Dog Owners Guide To Distemper in Dogs

In this guide to distemper in dogs, we have focused on the causes of the illness and the vaccinations (vaccines) that are used to prevent the disease – you can find out more about the symptoms here.

This illness is a very serious canine health condition and can very often be deadly. This illness is very contagious and is thought to be fatal in about 50% of cases. If you have any feeling that your dog may have contracted the disease you should take your pooch the vet immediately.

This disease is one of the most common diseases that can prove fatal with the disease first referred to in 1905 by a French vet called Henri Carre. It took another forty five years for the first crude vaccine to be developed and it is even thought that the Tasmanian Tiger may have been made extinct by the virus. Distemper can also be seen in other animals including Cats and Ferrets (and lots more).

How distemper in dogs is transmitted

Distemper in dogs was rife across the country up until thirty five – forty five years ago. The disease is transmitted from dog to dog through the inhalation of particles that have already been infected by the disease (from other dogs passing it on through exhaling).

The incubation period for distemper in dogs ranges from seven up to twenty one days although symptoms can develop sooner. If you have any concerns that your dog has the disease rather than taking your dog to the vet’s telephone the vet and ask him/her to do a home visit – the reason for this is that you don’t want a possibly infected dog to pass it onto other animals in the waiting room. The disease can also spread through the contact of feces (poop) and close contact through saliva.

The disease can also be passed on through infected particles from the air (nasal droplets) falling onto food and even water and then an unsuspecting dog eating or drinking the infected food or water.

Puppies are very susceptible to catching the disease especially from the age of three up to six months of age. After a dog or puppy has been infected, the virus will normally start in the respiratory tract before it enters the blood stream.

How distemper in dogs is diagnosed

How to prevent distemper in dogs

The best way to prevent distemper in dogs is to vaccinate your pooch. Below are some of the vaccines that are currently in use by vets.

Serum – This is basically taken by a vet or trained medical professional and involves blood being taken from an area that has naturally built up an immunity to the disease. This is not a vaccine as such but a method to provide immediate protection for a short time – if your dog was entering a show or going into kennels. The Serum will be injected into the dog and then that dog will develop antibodies to protect against the disease.

The Killed Vaccine – This is a lab created distemper virus. Basically the disease is grown under laboratory conditions and then the virus is broken down into a particle that is unable to multiply when it is injected into a dog. The vaccine will stimulate your dog to produce antibodies that will help to protect against the disease.

Modified Live Vaccine (MLV) – This is similar to the ‘Killed Vaccine’ but is alive and ready to multiply. The virus is grown under laboratory conditions just like the ‘Killed Vaccine’ but when it is injected into your dog the vaccine ill multiply causing your dogs body to stimulate antibodies.This vaccine is a longterm vaccination against distemper in dogs.

Distemper vaccine side effects

Unfortunately just like medication vaccinations can cause some side effects, below we have listed some of the side effects that your dog may get.

Lethargy – Your pooch may appear tired and lethargic after the vaccination.This is more common in puppies. The tiredness should disappear after two to three days.

Appetite Loss – Your dog or puppy may lose their appetite and refuse to eat food. You may notice some weight loss and it is not uncommon for dogs and puppies to vomit and appear depressed after being vaccinated. If you have any concern speak to your vet again. It is very important that you make sure that your dog or puppy has access to lots of fresh water as you do not want your pooch to become dehydrated as this will only add to the problems.

Swelling – You may notice a bump appears around the area where your dog or puppy was injected. This is quite normal and should disappear after a few days.

Fever – Remember the process of vaccination is exposing your dog or puppy to a very small amount of the distemper virus so you should expect possibly a small fever, this is your dogs immune system just fighting the very small amount of the virus that has been injected. If the fever stays for a few days speak to your vet.

Anaphylactic Shock – In very rare cases your dog or puppy may develop an allergic reaction to the vaccine. This is a very serious condition which can be fatal. This reaction can happen straight after the vaccine has been administered or a day after. The symptoms of this reaction can include, vomiting, very low blood pressure, increased heart rate and hives (a skin reaction).  Your dog or puppy’s eye lids, lips, nose, ears or whole face may appear swollen (it can also affect the throat causing it to swell leading to problems breathing). This is a very serious condition and will need you to take your dog or puppy to the vet immediately.

Take a look at our page on Distemper Symptoms & Treatment which also goes into more detail about Distemper in Puppies too.


1.Distemper symptoms in dogs and puppies: A complete guide to this sometimes fatal disease.


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