Canine distemper: Signs, treatment and prevention

Canine distemper: Signs, treatment and prevention

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Canine distemper is a dangerous and contagious disease transmitted by contact with infected animals. The disease in dogs is caused by the viral infection known as canine distemper virus (CDV). The virus affects their respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Its reach is not limited to dogs and it also infects foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and ferrets. Contact with these animals can lead to pet dogs becoming infected. The distemper virus is generally spread due to the secretions from an infected animal’s sneeze or cough.


  • Watery, pus-like eye discharge (however, dogs can have this without being infected as well)
  • Fever
  • Nasal discharge
  • Cough
  • Lethargy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Dogs in which the disease has progressed to affect the nervous system may display additional symptoms such as seizures, twitching and paralysis.


The disease is very often fatal and if a dog does survive, damage to its nervous system can be severe and irreparable. There is no way to kill the distemper virus once a dog has been infected. Instead, treatment mainly focuses on controlling the symptoms and preventing secondary infections from occurring. Dogs with distemper are treated to help battle dehydration. They are to be isolated from other animals and kept warm and comfortable.


Distemper can affect dogs of any age but unvaccinated dogs and puppies under four months old are especially susceptible to the disease. A canine distemper vaccination can help prevent the disease in inoculated animals, but it is also important that all dogs be kept from contact with infected animals.

The distemper vaccine may need to be updated regularly – ask your vet to draw out a vaccination schedule for your pet and make sure you stick to it. If your pup is too young to be vaccinated, take utmost care to keep it away from places populated with unvaccinated or stray dogs, raccoons, foxes, skunks and other wildlife that could be infected.

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