All Pets Veterinary Clinic
Distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that is often fatal for dogs. This
article will look at the how distemper is spread, the signs of illness, the treatment
of the disease, and how you can protect your dog.
Spread. The virus that causes distemper is shed in all body secretions. The
main route of spread is by inhalation of the viral organism. Dogs that have not been
vaccinated or have been under vaccinated are especially at risk.
Signs. The distemper virus can cause problems in the respiratory system, the
nervous system, and the GI system. Because the virus can cause problems in multiple
organ systems, the signs may vary greatly. Dogs can have any of the following signs:
fever, depression, loss of appetite, ocular or nasal discharge, coughing, diarrhea,
vomiting, seizures, damaged tooth enamel, muscle twitching, thickened nose and foot
pads, and eye lesions. 50% of dogs with distemper will die. Death can occur from 2
weeks to three months after infection has taken place.
Diagnosis. Diagnosis is generally based on vaccination history and physical
examination. Bloodwork, including a complete blood count and chemistry, cytology and
serology may also be done.
Treatment. Treatment is mostly supportive and can include antibiotics for
secondary bacterial infections, IV catheterization and fluids to correct dehydration,
and medications for seizures. Neurological damage is often permanent and thus any
neurological signs will likely persist if the dog survives the viral infection. Since
there is no specific cure for distemper, it is best to take measures to prevent infection.
Prevention. The best way to prevent your dog from getting distemper is assure
that your dog is vaccinated properly. Puppies should be vaccinated every three weeks
from age 7-8 weeks until four months. It is very important for puppies to get their
entire series of vaccinations since one shot is often not enough to protect the dog from
distemper. Adult dogs should be vaccinated every year. Since the virus can be excreted
from an infected dog for up to 2-3 months after infection, isolation of infected animals
The information provided is for educational purposes only and is not
intended to take the place of your regular veterinarian. Please do not hesitate
to contact your regular veterinarian if you have questions regarding your pet.
Karen Blakeley, DVM, MPH
1 October 2004