Canine distemper is a life-threatening disease that most commonly affects puppies and young dogs.
Distemper is caused by a virus that can spread easily through an unimmunized (unprotected) population. Fortunately, adult dogs often develop some degree of immunity with age and are less likely to develop the disease.
How Does Canine Distemper Spread?
Canine distemper spreads through respiratory secretions that aerosolize when an infected dog coughs. It spreads particularly rapidly in situations where dogs, especially puppies, are housed in a confined area. For this reason, canine distemper can become a problem in shelters, rescues, and pet stores.
Symptoms of Canine Distemper
Distemper usually starts with respiratory symptoms, such as
- runny eyes
- runny nose
- lack of appetite and
Pneumonia may be present also. Diarrhea and vomiting may follow as the disease progresses.
Canine distemper may also cause the nose and foot pads to become callused, leading to the name “hard pad disease”.
If the puppy survives these initial symptoms, he may appear to recover for a time. Neurological symptoms often take one to three weeks to develop. These symptoms may include seizures, muscle tremors, incoordination, and weakness.
Canine distemper can be a fatal disease. It is also possible for a dog to make a partial recovery but suffer permanent neurological damage.
Treatment of Canine Distemper
There is no specific cure for canine distemper. Treatment is symptomatic and aimed at relieving the symptoms.
Dogs with canine distemper may require antibiotics to combat pneumonia. Fluid therapy may be necessary to keep the dog hydrated. Anti-emetics may help to control nausea and vomiting. Additional treatment may be necessary if the dog is having seizures or experiencing other neurological difficulties.
Preventing Canine Distemper
Vaccinations against canine distemper are effective in preventing the disease. However, in puppies younger than 3- 4 months, maternal antibodies may interfere with the vaccine’s effectiveness. This is the reason why young puppies get follow-up shots every 2-4 weeks.
Generally, puppies should get their first shots of the canine distemper vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age. Further vaccination follows every 2-4 weeks until 14-16 weeks of age, depending on the product used to vaccinate. The vaccine should be repeated in one year. Following the one-year vaccine, guidelines recommend a booster shot every three years. However, you may choose to confirm immunity with antibody testing.
The canine distemper vaccine is usually part of a multi-valent vaccine. The combo vaccine also protects your dog against adenovirus and parvovirus. You might know it as a “DAP” vaccine. Some vaccines also protect against other diseases, such as leptospirosis.
Symptoms to Watch for in Your Dog: Dry Nose
Canine Distemper: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Vaccine