Distemper In Dogs

An Overview of Canine Distemper

It is a severe and infectious viral illness, and has no known medical cure. This condition not only affects the dogs, but also many other wild species, like raccoons, foxes, wolves, and skunks. A type of house pet, the ferret, is also a bearer of this virus. Canine distemper belongs to the Morbillivirus type of viruses and shares a close relationship with the measles virus, which frequently affects the human beings. The Rinderpest virus mainly affects the cattle. All these beforementioned viruses are members of the Paramyxoviridae family.


The viruses which spread through the air and by direct or indirect contact with an infected creature will initially attack a dog’s lymph nodes and tonsils. Soon it will replicate itself there for two weeks. The virus will then slowly attack the nervous systems, respiratory functions, urogenital functions, and gastrointestinal tract.

In the initial stages of the condition, the significant symptoms will include high fever, redness of the eyes, and liquid discharge from the eyes and the nose. An infected dog will suffer from laziness and can also become anorexic. Persistent coughing and diarrhea, with frequent vomiting, may also happen. In the closing stages of this condition, the virus will start attacking the other physiological systems particularly the nervous system. The spinal cord and the brain get affected the most, and the dog may start having fits, hysteria, seizures and even paralysis.

Some call this condition hard pad disease, just because certain strains of the virus can create an abnormal thickening of the pads of the dog’s feet. In dogs with a weak immune system, death may result in within five weeks after the dog gets affected by this infection.

Who are more susceptible to this condition?

Newborn pups or unvaccinated dogs are more susceptible to the distemper virus. So whenever one decides to buy a dog, he should always buy from a reputed breeder. Acute infections are often seen in older dogs. Puppies, especially seven weeks of age, and born to unvaccinated mothers are massively prone to the condition.


Our furry friends can get the infection, if the vet injects an unattenuated vaccine. But according to statistics, this rarely happens. A dog can also suffer from a sudden infection from specific bacterias. These specific bacterias mainly affect the respiratory and the gastrointestinal system of the dog’s body. This sudden bacterial attack will make a dog easily vulnerable to the distemper virus. A dog with no immunization is also an easy victim of the distemper virus.

Diagnosis and tests

The vet will diagnose the condition with different biochemical exams and urinalysis. These tests may also reveal something like a reduction in a number of lymphocytes. These are white blood cells which are crucial for the proper functioning of the immune system. A  test which goes by the name of serology will identify and select the positive antibodies.

However, this test cannot differentiate between vaccination antibodies and an exposed virulent virus. The vet may find viral antigens in the test for antibodies. Radiographs are used to understand that whether an infected animal has presently got infected with pneumonia. CT scan and an MRI scan is used to determine the brain’s lesions, that may have occurred.


It's unfortunate that modern medical science does not have any cure for canine distemper. Treatments thus focus on eradicating the symptoms of the dog’s body. If the dog becomes anorexic or gets diarrhea, the vet may prescribe intravenous supportive fluids. The owner will have to clear off the discharges from the nose and the eyes of the dog at regular intervals.

The vet may also prescribe antibiotics to monitor the signs as a result of secondary bacterial infections. And phenobarbital and potassium bromide will control the dog’s frequent seizures and convulsions. Medical science does not have a range of antiviral drugs that will work to treat the disease.

Living and managing the condition

In the chronic stages of canine distemper, the owner will have to monitor the possible development of dehydration from diarrhea and pneumonia. The owner will have to take the pet for a frequent visit to the vet clinic, for monitoring of the central nervous system. This should be done to keep a check on the dog’s various neural issues like seizures.

A dog’s possible survival rate against this condition depends on the strength of the dog’s immune system and the strain of the virus. Recovery from the condition is possible. But after the resumption, frequent fatal nervous attacks can happen because of the already damaged Central nervous system. Seizures can happen in a gap of three to four months. Fully recovered animals won't spread the virus to other animals.


The best way to prevent canine distemper will be to give a dog routine vaccination.  If test results prove the existence of distemper, the owner will have to isolate the infected dog. The owner will have to take special care of new-born pups, as they have a weak immune system which makes prone to suffer from the condition.

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