Canine distemper is a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of puppies and dogs

How is canine distemper spread?

Dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure to the virus (via sneezing or coughing) from an infected dog or wildlife.

The virus can also be transmitted through shared food and water bowls and equipment.

Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and mother dogs can pass it through the placenta to their puppies.

Contact between domestic dogs and wildlife can facilitate the spread of the virus.

What dogs are at risk?

All dogs are at risk, but puppies younger than four months old and unvaccinated dogs are at higher risk.

What are the symptoms of canine distemper?

Initial symptoms include watery to pus-like discharge from the eyes, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting.

As the virus attacks the nervous system, dogs may develop circling behaviour, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions, seizures, and paralysis.

Footpads may thicken and harden, leading to the nickname “hard pad disease.”

In wildlife, distemper symptoms resemble rabies.

How is canine distemper diagnosed and treated?

Veterinarians diagnose it through clinical appearance and laboratory testing.

There is no cure for canine distemper, so treatment focuses on supportive care, managing symptoms, preventing secondary infections, and administering fluids.

Infected dogs should be separated from other dogs to prevent further spread.

How is canine distemper prevented?

  • Vaccination is crucial. Puppies receive a series of vaccinations to build immunity when their immune system is not yet fully matured.
  • Maintain an up-to-date distemper vaccination schedule (DHLP).
  • Avoid contact with infected animals and wildlife.
  • Exercise caution when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs in places where dogs congregate, such as parks, classes, or doggy daycares.

Preventing canine distemper through vaccination and responsible care is essential to protect dogs from this potentially fatal disease


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