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Canine Distemper: Highly Infectious, Easily Prevented by Vaccination

dogs are vaccinated

By Adriana Rivera

In recent weeks, we have noticed a significant increase at the SPA clinic in the number of cases of Canine Distemper Virus (CDV), a highly contagious infectious disease of dogs.

The disease spreads through direct contact (including sharing an infected dog’s food or water bowl) and air exposure (i.e., a cough, sneeze, or bark). Females can spread the virus through the placenta to their puppies. It even infects other animals like the fox, coyote, ferret, raccoon, and skunk.

A multisystemic disease, it can cause respiratory, gastrointestinal, and neurological problems. It attacks and weakens the immune system, which lowers the dog’s resistance and ability to fight off other infections. The survival rate and length of infection depend upon the strain of the virus and the strength of the dog’s immune system. Too many times, the disease can be fatal.

Which dogs are at risk?

•Unvaccinated dogs of any age or breed.

•Young dogs two to six months old and unvaccinated puppies older than six weeks


Distemper dogs experience a wide range of clinical signs, depending on how advanced the disease is. Some of the common clinical signs include:

•Watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes and nose.

•Fever of 103⁰ F to 105⁰ F (39.5⁰ C to 41⁰ C).

•Listless or lethargy, loss of appetite and interest in drinking.

•Dry cough and then moist “wet” cough. Breathing difficulties can be caused by pneumonia due to other infections.

•Vomiting diarrhea, nausea.


If a dog with distemper survives the acute stage of the illness, he or she may also develop hyperkeratosis of the paw pads and nose.

Neurological signs as the disease progresses and attacks the central nervous system include seizures, tremors, head tilt, partial or full paralysis, nystagmus (repetitive eye movements), and myoclonus (irregular involuntary contraction of a muscle).

Distemper is preventable by vaccinating your dog. A series of vaccinations is administered to puppies to increase the likelihood of building immunity when the immune system has not yet fully matured. To protect your dog, it is important to keep distemper vaccinations up to date throughout your dog’s life and avoid any gaps in vaccinations.

Distemper can be diagnosed by your veterinarian through an assessment of clinical symptoms and laboratory testing. There is no specific treatment. Once diagnosed, treatment typically consists of supportive care.

We urge you to make an appointment with your veterinarian for guidance concerning your dog’s vaccination schedule. Located at Los Pinos 7, the SPA’s clinic is open Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday from 9–3 and Tuesday and Saturday from 9–4. Please call 152 6124 for an appointment.


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