Canine Distemper: the highly contagious infectious disease in dogs

Med. vet. Fulya Şafak

Canine distemper is caused by the Morbillivirus, which comes from the same family of viruses like measles. It is a serious and very contagious disease that can be fatal to your dog. As this disease is extremely difficult to treat, vaccinating your dog is the only way to protect him.


It is a very infectious disease affecting dogs and other canines (foxes, wolves, etc.). Distemper is a viral disease that affects the respiratory, digestive and nervous systems. It is often deadly, and dogs that survive usually have a permanent, incurable nervous system problem. 

Canine Distemper infections have been reported in red foxes, racoons and skunks.


The transmission usually occurs by air, or by contact with the sick animal. The virus can also be carried with shoes or clothes. The virus enters the body through respiration (breathing), multiplies in the lymph system and spreads to the body.

The most common symptoms are:

  • Nasal discharge
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Weakness
  • Anorexia
  • Eye discharge, ulcer or even blindness in progressive cases
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In rare cases, hyperkeratinization (thickening and hardening of the outer layer of the skin) may occur in the nose and on the soles of some dogs.

Common symptoms if the patient has a nervous form:

  • Muscle twitching (myoclonus)
  • Seizure
  • Involuntary chewing (chewing cramps)
  • Turning around itself
  • Paralysis

Risk factors

  • Unvaccinated puppies between 3-6 months old.
  • Dogs that have not been vaccinated regularly after their first vaccinations (basic immunization)  has been completed.
  • Puppies with weakened immune systems in high-risk environments, such as shelters, pet shops, travel, poor care conditions.
  • The disease may also occur in elderly dogs with decreased immune systems.


There is no specific treatment like other viral diseases. Supportive treatment is applied according to the clinical symptom of the patient. 

  • Antibiotic treatment can be applied to prevent secondary infections.
  • If vomiting and diarrhea are present, the administration of intravenous fluids can help.
  • Inhalation with vaporizers may be used to relieve breathing.


If your pet is infected with canine distemper, you should separate it from other dogs.

The only way to prevent this disease is vaccination. Your dog should be vaccinated against Distemper at 8, 12 and 16 weeks and 15 months of age according to StiKoVet. Then, with booster vaccines, immunity against Distemper disease should be strengthened.

PetLEO Vaccination Planner reminds you of your dog’s vaccination time. Thus, it helps to protect your dog against diseases.

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