Dog distemper: causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment

The distemperalso known as Carre’s disease, is a very widespread and dangerous pathology that can seriously threaten the health of the dog. It spreads rather quickly, is very similar to measles and can also infect other animals, especially wild animals.

Distemper is a very contagious infectious disease of dogs that should not be underestimated

Species from puppies, our four-legged friends are very exposed to it. It seems that the animals most at risk are the puppies that have not taken the colostrumi.e. breast milk produced in the first 24/48 hours, as well as those not vaccinated after 6/8 weeks.

However, with proper therapy and the right prevention all danger can be averted. As we have seen for other infectious diseases, such as heartworm of the dogthe leishmaniasis and the leptospirosiseven the distemper can be neutralized with the right prophylaxis.


Let’s see what it is, what are the symptoms to recognize it and the possible treatments.

What virus causes dog distemper: causes and symptoms

The virus responsible for the spread of distemper belongs to the family of Morbillivirus. Not surprisingly, the distemper virus is closely related to the measles virus.

How the contagion happens

The contagion can happen for direct contact from an already sick animal to another unvaccinated dog. The speed depends on the environmental conditions, the general health of the dog and the simultaneous presence of several animals in the same place.

Usually, the main vehicle for distemper is le micro-drops produced by the nasal and ocular discharge that spread in the air.

The contagion, therefore, occurs when the animal comes into contact with them secretions or with the saliva of another infected dog. Once in the organism of the new host, the distemper virus stabilizes in the moles lymph nodes of the mouth and in the tonsils.

After 4-5 days, it spreads in circulatory system attacking the lungs first, then the stomach. At the peak of its life cycle, it infects nervous system and skin causing very serious damage.



What are the symptoms of distemper in dogs

The first alarm bell of the distemper is the fever. It appears almost immediately and is accompanied by an excess of tearing and nasal discharge. Simultaneously, they can also appear phlegm, small lesions and pustules on the belly and thighs. Generally, in its initial phase, distemper can begin with these symptoms:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • He retched
  • Diarrhea
  • Hyperceratosis of the pads and nose
  • Cracks in the bearings
  • Vacuum chewing
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Laryngitis
  • Slimming
  • Dehydration

If you notice any of these symptoms it is essential to immediately notify the veterinarian who will carry out all the necessary tests diagnose the illness. Usually, outpatient assessments consist of a tonsillar swab it’s a serological test.

In acute phase of the disease, the symptoms tend to worsen and occur mainly on the nervous system:

  • Convulsions
  • Muscle tremors
  • Rugged movements
  • Dermatitis
  • Hyperkeratosis on the pads and nose.
  • Seizures
  • Myoclonia

The Morbillivirus which carries the distemper also causes a drop in white blood cells in the blood which further undermines the dog’s immune system. This exposes the animal to the risk of contracting others secondary infections which can complicate an already unstable situation.

How to treat dog distemper: are there cures and therapies?

As for other canine diseases of viral and infectious origin, even for distemper the only real defense weapon is the prevention. To counteract the aggression of the virus, in fact, it is important vaccinate the dog within 9 weeks of life.

Once contracted, the distemper cannot be really cured but only kept under control with long treatments based on antibiotics, drip for dehydration and anti-inflammatories. In this case, the odds of the animal dying go from 20 to 80%.



There veterinary therapy adopted in the event of contagion has more chances of success if timely. In fact, in the first phase of the pathology, the goal is support the immune system of the dog and help him to respond positively to the virus. Being caused by a virus, there is no specific cure that can tame the disease. They only exist supportive treatments which can keep symptoms and secondary infections under control.

It is for all these reasons that the vaccination of puppies it’s the only chance we have to protect Fido from the dangers of distemper. Vaccinating young specimens and making sure that the mother has not contracted the disease during gestation is always the best choice to protect the health of our furry friends.

Your questions

Space for the questions you sent us via email.

Which dogs are at the highest risk for distemper?

All dogs are at risk, but puppies younger than four months and dogs that have not been vaccinated are more at risk of contracting the disease.

How to prevent distemper?

Vaccination is the only and true prevention tool that is essential to prevent this disease.

Puppies are given a series of vaccinations to increase the likelihood of developing immunity when the immune system is not yet fully mature.

Here are some tips:

  • Avoid breaks in your vaccination schedule and make sure your distemper vaccinations are up to date.
  • Avoid contact with infected animals and wildlife
  • Be careful when socializing unvaccinated puppies or dogs in parks, puppy classes, obedience classes, dog daycare centers and other places where dogs can congregate.
  • Beware that even I ferrets pets should be vaccinated against distemper with a specific vaccine for them.

But is there really no cure?

No, there is no cure for canine distemper infection. Treatment typically consists of supportive care and efforts to prevent secondary infections, control vomiting, diarrhea, and neurological symptoms, and combat dehydration by administering fluids.

Dogs infected with canine distemper should be separated from others to minimize the risk of further infections.

We know it is difficult to accept and that is why we have stressed the importance of prevention.

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Dog distemper: causes, symptoms, prevention and treatment

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