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Distemper in Dogs


Canine Distemper is a highly contagious virus that attacks the respiratory, nervous and gastrointestinal systems within dogs of all ages, with puppies and unvaccinated dogs being most at risk. Distemper in dogs can be fatal, therefore vaccination against the disease is crucial to prevent an infection. It is important to note that as with all vaccines 100% efficacy is not guaranteed so you should be aware of the main symptoms to look out for and other relevant information.

Transmission of Distemper most commonly occurs through airborne exposure to the virus, as a result of coughing or sneezing from an infected dog whereby they release aerosol droplets into the environment. Additionally, it can be transmitted through direct contact (licking or sniffing) with an infected dog’s tears, saliva, urine, faeces via contaminated objects, such as food bowls or surfaces.


· Swollen eyes with watery to mucous-like discharge

· Nasal discharge and sneezing

· Fever

· Loss of appetite and reduced interest in drinking

· Lethargy

· Coughing

· Vomiting and diarrhea

As the disease progresses neurological symptoms may emerge, such as:

· Seizures/tremors

· Convulsion

· Paralysis


There is no specific treatment/cure for Canine Distemper. If you suspect your dog has been infected you should be seen by a vet right away in order for diagnostic testing to be conducted. After diagnosis, treatment consists of purely supportive care to prevent a secondary bacterial infection, control vomiting, diarreah and neurological symptoms together with combating dehydration.


Vaccination is crucial to ensure your dog has protective immunity against Distemper. For puppies, vaccination begins with a series of shots, once completed booster shots will be required to maintain immunity. Your vet will formulate an appropriate vaccination schedule for you. Vaccinations will be recorded in a vaccination booklet which will be provided to you, this should be kept up to date and stored safely as proof of vaccinations are required by day care and boarding facilities and more importantly, for relocating your dog to another country.

Puppies who have not completed their initial series of vaccinations should not socialise with other puppies/dogs and should not be exposed to areas that have potentially been contaminated. The virus can survive in the environment for an extended period; therefore, exercise should be limited to your home and garden until your vet advises (normally 2 weeks after the final vaccination). Good personal and household hygiene habits will help to keep your dog safe. If you have any other animals in the home, they could also be carriers too, so it is important to clean their paws after walks and maintain a regular grooming routine. If you are in any doubt about your dog’s vaccinations, it may be useful to have their antibody levels tested.

The information provided is intended as a guideline. For antibody testing or any other concerns please contact your veterinarian directly.

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