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Canine Distemper is a contagious disease with no cure. Take the necessary steps to protect your pets and vaccinate them.

What is Canine Distemper?

A contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs. The virus can also be found in wildlife such as foxes, wolves, coyotes, raccoons, skunks, mink and ferrets as well as lions, leopards, and other wild cats.

What dogs are at risk?

All dogs are at risk, but puppies younger than four months old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against this virus are at increased risk.

How is Canine Distemper spread?

Puppies and dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure (sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or contact with a wild animal with the disease. Distemper can also be transmitted by shared food, water bowls, and equipment. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months and mother dogs can pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies.

Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

Symptoms: Initially, infected dogs develop watery, pus-like discharge from their eyes. Fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting follows. As the virus attacks the nervous system, circling behavior, head tilting, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing and salivation, seizures, and partial or complete paralysis develops. Distemper may also cause footpads to thicken and harden. This virus is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually maintain permanent, irreplaceable nervous system damage.

Diagnosis and Treatment: Veterinarians diagnose canine distemper through clinical appearance and lab testing. This disease has no cure, and treatment typically consists of supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections, control vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological symptoms, and combat dehydration through fluid administration. To minimize the risk of further infection, dogs infected with distemper should be separated from other dogs.

Prevention: Vaccination is crucial to preventing canine distemper

  • A series of vaccines are administered to puppies to increase the likelihood of building immunity when the immune system is not fully matured
  • Avoid gaps in the immunization schedule and make sure vaccines are up to date
  • Avoid contact with infected animals and wildlife
  • Use caution when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs anywhere dogs can congregate (dog parks, puppy classes, etc.)
  • Pet ferrets should be vaccinated using a USDA-approved ferret vaccine


For more information, visit the Inland Valley Humane Society Website at