What is Canine Distemper?

Canine distemper is a highly contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that mostly attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and the nervous systems of puppies and dogs. The virus also infects wild canids (e.g. foxes, wolves, coyotes), raccoons, skunks, and ferrets.

Canine Distemper in Dogs

How is Canine Distemper virus spread?

Puppies and dogs usually become infected through airborne exposure to the virus contained in respiratory secretions of an infected dog or wild animal. Outbreaks of distemper tend to be sporadic. Because canine distemper also easily affects wildlife populations, contact between wild canines and domestic dogs may facilitate spread of the virus.

What dogs/breeds are at risk?

All dogs are at risk but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper are at increased risk of acquiring the disease. And dog who are not given yearly booster dose of vaccines are also at risk.

What are some core signs of Canine Distemper?

  • Starts with the watery & Pus like discharge from eyes.
  • Subsequently, dogs develop fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, vomiting, and diarrhoea
  • In later stages, the virus may attack the nervous system, bringing about seizures, twitching, or partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause footpads to harden (hyperkeratosis of the footpads).
  • One very common neurological sign is chewing movements of the jaw (“chewing-gum fits”). 

Distemper is often fatal. Even if a dog does not die from the disease, canine distemper virus can cause irreparable damage to a dog’s nervous system. Distemper is so serious and the signs so varied that any sick dog should be taken to a veterinarian for an examination and diagnosis.

How is Canine Distemper diagnosed and treated?

Veterinarians diagnose canine distemper on the basis of clinical appearance and laboratory tests.

“No specific drug is available that will kill the virus in infected dogs.”

Treatment consists primarily of efforts to prevent secondary infections; control vomiting, diarrhoea, or neurologic symptoms; and combat dehydration through administration of fluids. Broad-spectrum antibiotics, balanced electrolyte solutions, parenteral nutrition, antipyretics (drug against fever) and anticonvulsants are used, and good pet care is essential. Ill dogs should be kept warm, receive good nursing care, and be separated from other dogs.

What’s the recommended vaccination schedule for Canine Distemper ?

The pups are vaccinated at the age of 6 weeks (50-60 days old) with Modified Live Vaccine (MLV). The second and third shot of Canine Distemper is given after 3-4 weeks interval of first vaccination shot.

1st shot of Canine Distemper :  Age=6 weeks

2nd shot of Canine Distemper :  Age=9-10 weeks

3rd shot of Canine Distemper :  Age=12-13 weeks

The immunity developed with this vaccine lasts for >3 years but annual booster dose is recommended by experts and different government laws. Modified Live Vaccine (MLV) should not be used in Late-pregnancies.

How is Canine Distemper prevented?

Vaccination and avoiding contact with infected animals are key elements of canine distemper prevention. Young puppies are very susceptible to infection, particularly because the natural immunity provided in their mothers’ milk may wear off before the puppies’ own immune systems are mature enough to fight off infection. If a puppy is exposed to canine distemper virus during this gap in protection, it may become ill. An additional concern is that immunity provided by a mother’s milk may interfere with an effective response to vaccination.

“This means even vaccinated puppies may occasionally succumb to distemper.”

To narrow gaps in protection and optimally defend against canine distemper during the first few months of life, a series of vaccinations is administered.

Until a puppy has received its complete series of vaccinations, pet owners should use caution when taking their pet to places where young puppies congregate (e.g. pet shops, parks, puppy classes, doggy daycare, and grooming establishments). Reputable establishments and training programs reduce exposure risk by vaccinations, health examinations, good hygiene, and isolation of ill puppies and dogs. To protect their adult dogs, pet owners should be sure that their dog’s distemper vaccination is up-to-date and yearly booster dose is administered.

“Contact with known infected dogs should always be avoided.”

Similarly, contact with  wild animals like raccoons, foxes, skunks, and other potentially infected wildlife should be discouraged.

You can also read this Canine Distemper Brochure which is actually created and published by American Veterinary Medical Association.