If you’re a pup owner, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of distemper in dogs. If you’re a responsible owner, you will have gotten your furry friends vaccinated against the disease. Unvaccinated, pups can very quickly become taken over by this disease, which brings with it an array of symptoms that could easily be confused with other, less severe conditions.

And, to make things even worse, there is no cure for canine distemper.

If you take one thing away from Petcube today, it’s this: Get your pooches vaccinated!


  1. What is Distemper in Dogs?
  2. Symptoms
  3. Are Some Breeds More Prone to Dog Distemper?
  4. What is the Treatment For Distemper in Dogs?
  5. How Often Does a Dog Need a Distemper Shot?
  6. Is Distemper Vaccine Necessary For Dogs?
  7. Distemper Vaccine For Dogs Side Effects
  8. Worried About Your Dog’s Reaction to a Vaccination?
  9. How Long Can a Dog Live With Distemper?
  10. FAQ

What is Distemper in Dogs?

Distemper in dogs, also known as canine distemper, is a condition that can prove to be fatal. According to research, the disease is caused by a viral infection, and it tends to affect three main systems in the body of the animal:

  1. Nervous system.
  2. Gastrointestinal system.
  3. Respiratory system.

Essentially, distemper in dogs affects breathing, eating and digestion, and even basic functions such as thinking or moving around.

Thankfully, puppies and dogs can be vaccinated against canine distemper. In fact, the CDV (canine distemper virus) vaccination is one of the four core vaccines for dogs, alongside rabies, CAV (canine adenovirus), and CPV (parvovirus).

Read more: Pet Vaccinations: When and What Vaccines Cats & Dogs Need


Dog distemper can present itself in a number of ways, and the early symptoms of the condition can easily mimic other, less severe medical conditions.

One of the very first symptoms usually relates to the eyes. They turn watery and sometimes turn red, and it is quite common for pus to ooze from them. This can be distressing for your pet, and also for you, the owner, as you will need to clean the discharge.

As canine distemper progresses, so will the symptoms. Following watery and pus-oozing eyes, your dog may also exhibit the following:

As the virus goes on to attack the different systems within the body, new symptoms will materialize. These can include:

  • Manic episodes;
  • Seizures;
  • Uncontrolled muscle or limb movements;
  • Excess salivation;
  • Chomping jaw;
  • Walking around and around in circles or pacing the room;
  • Continual or repetitive side head tilt;
  • Full or part paralysis (permanent or temporary).

The last bundle of symptoms are usually an indication that the virus is attacking the nervous system, which can lead to severe neurological problems.

Pets that are unwell can turn more aggressive than usual. Some pooches might withdraw completely, hiding away and refusing love and affection from human companions. Some poorly pups will also whine or cry, or bark more when they are unwell or in pain. This is the case for most medical conditions, dog distemper included.

Some dogs, particularly stray dogs, have symptoms that closely mimic that of rabies. This is also the case for wild animals with the canine distemper virus.

Are Some Breeds More Prone to Dog Distemper?

No one breed is said to be more prone to falling sick with dog distemper over the rest, but there are certain groups of pups that are more at risk. These include very young puppies, under four or five months of age.

Pups do not start getting their vaccinations until they are six weeks old, so they are vulnerable to all diseases – including canine distemper – before that point. This is even more so the case if you allow them to go outside, and the risks are increased further if you travel further than your front/back yard with your pup.

What is the Treatment For Distemper in Dogs?

Sadly, there is no cure for canine distemper, but the effects of the virus can be effectively managed and treated, in some cases. This will depend on the severity of the condition when it was first diagnosed, as well as other factors – age, other health conditions, etc.

Puppy vaccinations are vital to ensure that your furry friends do not fall prey to avoidable conditions such as canine distemper. Once fully vaccinated, the dog will be covered for up to three years.

When treating the effects of the canine distemper virus on dogs, a vet will look at the specific symptoms the dog is showing as well as performing other diagnostic testing. Course of treatment in the form of medication or other therapies will then be advised, to target the specific problems the virus is causing.

The virus will affect different dogs in slightly different ways. Treatment is not a one-size-fits-all scenario and will need to be tailored specifically for the dog’s needs.

How Often Does a Dog Need a Distemper Shot?

A full course of distemper vaccination shots consists of multiple injections, starting when the pup is six weeks old (up to eight weeks old) and continuing every four weeks (approximately) until they reach 16 weeks of age.

The young pup must have had a minimum of three distemper vaccinations in order to be classed as properly vaccinated for canine distemper, but a vet will advise on how many your dog will need. Larger breeds may require more individual injections to build full immunity against the disease.

Booster shots are required every three years (approx.) for the distemper vaccine, the parvovirus vaccine, and the adenovirus vaccine. Rabies requires boosters either every year, or every three years.

If your cherished companion contracts canine distemper, the conditions that the virus causes will need to be treated – the nerve system, gastrointestinal, and respiratory systems are attacked by it. This can mean lifelong medications and other forms of treatment, costly vet bills, and a decreased quality of life.

Is Distemper Vaccine Necessary For Dogs?

Yes, distemper vaccine is not only necessary for dogs, but vital for them.

Distemper is managed quite well across most parts of the United States, but in areas where stray dogs and nuisance wildlife are a problem, the risk of unvaccinated dogs contracting the virus are quite high.

Once fully vaccinated for canine distemper, a dog is covered for up to three years, at which point another course of the vaccine is usually necessary.

It is possible for a dog that has been previously vaccinated with canine distemper, but is past the three-year point to contract canine distemper if they come into another animal that is carrying the virus.

Distemper Vaccine For Dogs Side Effects

It is important to understand that vaccinations often come with side effects. Most side effects will be relatively slight and benign. It is up to you – the pup’s owner – to weigh up the pros and cons and make the right decision.

A few days of slightly unpleasant side effects following the vaccination versus an un-curable disease that affects three of the major systems in your dog’s body, could kill them in a very unpleasant way, and even if it doesn’t, might still require lifelong treatment and a decreased quality of life.

I know which one I’d rather pick, but how about you?

Most dogs will have absolutely no side effects from the distemper for dogs vaccination at all. Others might show some kind of discomfort in the injection area, and it may also swell up a little, or bleed.

It is possible for dogs to have a severe reaction to the canine distemper vaccination, with a high temperature, shaking, food avoidance, swelling of the facial features or head, vomiting, and diarrhea. These are usually indicative of an allergic reaction to the vaccination. Thankfully, this is rare. Make sure to consult with your vet and be in touch with the professional throughout the vaccination process.

Worried About Your Dog’s Reaction to a Vaccination?

Petcube are proud to offer an around-the-clock chat service with licensed vets, whether you need advice on what shots to get for your pampered pooch, have concerns about your dog’s reaction to vaccination, or are experiencing another medical emergency with your furry friends.

The Online Vet service gives you a safety net when you need it – whether that’s on the holidays, at weekends, in the middle of the night, or at other times when your regular vet is not accessible.

Licensed vets can triage your pet, answering all of your questions and helping you out as to whether or not your pet is experiencing a real, genuine medical emergency.

(Because we all love to overreact from time-to-time when it comes to our pampered pets, right?)

And, if your pet does need veterinary assistance, you can get it without worrying about breaking the bank, by making use of Petcube’s Emergency Fund. Completely switching up the idea of how veterinary care and pet insurance works – and the expenses associated with it – for as little as $1 per day, you can get access to up to $3,000 worth of emergency treatment for up to six of your beloved pets!

Read more: Things You Should Know Before Buying Pet Insurance & Comparison Table

How Long Can a Dog Live With Distemper?

Dogs can live for many years after a canine distemper diagnosis. It is possible for dogs to receive completely recover from the virus, with absolutely no lasting effects whatsoever.

Other dogs, on the other hand, are not so lucky. The disease can bring bring life-changing effects that require constant care, medication and management – and those effects can last for the rest of the dog’s life.

For some dogs, the damage caused by the virus is so great and vast that they have no quality of life whatsoever. This is especially the case with the virus has been particularly aggressive to the dog’s nervous system.

If your dog has been diagnosed with canine distemper, your vet will advise on the best course of action.


Can dogs get distemper from cats?

No, dogs can’t get distemper from cats. Felines can get their own version of distemper, but it is not the same disease that dogs can get. Dogs can’t suffer from feline distemper, nor can they contract canine distemper from cats.

Can a distemper shot make a dog sick?

Yes, a distemper shot can make your dog a little sick. This is relatively common after vaccinations, and humans often experience the same thing. If your dog is repeatedly sick, however, or the sickness is joined by other symptoms, seek medical advice.

My dog got two distemper shots – is that normal?

Your dog will actually require three distemper shots in order to be classed as fully vaccinated from canine distemper. It might even be the case that your dog will require more single vaccinations than that. Dogs usually get their first distemper shot at six to eight weeks of age and get boosters every four weeks until they reach four months old, but size, breed, and a wide range of other factors will have a part to play.

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