Canine distemper is a severe viral disease that poses a significant threat to the health of our dogs. This virus affects multiple body systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems, and can be fatal if not properly treated. In this blog, we will explore in detail what canine distemper is, its symptoms, how it is diagnosed and treated, and preventive measures to protect our pets.

What is Canine Distemper?

Canine distemper is caused by a highly contagious virus that belongs to the Paramyxoviridae family, similar to the measles virus in humans. This virus spreads through the air and direct contact with bodily secretions from infected dogs, such as saliva, urine, and feces. It can also be transmitted through contaminated objects, like water bowls, toys, and clothing.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper

The symptoms of canine distemper can vary widely and evolve over time. Initially, the virus typically attacks the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems before advancing to the nervous system. The most common signs include:

  • Fever: One of the earliest signs of infection.
  • Nasal and eye discharge: Thick mucus and pus in the eyes.
  • Coughing: Similar to kennel cough, can be dry or productive.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting: Leading to dehydration and loss of appetite.
  • Lethargy: Lack of energy and reduced activity.
  • Thickening of nasal and footpad skin: Known as “hard pad disease.”

In advanced cases, distemper can affect the central nervous system, causing severe neurological symptoms such as:

  • Seizures: Uncontrolled muscle movements.
  • Paralysis: Loss of mobility in the limbs.
  • Involuntary movements: Nervous tics and muscle spasms.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosis of canine distemper is based on a combination of clinical symptoms, vaccination history, and laboratory tests, such as blood tests and PCR tests to detect the virus.

There is no specific treatment for canine distemper, so care focuses on relieving symptoms and supporting the dog’s immune system. Treatment may include:

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids: To combat dehydration.
  • Antibiotics: To prevent secondary bacterial infections.
  • Anticonvulsant medications: To control seizures.
  • Intensive care: Some dogs may need hospitalization for intensive care.

The prognosis varies depending on the severity of the infection and the dog’s response to treatment. Young, unvaccinated dogs or those with weakened immune systems are at higher risk of severe complications.

Prevention of Canine Distemper

Prevention is the best defense against canine distemper. Vaccines are highly effective and should be administered according to the schedule recommended by your veterinarian. Puppies should receive their first distemper vaccine at 6-8 weeks of age, with boosters every 3-4 weeks until 16-20 weeks. Adults need annual boosters or as advised by their veterinarian.

In addition to vaccination, it is important to maintain good hygiene and avoid contact with sick or unknown dogs. Newly adopted or rescued dogs should be examined and quarantined before introducing them to other dogs.


Canine distemper is a devastating disease that can cause great distress for both dogs and their owners. However, with proper vaccination and preventive measures, it is possible to protect our pets from this severe viral threat. Stay informed and follow your veterinarian’s recommendations to ensure the health and well-being of your furry friend.