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Canine Distemper – Symptoms & Treatment

Canine Distemper

What Is Canine Distemper?

The “D” in a core 4 or 5-way puppy shot stands for ‘distemper’, a disease that spreads through direct contact with an infected animal or by indirect contact through shared bowls or bedding.

Canine Distemper is a highly infectious, multisystemic disease caused by a paramyxovirus closely related to the viruses of measles and rinderpest.

The virus can be found in wildlife such as wolves, foxes, coyotes, raccoons, mink, ferrets, and skunks. This also has been reported in tigers, lions, leopards, and other wild cats.

Often confused with rabies, the Distemper virus is currently termed Canine morbillivirus and has been known since 1760.

This is an acutely febrile disease and dogs that survive (after canine distemper infection) usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.

Symptoms Of Canine Distemper

Respiratory symptoms:

  • Pneumonia
  • Nasal discharge
  • Sneezing/ Coughing
  • Difficulty breathing

Ocular signs:

  • Bloodshot eyes/ Eye discharge
  • Keratoconjunctivitis sicca (dry eye)
  • Anterior uveitis ( eye front chamber inflammation)
  • Optic neuritis (optic nerve inflammation)

Gastrointestinal symptoms:

Neurological symptoms:

  • Seizures
  • Chewing-gum fits
  • Muscle twitching/tremors
  • Head tilt/ head pressing/continual pacing
  • Excessive salivation
  • Paralysis or partial paralysis
  • Involuntary eye movements

Dermatologic symptoms:

  • Pustular dermatitis
  • skin sores
  • Nasal and digital hyperkeratosis - Thickening of the skin on paw pads and nose ( so it is called hard pad disease)

Other symptoms:

  • Loss of enamel on teeth
  • Fever
  • Lethargy

Treatment Options For Canine Distemper

There is no cure for canine distemper. To manage symptoms and prevent further damage, your vet can recommend supportive care and symptom treatments.

Supportive treatments may include:

  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics.
  • Pain relievers -
  • anticonvulsants - Seizure medications.
  • IV fluids and Electrolytes.
  • Antipyretic

Home Remedies For Canine Distemper

  • There is no home remedy available for canine distemper.
  • Prevention is the key to address canine distemper.
  • Provide the dogs a healthy, natural diet

Prevention Of Canine Distemper

  • Distemper vaccine (DHPP or DAPP vaccines): puppies at 6-8 weeks old and then every 2-3 to four weeks until 16 weeks old.
  • They may need another booster every 1 to 3 years for the rest of their lives. However, a specific vaccine schedule may be recommended by your vet based on how common the distemper is in your area.
  • Owners should keep puppies away from infected animals and wildlife.
  • Use caution when socializing unvaccinated dogs or puppies at dog parks, pet stores, doggie daycares, and other places where dogs can congregate.
  • Exotic mammals like Pet ferrets can contract and spread distemper. They should be CDV vaccinated by a USDA-approved ferret vaccine (PureVax Ferret).

Affected Breeds Of Canine Distemper

Unvaccinated (Puppies or older dogs) are most vulnerable.

Additional Facts For Canine Distemper

What is the incubation period between exposure and clinical signs?

Mostly 1 to 6 weeks, most dogs show signs within 1 to 4 weeks.

When does distemper infected dogs become contagious?

1-4 weeks after infection and shedding may persist up to four months post-recovery.

How long does the virus survive outside of the dog?

Only a few hours at room temperature. Common disinfectants, desiccation (drying out) and Sunlight are effective at neutralizing it.

How long does the vaccine take to stimulate immunity?

3- 5 days (In most dogs over five months of age).

What materials are contagious?

Respiratory secretions - nasal and ocular (eye) discharge, cough droplets, vomit, and other excretions including feces, and urine can contain the virus.

When To See A Vet For Canine Distemper?

You should visit a vet immediately when your dog shows any signs of canine distemper or if you suspect any distemper infection.

Food Suggestions For Canine Distemper

Making the distemper dog eat?

  • Raw liver or liquefied chicken with a little broth( or use beef or lamb bones).
  • In warm chicken broth, Soak the usual food into a warm mash and add some baby food.
  • Take skinless chicken breast and quartered potatoes, and cook it up for 1 hour or until it gets cooked fully. Feed small meals -70 percent potato / 30 percent chicken (every 2-3 hours).
  • Scrambled eggs and boiled rice
  • Chicken+ carrots + celery boiled together, served warm.

What to feed?

  • Low-carb dog food/ Whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Fresh, lean protein.
  • Folate: liver, yeast (such as nutritional yeast), green vegetables such as spinach, Brussel sprouts, silverbeet, and kale.
  • Vitamin B-12: eggs, beef liver.
  • Iron: lean meats like ground beef and lamb, fish, such as sardines and salmon, pumpkin, carrots, and leafy greens.
  • vitamin C and bioflavonoids: Brussel sprouts, spinach, broccoli, kale, pineapple, papaya, strawberries, etc.,


Prognosis depends on your dog's immune response. Distemper is deadly in 50% of cases. This virus can be prevented through vaccination.

Immune-compromised dogs or those with weaker immune systems may not survive the early respiratory stages.

Meanwhile, stronger dogs may recover but they develop neurological signs that may last for their lifetime.

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