Most people, when they hear the word “Distemper”, think of a RABID disease that will make our dog jump through windows just to attack innocent people walking by, foaming at the mouth, and all around dog-craziness.  A lot of clients I’ve dealt with in the past always seemed to have misconceptions on what canine Distemper really is.  It’s not a disease that will affect the temperament of your dog, nor will it cause your dog to go crazy.  But it will make them extremely sick.

Let’s just get straight to the facts…

What is Canine Distemper?

Canine Distemper is a serious viral disease that can affect several different organ systems, and can have varying signs of severity depending on the strain that caused the infection, and the immunity of the dog.  Some dogs may develop an infection, while to others it may be fatal.  The disease can be spread from dog to dog through eye and nasal discharge, feces and urine, and also through contaminated food and water that has come in contact with the virus.

Is my dog at risk of infection?

If your dog has not been vaccinated against Distemper, and has come in contact with an infected dog, there is a high risk that your dog could contract the disease.  Puppies are highly susceptible to this disease due to their lack of immunity.  Even if your dog has had vaccinations against Distemper, there is still a possibility that your dog could become ill, as there is no guarantee that comes with immunization, only a means of prevention.  However, being protected against the disease greatly decreases the chances that your dog will.  Be sure to follow your veterinarian’s advice on your dog’s vaccination schedule, and stick to it!

What will happen if my dog gets Distemper?

Dogs that have been infected with this disease will show varying signs of infection as I stated above.  The initial signs usually appear approximately 9-14 days after initial contact.  Symptoms include, but are not limited to:  fever, anorexia, lethargy, eye and nose discharge, toughening of the pads of the feet and nose, diarrhea, occasional vomiting, dehydration, and coughing.  In severe cases, some dogs may develop evidence of neurologic disease, such as seizures.  If left untreated the disease can develop into pneumonia and even be fatal.  Also, some dogs can seem to recover from the disease, yet weeks or months later develop severe neurologic symptoms that can also be fatal or require them to be humanely euthanized.

What should I do if my dog becomes infected?

If you think your dog has come in contact with a dog carrying Distemper, or is showing any symptoms listed above, call your veterinarian immediately to schedule an appointment for a thorough exam, testing, and treatment.  Be sure to follow any instructions you are given by your vet, and to keep any and all pets you may have isolated from your sick pup.

What should I expect if my dog needs treatment?

Well, that all depends on the severity of the illness and the discretion of your dog’s veterinarian.  Specific testing to confirm that your dog has surely been infected with Distemper, bloodwork may be performed to see how well or how poor the organs are functioning, and then a plan of action for treatment will be set. Since there is no cure for most canine diseases, usually the only option is to provide as much supportive care as possible, and follow your vet’s instructions.

Depending on how sick your dog is, overnight stays at the hospital may be best.  That way professional caregivers can properly care for your dog in a medical setting.  Yet, some dogs may be able to be treated at home with daily visits to your vet for checkups and any care they may need.  Since Distemper affects each dog differently, it’s difficult to know how each dog will act once infected with Distemper, and how much care they will need, but if your pup shows ANY signs of sickness, it is very important that you see your veterinarian immediately.  They will be able to assess your dog and provide you with any information that will be specific to your dog’s condition and the best way to get your dog back to health.

What kind of vaccinations are there?

The vaccination for Distemper is the usually the most common vaccine administered to dogs and young puppies.  It is often combined with additional vaccines, such as canine Adenovirus, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis, Parainfluenza, and sometimes Coronavirus.  When you take your dog to the vet for his shots, the “Distemper” vaccine is usually the 5-way vaccine and includes that includes these.  If your dog has gotten his shots, he is most likely already protected against Distemper and you don’t even know it.  Which is a good thing! :)

How often should my dog be vaccinated?

It is usually suggested that protection against Distemper be administered yearly at their check-up.  Preventing an infection through vaccines, and keeping your dog away from other dogs is the only way to lessen the chances of your dog coming in contact with the disease, and as always, consult your dog’s veterinarian for what is best for YOUR dog’s health.

How soon can I get my puppy protected against Distemper?

The age of 6 weeks is the general time that your puppy can begin being protected against this virus, and all the other viruses that could, and can, affect your young puppy.  It is best to get them started on their vaccines as soon as they turn 6 weeks of age to maximize their chances of developing a healthy immune system, and to protect them against any and all diseases they may come in contact with in their environment.  Even you, the puppy parent, are capable of exposing your puppy to environmental diseases through articles of clothing that may be carrying the disease.  It’s better to begin their protection as soon as possible.

When should I get my dog vaccinated?

If you are unsure if your dog has been protected against Distemper, contact your veterinarian to verify that they have.  If not, I’d recommend scheduling an appointment as soon as possible.  Since this vaccine is often combined with several other vaccines, as I mentioned above, it is entirely possible that your dog is already protected, but it never hurts to find out for sure.

If you feel your dog may have come in contact with Distemper, and is showing signs of the disease, please don’t hesitate to contact your dog’s veterinarian for advice, or to schedule an appointment.  It is best to be sure that the condition isn’t serious, and to catch it before it becomes one.

Next up:  Canine Hepatitis Virus.

Previous Posts you may be interested in:  List of Canine Vaccines, Canine Bordetella and Kennel Cough, and The Facts About Canine Adenovirus.

One Thought on “Canine Distemper

  1. Great blog post and very informative. This is a question that I get asked all the time and from now on I’m going to be sending them here. The first thing that we tell our clients is that they must have all the shots before they take their new puppy outside or to the dog park. If only all dow owners would do a little research before hand…Thanks

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