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The Lowdown on Canine Distemper: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention


Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that affects dogs.

It is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV) and can affect multiple organ systems, including the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems.

While distemper is a serious disease, it can be prevented through vaccination and early detection and treatment is essential for a successful outcome.

Causes of Canine Distemper

Canine distemper is caused by the canine distemper virus (CDV), which is a member of the paramyxovirus family.

The virus is highly contagious and can be spread through contact with infected bodily fluids or contaminated surfaces.

Dogs that have not been vaccinated or have a weakened immune system are at a higher risk of contracting distemper.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper

The symptoms of distemper can vary depending on the severity of the infection and the affected organ systems.

In general, the initial symptoms of distemper include fever, loss of appetite, and lethargy.

Other symptoms can include:

Diagnosis of Canine Distemper

Diagnosis of distemper can be challenging because the symptoms can be similar to other diseases.

A veterinarian will typically perform a physical examination and run diagnostic tests, such as blood work and a PCR test, to confirm the diagnosis.

In some cases, a biopsy may be necessary to definitively diagnose distemper.

Treatment of Canine Distemper

There is no cure for distemper, so treatment focuses on supportive care and managing the symptoms.

This can include:

It’s important to note that dogs with distemper can shed the virus for several weeks after recovery, so strict isolation and disinfection protocols are essential to prevent the spread of the disease.

Prevention of Canine Distemper

Preventing distemper is key, and the best way to do this is through vaccination.

Puppies should receive a series of vaccinations starting at 6-8 weeks of age and continuing every 3-4 weeks until they are 16-20 weeks old.

Adult dogs should receive a booster vaccination every 1-3 years depending on the vaccine used and the dog’s lifestyle.

It’s also important to practice good hygiene and avoid contact with infected dogs and their bodily fluids.

Can Humans Contract Canine Distemper?

No, humans cannot contract distemper from dogs.

However, humans can inadvertently spread the virus through contaminated objects, such as clothing or shoes, so it’s important to practice good hygiene when caring for a dog with distemper.

Can Other Animals Contract Canine Distemper?

Yes, other animals can contract distemper, including ferrets, raccoons, and even some big cats.

However, the virus is not contagious to humans.


Canine distemper is a serious disease that can be prevented through vaccination and good hygiene practices.

Early detection and treatment are essential for a successful outcome.

If you suspect your dog may have distemper, it’s important to consult with a veterinarian right away.

With proper care and treatment, many dogs can recover from distemper and go on to live happy, healthy lives.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1. Can a vaccinated dog still get distemper?

Yes, although rare, vaccinated dogs can still contract distemper. However, the vaccine reduces the severity of the disease and the likelihood of complications.

2. How long does it take for distemper to show symptoms?

It can take anywhere from 1-4 weeks for a dog to show symptoms of distemper after being exposed to the virus.

3. Can distemper be spread through the air?

Yes, distemper can be spread through the air, particularly in environments with poor ventilation.

4. Is there a test for distemper?

Yes, there are several tests that can be used to diagnose distemper, including blood work and a PCR test.

5. Can a dog recover from distemper?

Yes, some dogs can recover from distemper with supportive care and treatment of the symptoms. However, recovery depends on the severity of the infection and the affected organ systems.

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