Canine distemper in dogs

What is canine distemper?
Canine distemper is an acute, highly infectious and contagious disease of carnivorous animals characterized by ocular and nasal discharge, diphasic fever and frequent cutaneous eruptions with symptoms like pneumonia, gastro enteritis and encephalitis. Canine distemper is a serious & life threatening disease and remains a major disease of dogs.
Canine distemper is caused by R.N.A virus of paramyxo group and this virus is closely related to measles and rinderpests viruses. The disease was first detected in Europe in the 18th century.

Which animals suffer from canine distemper?
Dogs, wolves, fox, jackal, dingo, ferret, mink, otter, weasel, raccoon, panda, coati suffers from canine distemper.

Which dog is more susceptible to canine distemper?
Younger dogs and puppies between the age group of 3-6 months are more susceptible to canine distemper than older dogs. Non immunized older dogs are also highly susceptible. Breeds of dog like Chow Chow, Spaniel are more susceptible than other breeds of dog.

How is canine distemper transmitted?
Canine distemper is an air borne disease and transmitted by inhalation. All excretion and secretion of the body such as urine and faeces contains the virus. A dog may get the infection by drinking water or eating the food which has been contaminated by an infected dog. A dog can also get the infection simply being near a dog or animal that is suffering from canine distemper. The virus does not survive in the environment for more than a few hours at room temperature but can survive for a few weeks in shady place and during this time virus can be transmitted by feet, hands, instruments etc.

What are the signs and symptoms of canine distemper?

Incubation period lasts 3-7 days during which the dog will not show symptoms of illness following exposure to the virus. The first symptom is fever (103°F to 106°F) which lasts for 3-4 days and then come down in 4 days to normal level and remains normal till 11 to 12 days and after this again temperature rises to a second peak. This is known as diphasic fever curve. The dog show dullness, depression, loss of appetite. The signs and symptoms in dogs vary in respect to severity and system involved.
Pulmonary form of canine distemper: Pulmonary form occurs more than digestive form. The various signs and symptoms observed are as follows:
(a) Nasal discharge
(b)Pharangitis- inflammation of the throat or pharynx
(c) Bronchopneumonia- inflammation of the lungs and bronchioles
(d) Dyspnoea (difficulty in breathing) when lungs are affected with pneumonia or edema

Digestive form of canine distemper: The signs and symptoms observed in digestive form of canine distemper are as follows:
(a) Abdominal pain
(b) Loss of appetite
(c) Vomition, dehydration
(d) Foul smelling semisolid or loose faeces
(e) Faeces may contain blood

Occular form of canine distemper: Signs and symptoms in occular form of canine distemper are as follows:
(a) Conjunctivitis
(b) Swollen eye lids
(c) Purulent discharge from the eye
(d) Ulceration of the cornea
(e) Keratitis, retinitis, blindness

Nervous form or epileptic form of canine distemper: Nervous form of canine distemper occurs when a dog resist a primary infection and suffer from secondary complications. In this nervous nerves are affected. Signs and symptoms observed are as follows
(a) Restlessness, excitement
(b) Chewing movements, excessive salivation
(c) Jerky movement of muscles known as chorea. Muscular spasm may be observed in cheeks, jaws, lips, alae nasii, head, neck or limb muscles
(d) Seizures, convulsion, neurological disorder myoclonous, tremor, coma

Cutaneous form of canine distemper: The following signs and symptoms are noticed:
(a) Appearance of rash, vesicles and pustules
(b) Skin of foot pads and nose becomes hard due to hyperkeratitis and this condition is known as “hard pad disease”
(c) Difficulty in walking on hard objects because of thickened foot pads
(d) Lameness may be there and there is excessive pain
(e) Vesicopustular eruptions on the ventral aspect of abdomen and inner parts of thigh known as distemper exanthema is seen

Prognosis of canine distemper: A dog recovered from canine distemper may shed the virus up to 2-3 months. The prognosis for puppies with severe systemic and neurological signs is poor. Dog recovered from pulmonary and digestive form of canine distemper will remain more susceptible to respiratory infections. About 50% of dogs recovering from pulmonary and digestive form of canine distemper will progress to nervous form. Dogs recovered from nervous form or epileptic form of canine distemper is poor and will have neurological signs which is often permanent.

Canine distemper diagnosis: Diagnosis of canine distemper is done by the following
(a) Clinical manifestation like semisolid or loose smelly faeces, epileptic signs, jerky movements of muscles, etc
(b) History of previous vaccination against canine distemper.
(c) Pathological leisions: Presence of intracytoplasmic inclusion bodies in epithelial cells of respiratory system, intestine, renal pelvis, urinary bladder, kidney.
(d) Animal inoculation: Suspected materials are inoculated in dogs or ferrets and clinical symptoms are observed.
(e) Detection of intracytoplasmic eosinophilic inclusion bodies in conjunctival and epithelial scrapping.
(f) Fluorescent antibody technique: Impressions of mucous membrane are mostly made for this test to detect the presence of viral antigen
(g) Cerebrospinal fluid can be examined for CDV-specific antibodies and increase in protein cells, gamma globulin and Ig G with presence of Ig M is recorded in positive case.

What are the treatment of canine distemper?
The treatment is mostly symptomatic as no anti viral drugs against canine distemper are available. Based on the symptoms of the disease drugs are given
(a) ORS (Oral Rehydration Therapy), Normal Saline Solution in case of dehydration
(b) Antibiotics like Gentamycin, Amoxicillin, Chloramphenicol, Erythromycin, Cefatoxime

(c) Anti emetic drugs like Reglan to stop vomiting
(d) Expectorants like Avil, Zeet, Benadryl in case of respiratory signs
(e) Anti diarrhoeal drugs like Flagyl-F, Furalop, Lomofen, Lomotil in case of diarrhoea
(f) Anti inflammatory drugs like Dexamethasone
(g) Lardopa drugs to inhibit chorea.
Lardopa(500 mg)- ½ tablet once daily followed by ½ tablet every week
(h) Vitamin B, vitamin C, protein hydrolysate are to be given to restore vitality
(i) Acaricide or anthelmentic drugs in case if the dog suffers from ectoparasite or endoparasite

How to prevent and control canine distemper?
Following steps should be taken to prevent and control canine distemper in dogs:
(a) The best way to prevent and control canine distemper is vaccination. Puppies should be vaccinated at 6-8 weeks of age and booster should be done at 12-16 weeks of age and then repeat every year.
(b) Isolation of infected or suspected dogs from other healthy dogs and the healthy ones should be vaccinated if they haven't already been.
(c) Contact of dog withraccoons, foxes, skunks, and other infected wildlife should be discouraged.

Can humans infections from canine distemper virus?
Canine distemper is not a zoonotic disease and there is no evidence that the virus can be transmitted to human beings. Canine distemper virus replicate in the human body but no illness results in human being.

What to do if your house has canine distemper virus?
Remove the infected dog and disinfect the premises, cage or kennel and all contaminated objects with bleach solution. Wait for at least one month before bringing a new puppy at home.


  1. can the virus be passed from me to my new doggy since my last dog died from distemper?

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  4. My 6 years dog was died due to Canine distemper. I researched that this disease is mostly found in small puppies and young dogs. Your blog is alert about Canine distemper disease which is very helpful for all dog lovers.

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  6. Hi,
    Can you please suggest the doses of the antibiotics? One of the stray dog in my area got distemper and I have no other way but to treat him by myself.
    Please help!

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  8. My 11 week old puppy has just been diagnosed with distemper. She is at the stage where she is having "chewing seizures" I instructed my vet to treat her, but I fear I may be being selfish. Is she suffering? If she survives (which my vet was honest and said she may not) what will the quality of her life be?

    1. Dont put down your puppy.. It's treatable.. Your puppy wants to grow and live like any other dog..
      The seizure is affecting her nervous system and her body is responding to that.. She may be suffering but she has the will to live, if you encourage her and allow her..
      Suffering is not a prerequisite to death sentence, the will to die is.. Many dogs and human alike suffer but they do not want to die..
      Pls don't pts your beloved puppy ever..

  9. I choose to put our 13 week old puppy down because she was suffering. When you witness a seizure and its effect, it leaves little doubt that the dog is suffering.

    1. I respect your decision but would like to offer opinion for your consideration..
      The seizure is her nervous system response and yes she may be suffering but every human being and animal who gets sick and suffers will fight to live..

      Suffering is not a prerequisite to death sentence, the will to die is.. Many dogs and human alike suffer but they do not want to die..
      Pls don't pts your beloved puppy ever if you decide to take another one..
      Many live on to become cheerful and active adult dogs..
      Thank you for your time..

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  12. Hello
    I wanted to ask something.
    My 4 year old dog suffering from cannine distemper from last two months.
    Right now i am giving him antibiotics twice a day
    Neurokind syrup 10 ml twice a day.. neurokind tablet 250 mg once a day + vitamin a & b capsule. I should follow your medicines or i am giving him already best treatment? Kindly suggest me best for him.. he has very strong will to live & i want to cure him no matter what i have to do.
    Thanks your article is very helpful