Distemper in dogs

What is distemper in dogs? Distemper is a viral disease that is highly contagious and easily spread from dog to dog. The virus can cause severe respiratory disease, gastrointestinal illness, and even death in some cases. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to the success of treatment and recovery from distemper.

There are several ways that dogs can contract distemper. The most common way is through close contact with another infected dog, either through direct contact or indirectly by sharing contaminated food or water bowls. The virus can also be spread through the air, so even if your dog does not come into direct contact with an infected animal, he can still contract the disease.

How to prevent Canine distemper virus

Vaccination is the best way from preventing canine distemper spread. Puppies should be vaccinated against distemper at 8, 12, and 16 weeks of age, and then again at one year of age. Adult dogs should be vaccinated every 1-3 years, depending on their risk factors.

Vaccinations for puppies tend to be part of a “combo” vaccine that also protects against other common diseases, such as parvovirus and hepatitis.

All dogs are at risk of contracting canine distemper, but unvaccinated dogs are at a much higher risk. Puppies and young dogs are also more susceptible to the disease because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.

Distemper vaccine

There are two types of distemper vaccine available to protect your dog: modified live virus (MLV) and killed (inactivated) virus.

MLV vaccines are considered more effective because they provide better immunity and protection against the disease. However, they can also cause more side effects, such as fever and soreness at the injection site.

Killed (inactivated) virus vaccines are not as effective as MLV vaccines, but they are much safer and have fewer side effects.

Your veterinarian will help you decide which vaccine is right for your dog based on his age, health status, and lifestyle.

How do dogs catch canine distemper?

The most common way dogs catch distemper is by coming in contact with infected domestic dogs or other infected animals. This can happen through direct contact, or indirectly by sharing contaminated food or water bowls of other dogs. The virus can also be spread through the air, so even if your dog doesn’t come into direct contact with an infected animal, he can still contract the disease.

Wild animals

Another way dogs can catch distemper is by coming into contact with a wild or feral dog that is infected with the virus. This is most common in areas where there are large populations of unvaccinated free-roaming dogs, such as in some parts of Africa and Asia.

Can wild animals give my dog canine distemper?

Yes, wild animals can give your dog distemper but distemper only affects mammals so your dog would have to come in contact with an infected animal such as a raccoon, skunk, fox, or coyote.

Can farm animals give my dog canine distemper?

No, farm animals cannot give your dog distemper. The virus that causes distemper is specific to dogs and other members of the Canidae family, which includes wolves, foxes, and coyotes.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper in dogs

Clinical signs:

The clinical signs of the canine distemper virus can vary depending on the severity of the infection and how far along the disease has progressed. In the early stages, you may notice your dog has a fever and is lethargic or sleepy. He may also have discharge from his eyes and nose, and sneeze or cough frequently. As the disease progresses, he may develop severe diarrhea and vomiting.

Neurological signs:

In the later stages of the disease, some dogs may develop neurological problems such as seizures, paralysis, and even coma. These signs are usually the result of damage to the brain and nervous system caused by the virus.

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it is important to contact your veterinarian right away. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to preventing canine distemper.

Stages of Canine Distemper in dogs

There are four stages of distemper in dogs: incubation, prodromal, critical, and convalescent.


This is the period of time between exposure to the virus and when symptoms first appear and can last anywhere from two to six weeks. The first symptoms are usually fever and lethargy.


This is the stage when initial symptoms first appear, and can last for one to two weeks. Symptoms at this stage are similar to incubation and include fever, runny nose and eyes, sneezing, and coughing.


This is the most serious stage of the disease, and can last for two to four weeks. During this time, your dog may experience severe vomiting and diarrhea, and neurological problems such as seizures.


This is the final stage of the disease, and your dog will start to recover from his symptoms. He may still be tired and have a poor appetite, but should gradually start to feel better over the next few weeks.

How does canine Distemper affect my dog’s immune system?

The virus affects the immune system by attacking the white blood cells, which are responsible for fighting off infection. This can lead to a decrease in the number of white blood cells, and an increase in the number of other types of cells, such as red blood cells. This can make it difficult for the body to fight off infections and can lead to severe illness or death.

How does canine Distemper in dogs affect the central nervous system?

The virus can also affect the central nervous system, causing seizures, paralysis, and even death in some cases. The virus can cause inflammation of the brain and spinal cord, which can lead to these serious neurological problems.

How does distemper affect the lungs?

The virus attacks the cells lining the respiratory tract, which can lead to inflammation and fluid buildup in the lungs. This can make breathing difficult and can lead to pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Prognosis of Canine Distemper in Dogs

The prognosis for dogs with the distemper virus is generally poor, especially if the disease is not caught early. It can also lead to a number of secondary bacterial infections which may also need intervention.

Dogs who are treated early have a better chance of recovery, but even with treatment, many will die from the disease. Dogs who survive the disease may be left with long-term neurological problems such as seizures or paralysis. There is no cure for distemper, so prevention is the best way to protect your dog from this potentially deadly disease.

What dog breeds are most susceptible to canine distemper?

Puppies and young dogs are most susceptible to distemper, as they have not yet developed immunity to the virus. Certain breeds of dogs are also more susceptible than others, such as Labrador Retrievers, Rottweilers, and Dachshunds. Distemper is less common in mature dogs, but can still occur if they have not been vaccinated or if their immunity has begun to decline.

The best way to protect your dog from distemper is to make sure he is up-to-date on his vaccinations. Vaccinating your dog against distemper is the best way to prevent him from contracting the disease. Puppies should start their vaccinations at six to eight weeks of age, and should receive booster shots every three to four weeks until they are 16 weeks old. Adult dogs should receive a booster shot every one to three years, depending on their risk factors. Talk to your veterinarian about the best vaccination schedule for your dog.

Distemper in Rottweilers

Rottweilers are one of the breeds most susceptible to distemper. The reason for this is not entirely clear, but it may be due to their size or their immunity. Rottweilers are more likely to develop severe symptoms of distemper and are more likely to die from the disease.

Treatment of Distemper in Dogs

Unfortunately, there is no specific cure for the distemper virus in dogs. However, there are treatments available that can help your dog recover and manage his symptoms. Treatment typically includes hospitalization, IV fluids, and antibiotics. In severe cases, your dog may need to be on a ventilator to help him breathe. With early diagnosis and treatment, most dogs recover from distemper. However, some may experience long-term effects such as seizures or paralysis.

A weakened dog’s immune system can lead to secondary bacterial infections and can be deadly if not treated promptly. These can include pneumonia, meningitis, and encephalitis. Treatment typically includes antibiotics and supportive care.

Diseases similar to distemper in dogs

There are a few other diseases that share some symptoms with distemper, such as rabies and parvovirus. However, these diseases are not the same as distemper and cannot be treated with the same methods. It is important to get your dog to a veterinarian as soon as possible so he can be properly diagnosed and treated.

Final Thoughts

Distemper is a serious disease with potentially fatal consequences. Protecting your dog with a vaccine is the best way to prevent him from contracting the disease. If you think your dog may have distemper, take him to the veterinarian immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment are critical to giving your dog the best chance at a full recovery.

About The Rotty lover 2159 Articles
My name is Dr. Winnie. I earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from Duke University, a Masters of Science in Biology from St Georges University, and graduated from the University of Pretoria Veterinary School in South Africa. I have been an animal lover and owners all my life having owned a Rottweiler named Duke, a Pekingese named Athena and now a Bull Mastiff named George, also known as big G! I'm also an amateur equestrian and love working with horses. I'm a full-time Veterinarian in South Africa specializing in internal medicine for large breed dogs. I enjoy spending time with my husband, 2 kids and Big G in my free time. Author and Contribturor at SeniorTailWaggers, A Love of Rottweilers, DogsCatsPets and TheDogsBone