, and foxes.

The virus mainly attacks the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and nervous systems of dogs and puppies. The disease spread rapidly via air through coughs or sneezes from infected pets.

The canine distemper causing a virus is a member of the Morbillivirus class and is thought to be related to the virus that causes measles, Phocine, and Rinderpest. Puppies and older dogs that have never been immunized against the disease are most susceptible to the disease. Given the seriousness of this condition, only rabies causes higher mortality in dogs and puppies.

Signs and symptoms of distemper

Given that it’s an airborne disease, the distemper virus initially attacks the lymph nodes in the area around the nasal cavity, before it can attack other body systems. Initial symptoms will include fever, pus-like eye discharge, excess salivation, lethargy, loss of appetite, difficulty when breathing, nasal discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea, and increased coughing.

In cases of advanced distemper, dogs will show the following symptoms: swollen foot pads, circling, incontinence, partial or complete paralysis, seizures, twitching, and increased sensitivity to light and touch. In some, the more serious symptoms may manifest right away at the onset of distemper, while in some dogs the symptoms may take weeks to show.

Treatment and management

Unfortunately, an effective cure for canine distemper is yet to be discovered. The best that vets can do once a dog is diagnosed with this condition is administering treatment that will prevent secondary diseases. They also strive to control and/or prevent more serious symptoms and combat the loss of bodily fluids by administering fluids. Dogs suffering from this condition need to be isolated from other pets to prevent the spread of the disease, be kept warm at all times, and receive ultimate nursing care. Even with all these efforts, dogs with weak immune systems are likely to die five weeks after infection.

During the advanced stages of distemper, the virus attacks the respiratory and nervous system. As a result, complications related to both systems are likely to develop. This prompts the need to actively monitor conditions such as pneumonia and dehydration. Disturbance of the nervous system may lead to seizures and paralysis.

It’s important to note that there are chances of the dog surviving distemper. However, this is greatly affected by the strength of a dog’s immune system and the virus’s strain. However, if a dog survives the condition, it never carries or spreads the virus.


The key methods of preventing distemper infection are early vaccination and keeping a dog away from potentially infected animals. And unless your dog has received all series of vaccinations, you should exercise caution when exposing their dogs to ones whose medical history you’re not familiar with. Places to be wary of include pet shops, grooming establishments, dog daycare centers and puppy and obedience classes.

Contact your veterinarian and ask us to give a recommendation for the best vaccinations for your pet »