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Canine distemper in dogs

Canine distemper is a serious viral condition which can cause your puppy or dog to suffer from a nasty cough and diarrhoea. In some cases, dogs can even develop fatal pneumonia or even paralysis.
Puppy dog lying down on an examination table in a vets office.

What is canine distemper?

Canine distemper is a serious viral condition which can cause your puppy or dog to suffer from a nasty cough and diarrhoea.

In some cases, dogs can even develop fatal pneumonia or even paralysis.

What are the symptoms of canine distemper?

A puppy or dog with canine distemper will show several different symptoms.

Canine distemper can take several forms, which often makes diagnosis difficult. In general the symptoms can be:

  • High temperature
  • Diarrhoea and digestive problems
  • Sudden vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sneezing, coughing and respiratory problems
  • Ocular, cutaneous or nervous problems

What causes canine distemper?

Canine distemper is passed from infected dogs by sneezing and coughing or through direct contact with urine, blood or saliva. It can also be passed on through sharing of water or food bowls.

Can my puppy be vaccinated against canine distemper?

Canine distemper can be prevented by vaccination, so it’s important to make sure your puppy gets the necessary jabs at the right age.

In most cases, puppies usually begin a vaccination programme between the ages of six and eight weeks. It’s likely the vaccination for canine distemper will be given at seven to nine weeks, with a booster at 11 - 13 weeks.

How do I know if my puppy needs the vaccine?

Some vaccines are mandatory, while others are recommended, depending on the risks your puppy faces from their lifestyle and environment. Canine distemper is a mandatory vaccination so your puppy will be given this jab in line with any agreed plan.

Will the vaccination always cover my dog for canine distemper?

Your puppy will need a booster after 15 months, and then annually moving forward to ensure they are vaccinated against the disease.

Speak to your vet as they will be able to help you choose a vaccination programme best suited to the needs of your puppy, depending on where they’ll be spending time and the activities they’ll be doing.

What to do if I think my puppy has distemper?

Canine distemper symptoms such as diarrhoea, and sometimes bloody diarrhoea, can indicate the presence of other diseases. One other condition this could be a symptom of is canine parvovirus, which can often be fatal for puppies and dogs. Make sure you look for any other symptoms and how these are impacting their normal behaviour.

If your puppy has diarrhoea but behaves normally, the first thing to do is to check what they’ve eaten. Puppies are very inquisitive and tend to eat things they shouldn’t, so try and keep an eye on them when you’re out and about.

If other symptoms of canine distemper are present, consult your vet immediately. They will carry out a number of biochemical tests and urine analyses to determine whether your puppy is infected and recommend the best course of action.

Giving your puppy the right vaccines as part of a programme agreed with your vet is extremely important. You should ensure you contact them as soon as possible once you bring your new puppy home to make sure they have the right vaccinations at the right time to maintain their ongoing health.

If you have any questions about canine distemper, speak to a vet who will be able to give advice on the disease, its prevention and any treatment.

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