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Canine Distemper
Distemper in Dogs. Symptoms, treatment and prognosis

Distemper in Dogs





What is Canine Distemper

Dog Distemper is a highly contagious, viral disease which is often fatal. It affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems. Canine distemper infects dogs but can be found in other animals:

Canidae: Wolf, coyote, fox, domestic dog
Procyonidae: Raccoon
Mustelidae: Ferret, mink, weasel, martin, fisher, otter, badger, skunk, wolverine

What are the symptoms of Canine Distemper

The many signs of dog distemper are not always typical. Symptoms may include

Fever 39C to 41C (103F to 106F)
Loss of appetite,
Nasal discharge,
Eye inflammation

Neurological Symptoms of dog distemper include

Muscle twitching
Deterioration of mental abilities
Loss of motor skills
Complete or partial paralysis
Increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as pain or touch (Hyperesthesia)

A fever is often the initial symptom but may go unnoticed. Symptoms become more serious and noticeable as the disease progresses. The symptoms become exacerbated by secondary bacterial infections.


Complications involving the eyes can also occur. Some complications of the eye can be serious enough to damage the optic nerve and cause the dog to go blind.

Encephalomyelitis is a complication that can develop. It is an inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

Dogs who have recovered can also suffer chronic symptoms such as hardening of the foot and nose pads. Erosion of the teeth can occur if a puppy contracts the disease before its second teeth have erupted. (The virus kills the cells that make tooth enamel) It is possible to re-enamel the teeth.

Canine Distemper is a very serious, potentially fatal disease.
If your dog has any of the above symptoms take it to your veterinarian immediately.

How is Canine Distemper contracted?

It is contracted primarily through airborne viral particles that the dog breathes in. Infected dogs shed the virus through bodily secretions such as respiratory secretions, and urine and feces excretions. Dogs contract the virus by direct contact with urine, feces, or secretions from infected dogs. Also contact with kennels, bedding, toys, or other objects that may also hold the virus. During the recovery period (which can last several weeks) dogs can still shed the virus even if all symptoms have disappeared. Once fully recovered previously infected dogs no longer shed the virus.


What is the treatment for canine Distemper?

At this time, there is no cure for the actual virus which causes canine Distemper. Treatment is supportive. That means that your vet will treat the symptoms as they occur. For example the dog may need an intravenous drip if it is dehydrated, or anticonvulsants if it is having seizures. The dog is kept as comfortable as possible with constant nursing in a warm dry draft free area.    

Prognosis for Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper is fatal in over fifty percent of adult dogs who contract the virus and eighty percent of puppies. Death occurs between 2 weeks and 3 months after infection. The main cause of death is from complications to the central nervous system. Many vets will recommend euthanasia when there are progressive incapacitating neurological symptoms.

Nervous problems can persist many weeks after the animal has recovered from all other symptoms of the infection. Some dogs appear to recover but may develop chronic or fatal nervous system problems.


Is there anyway to prevent canine distemper?

Vaccination is the best way to prevent Canine Distemper.

More Information on Canine Distemper Vaccination DHPP

Rabies Vaccine
Leptospirosis Vaccine
Lyme Disease Vaccine

Kennel Cough Vaccine




This article has not been written by a veterinarian & should not be considered a replacement for a veterinarian visit. The articles are provided for informative purposes only. While great care has been made in the creation of these articles, we cannot guarantee the accuracy or omissions on these pages. If in any doubt whatsoever, seek professional medical advice from your veterinarian.

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