Canine Distemper was a very common disease that killed many dogs right up until the 70s when an effective vaccine was developed. However, this disease still poses a very serious threat to unvaccinated dogs as it is very contagious and there is no known cure.

A dog’s chance of surviving canine distemper will depend on the strain and how strong the dog’s immune system is, so treatment tends to be focused on helping to alleviate the symptoms to give the dog the best chance to fight it.

Young puppies are highly susceptible, which is why it is included in their core vaccinations. These vaccinations play an important role in helping to create ‘Herd Immunity’, which is the term for when a high enough percentage of individuals are vaccinated or have natural immunity against a virus or bacteria. When vaccination or immunity rates drop then disease rates can start to increase.

Due to Canine Distemper being an airborne virus however, it is not very easy to contain, so some outbreaks can occur. Dogs can pick it up through direct contact with an infected dog’s saliva, blood or urine which can happen when your pet uses another dog’s food or water bowl, or if an infected dog sneezes or coughs near your dog. Some areas in Australia are still noticing the disease due to lack of vaccination in wildlife such as wild dogs, dingoes and foxes.

Most commonly the disease is seen in unvaccinated puppies between 3 – 6 months, so it important when it comes to a disease like this to ensure that your puppy is vaccinated against it or that Titer Testing has been done to ensure they are holding the natural antibodies to fight off the disease.

Distemper is not an easily detected disease as some patients don’t show clinical signs, or symptoms may be similar to other diseases. These include high temperatures, eye and nose discharge, dry or wet cough, vomiting, diarrhea and skin rashes and anorexia.

Some dogs can develop neurological symptoms 2 to 3 weeks after infection and symptoms of this can include seizures, paralysis of limbs and blindness.

If your dog does display any of these symptoms then you should see a vet immediately, especially if your dog is not vaccinated against Canine Distemper. For more information about Vaccinations and Titer Testing read here.


Dr Melissa Meehan is a highly experienced and respected veterinary surgeon with over 14 years experience. Dr Melissa obtained her Members in Small Animal Medicine through examination in 2008 and now runs her own veterinary ophthalmology service.