What is Canine Distemper?
Distemper is a highly contagious, often fatal disease in dogs. Foxes,
coyotes, raccoons, ferrets, and wild canids can also be affected.
What are the Symptoms of Canine Distemper?
symptoms of Canine Distemper include coughing, lethargy, eye and nasal
discharge, weight loss, and/or GI signs such as vomiting, diarrhea, and
anorexia or decreased appetite. Affected animals usually experience two
fever spikes and often develop pneumonia. If the animal recovers from
the pneumonia, he/she may then develop neurologic signs such as a
constant twitching of several parts of the body (myoclonus), seizures,
or weakness of the front or hind limbs. Once a pet develops neurologic
signs, the prognosis is grave and the vast majority of these pets do not
survive. On rare occasions, a pet may develop the neurologic signs many
years after the onset of the disease- this is termed “Old Dog
Encephalitis”. Other clinical signs which may appear at the time of
infection or at a later date include “hard nose and pads” (crusty
scaling, sometimes cracking of nose and pads) and enamel hypoplasia (a
loss of enamel which occurs in diseases that cause a high fever at an
early age- this results in a yellow discoloration and uneven texture of
How is Canine Distemper Transmitted?
Distemper is transmitted via mucous membrane secretions, so is
transmitted in the same way that the flu is transmitted in people
(coughing in close proximity to others, direct contact with mucous
membrane secretions such as saliva or eye/nasal discharge). The virus
needs to stay in contact with moist mucous membranes in order to
survive, and therefore does not survive well outside the host. A 1:10
bleach solution is recommended to clean surfaces that an affected animal
has come in contact with, along with a disinfectant spray for the air.
It is also a good idea to keep other unaffected animals, especially
young or unvaccinated animals, away from the area for at least 24 hours.
How Can Canine Distemper be Prevented?
is a very effective vaccine available to help prevent Canine Distemper.
Puppies should be vaccinated at 6-8 weeks of age, then every 3 weeks
until they are 14-16 weeks old. The timing of the boosters is extremely
important to assure optimal response to the vaccinations. Additionally,
puppies should be kept away from public areas or areas frequented by
other dogs until 2 weeks after their second booster is given.
Socialization of puppies is extremely important during this time period,
so the risks of exposure to other dogs must be weighed against the
benefit of socialization. Puppies should also be socialized to other
people and animals.