You likely bring your pet in to see us at Union Lake Veterinary Hospital periodically to receive their distemper vaccine, among others. But what is distemper? How can your dog get it? Is it that serious? How important is it to keep up on your pet’s vaccinations? 

An educated pet owner is an empowered pet owner. Read on to brush up on the facts about canine distemper virus. 

The Pathology of Canine Distemper Virus 

Canine distemper is a disease condition caused by a virus closely related to the human measles virus. It is actually a bit of a delicate bug, relying on a fatty outer casing that is easily disturbed in the environment outside of the body. This means that good sanitation is an effective means of controlling the transmission of the distemper virus. 

Dogs who are infected contract the virus directly from another infected dog’s secretions, typically respiratory (coughs, sneezes). Disease develops approximately one week after exposure, even though the virus can hide for quite some time in the nervous system or skin even after symptoms subside. Symptoms often recur several weeks after the pet appears to have recovered. 

Symptoms of infection with canine distemper virus include: 

  • Ocular and nasal discharge 
  • Fever (although this may be short-lived) 
  • Decreased appetite 
  • Coughing, Pneumonia, Vomiting, Diarrhea 
  • Callouses of the nose an d/or paw pads 
  • Seizures, Tremors, loss of balance, weakness 
  • Potential death 

Scarily, even pets who survive an acute infection may have permanent neurological damage. 

Vaccination Facts 

It is very uncommon these days for a dog to receive a “distemper” vaccine that is only for canine distemper virus. Most of these are, in fact, combination vaccines. A distemper vaccine usually provides immunity against infections such as canine adenovirus 2, canine parainfluenza, and canine parvovirus as well. 

Vaccination is very effective against canine distemper virus and immunity is conferred to puppies during nursing. If those puppies do not receive appropriate vaccinations, though, the immunity that they receive from their mother often wanes by 16 weeks of age, leaving them vulnerable. Most cases of distemper in the United States happen in unvaccinated puppies. 

Thankfully, canine distemper infections are infrequent nowadays due to good wellness care and preventive vaccination practices. In most cases when a dog contracts distemper, there is an incomplete or questionable vaccine history. 

The best way to protect your pets (and other pets with compromised immune systems or who are too young to have completed their vaccinations) is to follow vet-recommended vaccine protocols. Union Lake Veterinary Hospital   veterinarians will recommend a personalized vaccine plan that is best to protect your particular four-legged family member. 

Please feel free to call with any questions . We are here to help.