What You Need to Know About Canine Distemper

Canine DistemperCanine distemper is an extremely contagious viral disease that can wreak havoc on the gastrointestinal, nervous, and respiratory systems of dogs and puppies. Because of routine vaccinations for distemper, it’s possible that you may have never heard of a dog with the disease. At Cedar Pet Clinic Lake Elmo, we review your dog’s vaccine status at every preventive care exam. We encourage you to get your dog’s original vaccine and boosters on time since not being vaccinated is the biggest risk factor in acquiring this serious disease.

How is Canine Distemper Spread?
Your dog can acquire distemper through contact with the saliva, urine, or blood of another dog who already has it. The disease is not spread between people and animals. Something as simple as being near an infected dog who sneezes or sharing a food bowl may be all it takes for your dog to get distemper. Once she has the virus, it moves quickly through the body and can cause the following symptoms:

  • Persistent coughing or sneezing
  • Loose stools
  • Noticeable discharge from the nose or eyes
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Appetite loss
  • Vomiting

Several species of wild animals can also acquire the virus for distemper. For this reason, it’s important to prevent your dog from having contact with coyotes, raccoons, skunks, and other wild animals commonly found in wooded areas.

A pregnant dog can pass the distemper virus to her unborn puppies via the placenta. An infected dog or puppy can continue to shed the distemper virus for many months. In addition to unvaccinated dogs, puppies who are under four months old are at the highest risk of suffering with the symptoms of distemper.

Treating the Symptoms of Distemper
Please contact us to schedule an appointment if you notice any of the above symptoms in your dog. They don’t necessarily mean he has distemper, but it’s important to rule it out. Our main tools of diagnosis include clinical observation and laboratory testing. At present, no cure for canine distemper exists. We seek to treat your dog’s symptoms and make him as comfortable as possible. This may include anti-nausea medication, medication to stimulate appetite, IV fluids to avoid dehydration, and other methods related to specific symptoms.

When to Get Your Dog’s Distemper Vaccination
If a female dog has been vaccinated for distemper, her puppies receive natural immunity from it. Unfortunately, the protection only lasts about six weeks. This makes the window from six to nine weeks the ideal time to get the first vaccination. It is one of five parts of a core vaccination that also includes adenovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. The second dose should occur by 12 weeks and then the first booster at 12 months. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, adult dogs over age one should get a booster every third year.

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After-Hours Emergencies

After Hours Veterinary Care
1014 Dale Street North
St. Paul, MN 55117
(Inside Como Park Animal Hospital just north of downtown St. Paul)
24-hour care for multiple species

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1163 Helmo Avenue N
Oakdale, MN 55128


Animal Emergency & Referral Center of MN
1542 7th St. W.
St. Paul, MN 55012
(located 2 blocks east of 35E)