What is distemper?
Distemper is a highly contagious
viral disease of domestic dogs and other animals such as ferrets,
skunks and raccoons.
How is the disease spread?
The disease is spread mainly by
direct contact between a susceptible dog and a dog showing symptoms.
Coughing and sneezing can spread the virus over short distances.
What are the clinical signs?
As with all infectious diseases,
clinical signs can vary. The main signs are diarrhea, vomiting, a
thick yellow discharge from the eyes and nose, cough and eventually
seizures and neurological signs. Dogs that recover from the disease
are often left with persistent nervous muscle twitches (chorea) and
Are there other diseases causing
There are many diseases that cause
diarrhea and vomiting, several that cause similar respiratory and
neurological signs, but few diseases cause all of these at the same
What is the treatment?
As with most viral infections, there
is no specific treatment. Antibiotics are not effective against
viruses, but do help in controlling the secondary bacterial
infections that often occur with distemper. The treatment for
distemper is aimed at helping reduce the signs and symptoms. This is
accomplished with hospitalization providing rest and intensive
nursing care, intravenous fluid therapy and symptomatic treatment
for the vomiting, diarrhea, cough, etc.
How can I prevent my dog from
Fortunately we have highly effective
vaccines to use. These are given to puppies along with other routine
vaccines. Although in the majority of dogs the protection from
initial vaccination may last more than a year, annual revaccination
may be recommended because some dogs may be at higher risk for
contracting the disease.
How common is distemper?
Canine distemper is seen worldwide but because of the widespread use
of successful vaccines, it is much less common than it was in the
1970ís. It is still seen in populations where vaccination rates are
low and in stray dogs. The virus may persist in recovered carrier
dogs and in wildlife such as skunks and raccoons. It is essential to
keep vaccinating our dog population to prevent canine distemper from
returning as a major killer of dogs.
This client information sheet is
based on material written by Ernest E. Ward Jr., DVM
2002 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license.
June 29, 2004.