Canine Distemper

Initial Symptons

  • Fever
  • Redness of the eyes
  • A thin, watery discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Tiredness, lethargy and disinterest in the normal goings on of the household
  • Loss of appetite / Anorexia
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea, and general digestive upset
  • Coughing

Advance Symptons

  • Fits, tremors, seizures
  • Convulsions incl salivation & chewing movements of the jaw
  • Imbalance
  • Circling
  • Head tilt
  • Partial or full paralysis
  • Confusion
  • Changes in behaviour (e.g. hysteria)
  • Nystagmus (repetitive eye movements)
  • Hardening of the pads of the feet and sometimes the nose

Infection may be mild and inapparent or lead to severe disease with most of the described signs.

What is Canine Distemper?

Canine distemper virus also known as CVD, is a contagious and serious viral illness that spreads easily between unvaccinated dogs.

It affects the dog’s  gastrointestinal, respiratory, and central nervous system.

Puppies and dogs usually become infected with the distemper virus through airborne exposure by direct or indirect contact with an infected animal. The distemper virus can also be transmitted by shared food, water bowls and equipment.

At Risk

Dogs under 1 years old, those with poor immune systems or those that are unvaccinated or not completely vaccinated are at the greatest risk of contracting this disease.


Widespread vaccination of domestic dogs is essential.


Signs can take up to three weeks to appear, particularly in dogs that have some level of protection against the virus due to vaccinations.


Veterinarians diagnose distemper through a combination of clinical signs and diagnostic tests, or through a postmortem necropsy.

Once diagnosed, care is purely supportive.


If the distemper virus is caught in the very early stages, there is a good chance for an otherwise healthy dog, to make a full recovery.

The disease may last for a period of around 10 days, but the onset of neurologic signs may be delayed for several weeks or months.

Vets treat the diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration and neurological symptoms of the dog, as well as preventing any secondary infections that may manifest.

Distemper in dogs is often fatal, and those that do survive, may have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.

Sadly, there is no cure for canine distemper and treatment for acute neurologic manifestations of the distemper virus is frequently unsuccessful.

Learn more from Dr Karen Becker -
proactive and integrative wellness veterinarian

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