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Canine Distemper – The Importance of Vaccination

Canine distemper is a very serious and contagious illness which is viral and actually has no cure. However there is a vaccination to protect dogs that you should get. As well as affecting dogs and ferrets being carriers there are some wildlife species who can also catch it including wolves, raccoons, skunks and foxes. This virus is actually related to the human virus that causes measles. It is something that is particularly dangerous to puppies who are young and not yet vaccinated against it, or older dogs who have not been immunized.


Symptoms and Stages

Canine distemper spreads through the air and through indirect and direct contact with an infected animal. At first your dog will have his lymph nodes and tonsils attacked where it will replicate for a week before then attacking other systems including urogenital, respiratory, nervous and gastrointestinal.

In the primary stage where it is attacking the tonsils and lymph nodes symptoms include a high fever over 103.5 degree Fahrenheit with a discharge coming from the nose and eyes and red eyes.

As it progresses the dog will become tired and lethargic and will have diarrhea, vomiting, coughing and lose a lot of weight.

In the last stages as it attacks the other systems the spinal cord and brain are affects and there may be paralysis, fits, attacks of hysteria and seizures. With an immune system severely weakened they can then be at risk to other secondary infection such as pneumonia. Death can occur between two to five weeks of infection in dogs with weaker immunity.

Sometimes different strains of the virus can lead to a thickening of his pads in his feet and an unusual enlargement of the pads. This is referred to as 'hard pad disease'.

What Causes it and Which Dogs Does it Affect?

As stated this is something that can be vaccinated against so dogs that are affected are those that are not vaccinated. Some owners are not responsible when it comes to getting their dogs properly protected and then some puppies are too young for the vaccination so are more at risk. Puppies under 7 weeks who's mother was not vaccinated are especially vulnerable. Sometimes if you have rescued a dog from a shelter you may not know their medical history and not realize they are not covered. Also some dogs bought from pet shops are not adequately vaccinated.

When a dog who has not been vaccinated comes into contact either direct or indirect with an infected animal it can be passed on. How vulnerable your dog is is also affected by factors like recent bacterial infections of the gastrointestinal or respiratory system. If you think your dog has come into contact with the canine distemper virus and is infected you should take him to your vet straight away who will in all probability isolate him straight away to prevent an outbreak.

Diagnosing Canine Distemper

The vet will give your dog a physical examination and will also do a number of lab tests such as urine analysis, biochemical tests including looking at while blood cell count, a serology test to look for antibodies and scrapings. To check to see if pneumonia has developed an x-ray may be done too along with CT and MRI scans to check the brain for lesions.

Recovering from Canine Distemper

There is no treatment or cure for this virus, all that can be done is helping the dog with his symptoms. IV fluids can be given if there has been a lot of vomiting and diarrhea to prevent dehydration and get essential nutrients into him. His eyes and nose can be cleaned regularly to remove the discharge and antibiotics can be used to treat the secondary bacterial infections. Medicines can also be given to control seizures. Some dogs do not recover and die from this virus. This depends on how strong or healthy the dog was before he got the virus, what strain of the virus he is infected with and how quickly he was taken in for treatment.

For dogs who recover from canine distemper there are long lasting health issues that can show up, sometimes even years after. These include central nervous system disorders and possible seizures. Some dogs are left too with brain and nerve damage that is permanent. A dog that recovers does not become a carrier of the virus and cannot spread it to other dogs.

Preventing Canine Distemper


Canine distemper really is a nasty virus and is a big lesson in how important vaccination your dog is. Make sure he completes all his vaccinations, this one in particular is called the distemper shot. A puppy should get his first one when he is between 6 to 8 weeks old and then he finishes his vaccinations between four to five months old. Until your puppy has reached 5 months and has completed his vaccinations he should be kept away from other dogs who are infected or other environment that have the potential to have infected animals visiting them. Also it is important to keep your home or kennel clean and disinfected on a regular basis to make sure the virus is not able to survive near your dog.