Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is a viral disease of dogs that is often fatal caused by Canine Distemper Virus (CDV). Distemper virus was for a long time the most feared disease in dogs. But now parvovirus seems to have surpassed it in many peoples minds. It is still is a very active disease killing dogs with outbreaks happening every year. This is an RNA virus that also affects mink, ferrets, and weasels. Human measles is also a member of this virus family.

Canine distemper symptoms and incidence:

CDV still occurs worldwide, and is still one of the leading causes of death among unvaccinated puppies. Distemper is more likely to affect puppies than older dogs, although any age of dog can be affected.

CDV symptoms include:

-fever, lack of appetite, depression,

-nasal and ocular discharges, coughing,

-vomiting, diarrhea,

-conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eye)

CDV eventually may bring on nervous system signs like: muscle in coordination, increased sensitivity to sensory stimuli, such as pain or touch, muscle twitching or spasm, paralysis, deterioration of mental abilities, and seizures.

One of the most notable signs include “chewing of the gums” which is a seizure of the head muscles.

CDV can be hard to diagnose due to the range of clinical signs is produces. Not all clinical signs will be present in each dog, and some may not show any signs of infection.

Some dogs even survive the initial infection, only to develop neurological signs later on. (see the neurological signs mentioned above)

Chronic infections could lead to enamel hypoplasia, development of retinal damage, corneal discoloration or extreme hardness of the skin of the nose or foot pads.

CDV Transmission:

Dogs infected with the virus will shed it in nasal or mouth secretions. The most common transmission is by dogs breathing in airborne particles of the virus. Dogs recovering from the virus will shed it, but once recovered they will stop shedding.


Diagnosis of CDV can be challenging at the beginning because clinical signs can be vague. Your vet can use techniques like blood work, immunofluorescent techniques, and x-rays to aid in the diagnosis. Often times vets who have seen many cases of distemper can make a diagnosis just by observing the neurological signs.

Canine Distemper Treatment:

As with most virual infections there are no specific treatments available. The primary treatment of distemper in dogs, is supportive care. Fluids, antibiotics, and other medications to control seizures. Even after most of the clinical signs have resolved, long term neurological problems may persist.


The prognosis for a dog or puppy with CDV is hard to determine. It often depends on the vaccination status, the strain of virus, and the type of treatment provided. As with most diseases, prevention is the best way.

Canine distemper prevention;Puppies are usually vaccinated against CDV starting around 6 weeks of age. CDV is usually included in a vaccination combination shot like DA2LPP. (the D is for distemper)

Puppies receive vaccinations every 3-4 weeks until 12 or 16 weeks of age to overcome interference with the maternal antibodies passed to the puppies through their mother's milk. But, remember no vaccine can totally prevent infection, but can reduce the severity of the infections.

Canine Distemper Vaccines:

Talk to your veterinarian about getting your puppy or dog vaccinated against distemper virus. There are many manufactures who make and distribute vaccines so talk with your vet about the best way to vaccinate your dog.