Skip to Main Content
Ask About Financing

Your Comprehensive Guide to Distemper in Dogs

Canine distemper is a highly contagious but preventable disease that can attack your dog's immune system, gastrointestinal tract, or even their nervous system. Today, our vets explain how distemper is spread, signs that your dog may be infected, and how it can be prevented or treated.

What is distemper in dogs?

Canine distemper is a highly contagious condition caused by a paramyxovirus that attacks the immune system and puts your pup at risk for developing a host of other infections. This dangerous virus can also affect cats, ferrets and wildlife.

Canine distemper can affect multiple aspects of your pet's health including your dog's respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. 

Dogs of any breed or age are at risk of the disease, but young puppies and dogs that have not been vaccinated against canine distemper virus face an increased risk.

How is canine distemper spread?

Distemper is an incredibly contagious virus as animals that are infected can not only appear perfectly healthy but can also spread the virus for months.

Infection most often occurs due to exposure to airborne droplets from an infected animal. If your pup is around an infected animal they will likely be exposed to saliva droplets that are dispersed through coughing, sneezing, and barking.

Distemper can also be spread among dogs by sharing toys, bowls and blankets, especially in social settings such as kennels.

If your dog is pregnant she may be able to pass the distemper virus to her puppies in the womb through the placenta.

What are the signs of distemper in dogs?

Distemper symptoms in dogs usually begin with yellow to green eye discharge along with the following other symptoms soon afterward:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Depression
  • Vomiting
  • Eating less than usual
  • Diarrhea

While some dogs experience symptoms typically associated with the common cold, in some cases, dogs with distemper may be asymptomatic—showing no obvious symptoms of the disease but still capable of spreading the virus to other animals.

What happens if canine distemper is left untreated?

If distemper in dogs is left untreated it can progress to more serious symptoms such as:

  • Tremors
  • Chewing motions of the jaw
  • Seizures
  • Partial or complete paralysis
  • Pneumonia
  • Crusting of the nose and foot pads
  • Severe vomiting and diarrhea
  • Death, in many cases

How is canine distemper diagnosed?

If you suspect that your dog may have contracted the canine distemper virus your vet will request diagnostic testing to be completed in the veterinary laboratory along with a physical examination of the symptoms to confirm diagnosis.

What is the most effective treatment of distemper in dogs?

If your dog has contracted canine distemper, your vet will focus on providing support and care to help manage the symptoms that your pup is experiencing.

For dogs suffering from severe diarrhea or vomiting, they will prescribe medications to ease the symptoms and recommend hydration options to help prevent dehydration. One of these options may include IV treatments which can provide all of these treatments in one. 

Respiratory illness is one of many ways that this virus can affect dogs. If this is the case for your pup your vet will offer support and treatment options to help your dog breathe better and recover as quickly as possible.

Distemper in dogs may also cause neurological concerns which can result in seizures and may be potentially fatal. Your vet will monitor your dog's condition if these issues occur and offer options as needed.

Is there a way to prevent canine distemper?

While being a serious condition, canine distemper can thankfully be prevented. Some of the ways that you can help to protect your pup can include:

  • Keep your dog up to date with distemper vaccinations
  • Prevent your dog from having contact with wildlife
  • Keeping your unvaccinated dog or puppy away from social settings and other animals

If you have any questions about canine distemper and its prevention, or if you are concerned that your dog may be showing the signs, speak with your vet. 

Note: The advice provided in this post is intended for informational purposes and does not constitute medical advice regarding pets. For an accurate diagnosis of your pet's condition, please make an appointment with your vet.

Is it time for your dog's distemper vaccine? Contact our North Boulder vets today to book a vaccine appointment for your pup.

New Patients Are Welcome At Our North Boulder Animal Hospital

Book Online (303) 443-9003