Though easily preventable, canine distemper in a dog is a serious disease that is highly infectious and can be lethal. Paramyxovirus causes canine distemper, paramyxovirus can be related to the viruses causing measles or rinderpest.

Distemper can affect various systems in the body making the treatment difficult. While a pup can contract canine distemper through the placenta of its mother, adult dogs can contract this disease through exposure to the airborne virus or through contact with another infected dog, animal, or even objects.

Simply put, an infected animal can spread droplets into the surrounding environment when it barks, sneezes, coughs, or licks. Food items, water containers, and other objects can be easily infected in such cases. An infected dog can be a threat to other animals around it as it can carry and shed this virus for a substantial time, like a few months. However, this virus cannot exist for a long time in the environment and can be easily killed by any regular disinfectant.

Which Dogs Are Most at Risk for Distemper?

All dogs are at equal risk of contracting canine distemper. Most vulnerable out of unvaccinated dogs are puppies under 4 months of age.

Can canine distemper transfer from dogs to humans?

Till now there is no precedence of human catching canine distemper.

This can be possible because humans might be infected but most of the humans don’t show signs similar to that of dogs.

If human has survived measles before or has been vaccinated against measles then they are safe from canine distemper.

Dog Distemper Symptoms are:

An infected dog will show different symptoms, depending upon the intensity of the disease. Initially, the paramyxo virus reproduces in the respiratory tract’s lymphatic tissue. Soon, it begins infecting the entire respiratory tract, central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, optic nerves, and urogenital epithelium. The symptoms generally occur in two stages.

First Stage:

In the first stage, an infected dog will start having discharge from its eyes, which can vary from water-like to pus-like. Appetite loss, nasal discharge and fever generally follow after about 4 to 6 days. These symptoms also largely depend on the intensity of the infection and how the body handles it.

Even if an infected dog has survived the virus and the acute symptoms, he may be still at risk of getting infected with hyperkeratosis of pads of the paws and nose. This leaves dog’s immune system weak and dog vulnerable to many other infections.

Second Stage:

In the second stage of canine distemper, the symptoms mostly consist of neurological indications such as seizures, muscle twitching, head tilting, partial/full paralysis, nystagmus, convulsions accompanied by a rise in chewing motion and/or salivation, and even death.

How to diagnose canine distemper?

There are no definitive tests to determine whether dog is having canine distemper or not. Distemper in dogs can be confirmed basis clinical signs only. Your vet might suggest some diagnostic tests which can confirm clinical diagnosis.

Tests can be:

  1. Biochemical tests and urine tests, to confirm number of lymphocytes (White blood cells), reduced lymphocytes can indicate to infection in body.
  2. Serology test to identify positive antibodies.
  3. Radiographs to check for pneumonia.
  4. CT scans and MRI scans to examine the brain for any legions.

Dogs diagnosed by vets having canine distemper should be isolated from other pets till the dog is declared fully cured by vet.

The area where the dog is isolated should be cleaned with alcohol based cleansers often.

How to treat canine distemper?

There is unfortunately no treatment for canine distemper. Vets and dog owners can at best do symptomatic treatment of the dog and hope that the dogs survives.

Following are possible treatments:

  1. IV fluids can be given if the dog is having acute diarrhea or vomiting.
  2. Antibiotics for bacterial infections.
  3. Phenobarbitals and potassium for convulsions and seizures.
  4. Antiviral drugs don’t work very well in this disease.

How to prevent canine distemper?

The only effective way to prevent avoid canine distemper is to get your dog vaccinated.

Following is the dog vaccination schedule for distemper:

  1. First vaccination- When puppy is 6 to 8 weeks of age
  2. Second to Fourth vaccination: Every 4 weeks upto 16 to 20 weeks of age.
  3. Fifth vaccination: Vaccination 1 year after 20 weeks of age.
  4. Booster vaccination: Every 1 to 3 years.

Which canine distemper vaccinations are available?

Following are the possible combinations of vaccinations :

  1. DHPP or DAPP vaccination for distemper virus, adenovirus-1, adenovirus-2
  2. DHLPP vaccination for the same diseases as DHPP/DAPP as well as strains of leptospirosis.
  3. Other combinations can be termed as 5-in-1 or 5-way, 6-in-1 or 6-way, or 8-in-1 or 8-way vaccinations depending on the combinations of vaccines.

What is distemper vaccinations schedule?

As mentioned above the distemper vaccination schedule for dogs is:

1st vaccine: Between 6 to 8 weeks

2nd to 4th vaccine: every 4 weeks upto 20 weeks

5th vaccine: 1 year after 20 wks

Booster vaccine: After every 1 to 3 years

Reference link: Canine distemper virus persistence in the nervous system

I am a veterinary by profession and a passionate animal lover. My passion for animals made me become a veterinary surgeon and my vision is to spread animal health and welfare through online dissemination of information and assistance, like what we are doing at Drwaggers.com.