Distemper: Spread, Symptoms, and Prevention


If rabies were built with a distant cousin, its name could be distemper.

Canine distemper is a serious and highly contagious disease brought on by the paramyxovirus (a household of RNA viruses that pass via airborne droplets and are primarily responsible for acute respiratory disorders), also known as the canine distemper virus (CDV). It's of the same number of viruses that triggers mumps, measles, and bronchitis in humans.

The distemper vaccine is really a core vaccination consistent with rabies, parvovirus, and canine adenovirus. Despite widespread efforts to inoculate, the disease is still seen worldwide, mostly in areas with heavy stray populations and limited vaccination or monitoring.

Other mammals for example skunks, foxes, ferrets, coyotes, mink, seals, primates, pandas, tigers, lions, leopards, and other big cats have the ability to been diagnosed with distemper.

Like rabies, it is incurable and often fatal, with those dogs who survive left with permanent central nervous system damage. It attacks the respiratory system, nervous system, and also the gastrointestinal (obese), i.e., multisystemic pursuing organs that help in processing food, starting with the mouth, the esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, intestines, rectum, and anus. 

How will it spread?

Many dog owners have heard of the dreaded kennel cough; as CDV is airborne, most puppies and dogs transmit herpes from exposure through coughing or sneezing while near to other dogs or perhaps wild animals mentioned previously.

The virus is present within the urine, blood, saliva, or respiratory droplets. Thus, distemper can also spread through shared water and food bowls, toys, or dog equipment.

Although it does thrive within the cold, since many national cases take place in late fall to winter, distemper is year-round.

Moreover, sick dogs, when they have been obvious symptoms or nearly unnoticeable, can expose other animals for months (and mama dogs can pass the disease onto their babies by the placenta).

Unlike rabies, dogs cannot spread distemper, heartworm, or canine parvovirus to humans.

Stage 1 Symptoms

The symptoms of distemper can take as much as 14 days to exhibit and may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Coughing
  • Thick, yellow nasal and eye discharge
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Difficulty breathing or respiratory problems; Pneumonia
  • Loss of appetite
  • Skin sores and thickening of nose and footpads

It also passes the name of footpad disease (pododermatitis), as one of the key and lasting symptoms is excess keratin (the fibrous protein that produces hair, horns, claws, nails, hooves, etc.) around the paws and nose, which builds up into dry, crusty, rigid materials.

Note, while distemper does cause similar keratin excess, the virus tends to attack puppies who've not been vaccinated and comes with other life-threatening symptoms.

Rabies or Distemper?

Severe canine distemper may also cause brain inflammation and neurological symptoms and is often mistaken for rabies within the wild.

Stage 2 Symptoms:

  • Circling behavior, muscle twitches, excessive saliva, and head tilt start as the virus attacks the central nervous system.
  • Seizures
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Uncontrolled eye movements
  • Chewing-gum seizures (dog appears to have gum in mouth)

Through your dog's looks and laboratory testing, your veterinarian will diagnose whether it's the condition.

There isn't any cure for canine distemper, but there's prevention and a vaccination series.

If a dog is diagnosed and survives, it may need supportive treatment continuing to move forward: antibiotics, seizure meds, pain medicine, electrolytes, fever reducers, IV nutrition, and perhaps hospitalization.

Preventing secondary infections and limiting diarrhea, vomiting, along with other more serious neurological problems would be the focus. Aside from monitoring possible dehydration, an infected dog also should be separated from vulnerable other dogs to minimize the risk of spreading herpes.

Again, it is essential to find immediate and aggressive treatment as soon as possible for sick dogs, avoid more severe symptoms, and help them recover as well as they can despite some continuing symptoms.

Your vet might want to prescribe medicines to visit following the virus harder, but heavy steroids, anti-inflammatories, etc., to enhance their defense mechanisms might not always work.

Moreover, the survival rate and how long the infection lasts depend on the strain of the virus as well as your dog's immune response. Cases have resolved as soon as 10 days, whereas some last much longer, with neurological symptoms continuing for or more months.

Untreated puppies, shelter dogs, and wild animals are at the most chance of infection and transmission.


Your puppy gets to be a number of shots through the first 8, 12, and 16 weeks of life, a booster after one year of completing the initial series, along with booster every three years (or less) after that. In the period until they complete the vaccination process, be sure to:

  • Keep on schedule, current, as well as on deadline for future shot appointments to continue to increase your puppy's immunity.
  • It can help should you exercise caution when your puppy is at social events like parks, classes, daycare, or other places they may gather along with other dogs.
  • It is obvious to keep them away from infected animals or wildlife, as well as for those who have a dog ferret, you might like to get it vaccinated having a ferret distemper vaccine. 

Cleaning with household disinfectants will kill it; plus, it can't live long away from host.

Canine distemper shares many symptoms along with other diseases like rabies, so it is crucial to monitor and seek immediate treatment if you think it to be the cause. Although efforts to eradicate the condition via worldwide vaccination have been ongoing because the 1970s, distemper still infects areas where vaccinations are low and stray dog populations are high.

It is still feasible for the virus to make its way around via common urban wildlife like skunks and raccoons or shelter dogs in some instances. Thus, it is essential to continue the vaccination efforts to prevent distemper from coming back in full force and potentially killing many dogs worldwide.

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