Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper

Canine Distemper is a highly contagious disease which is caused by a virus. It spreads via the air from respiratory secretions or via direct contact with the urine, feaces or even skin of an infected dog. The virus can also be spread from a bitch to her unborn puppies via the placenta.  It affects mainly young dogs under 6 months of age.


What Canine Distemper does:

The virus replicates in the immune cells of an infected dog, causing a fever, and can spread from there to the skin, gastro-intestinal tract, respiratory tract and urogenital tract. The virus can also spread to the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord).

An infected dog can shed virus from 2 weeks after exposure until up to 2 months after he/she appears healthy. Most dogs will stop shedding virus after 2 weeks.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper:

  • Weakness
  • No appetite
  • Fever
  • Discharge from the eyes and/or nose
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhoea
  • Vomiting
  • Neurological signs like twitching, paralysis or fitting (like with epilepsy) often after all the other signs have stopped.


The disease is strongly suspected in an unvaccinated puppy showing a combination of the above symptoms.

Canine Distemper can be diagnosed by doing a blood test to look for the virus, or doing a series of blood tests to look for a rise of antibodies against the virus.

Treatment of Distemper:

There is no cure for distemper.

Unfortunately a lot of puppies with Distemper are euthanazed due to the severity of the disease and the poor response to therapy.

The treatment is aimed at trying to correct dehydration and maintain hydration status, treat secondary infections and controlling central nervous signs. The prognosis remains poor in patients that have neurological signs that are progressively getting worse.


Canine Distemper must be prevented by vaccinating puppies at the ages of 6 weeks, 9 weeks and 12 weeks of age.

Adult dogs need to be revaccinated yearly.


Canine Distemper virus is sensitive to ultraviolet light, heat and drying.

Areas can thus be disinfected with a household cleaning product containing bleach and left to dry. In cold months the virus may potentially persist in the environment for a longer time.