Canine Distemper: Symptoms, Treatment and Infection

While any type of dog can get canine distemper, the probability of them getting it is much lower if they're vaccinated
Canine Distemper: Symptoms, Treatment and Infection

Last update: 29 November, 2018

Distemper is one of the most lethal diseases for dogs. It affects both the respiratory and digestive systems and, in more advanced cases, can affect the nervous system. In this article, you can learn about the symptoms, treatment, and infection of this disease.

How does canine distemper develop?

Canine distemper is a virus that belongs to the paramixoviridae virus — the same one that causes measles. It affects domestic dogs as well as jackals, foxes, wolves, coyotes, and raccoons.

Even though it can’t be transmitted to humans, it’s a very contagious disease among animals and can put their lives at risk. It mainly affects puppies and older dogs because they don’t have very strong immune systems.

The best way to avoid this contagion is to be current on your pet’s mandatory vaccination schedule. There’s a specific vaccine that treats the virus, but it’s not 100% effective.

How does canine distemper spread?

When an animal infected with distemper coughs, sneezes, or is simply in a place, they leave virus particles in the air. If a healthy dog enters this area and breathes in the microorganisms, they may get infected.

Also, if the infected dog eats or drinks water, and then another dog uses the same container, the second dog is at risk of getting infected. This means that any dog is at risk of infection. However, if they are up-to-date on their vaccines, the possibility of developing this disease is very low.

It’s important to know that puppies are the most vulnerable to infection because they haven’t been properly vaccinated yet. Also, if their mother hasn’t been vaccinated, she won’t be able to provide them with protection through her milk.

Small dogs are not yet strong enough to cope with a virus of this magnitude. This is also the case with old or sick dogs.

Canine distemper symptoms

Once the virus enters the animal’s body, they will around two weeks to incubate. After that time, the symptoms will appear.

This dog has canine distemper

The initial sign of this disease is a watery or yellowish discharge — with pus — in the eyes and nostrils. Then, the animal will have a fever, cough, weakness, lack of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and even thickening of the paw pads.

When the disease reaches an advanced stage, they can take over can weaken the nervous system. This can result in spasms, seizures, partial or complete paralysis.

It’s important to know that most dogs with distemper will not survive. The small number that do survive will have many healthy and behavioral problems because of the damage to their nervous system.

Is there treatment for canine distemper?

Unfortunately, there’s no complete cure for this disease once it’s inside the animal’s body, which means vaccinating them at this point is useless. 

Puppy getting vaccinated for canine distemper

It’s important that you take your pet to the vet as soon as you notice the first sign of any health problem. He/she will be responsible for testing and diagnosing them. The treatment works to alleviate the symptoms and to prevent the disease from advancing. It also helps reduce dehydration and prevent new infections.

Antibiotics can help, as well as vitamin supplements that can improve certain symptoms. If your dog is diagnosed with distemper, you should try your best to understand that the disease will run its course and, if necessary, the vet will recommend euthanasia in order to keep the animal from having to suffer.

The only way to prevent a dog from catching canine distemper is through vaccination. The appropriate age to get this vaccine is between six and eight weeks. Then, they should get it annually for the rest of their life. Also, females should get vaccinated when they’re pregnant. As they say, prevention is the best treatment.

The contents of My Animals are written for informational purposes. They can't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment from a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.