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Distemper in Dogs: Causes and the Cure

Canine distemper is an infectious illness brought about by a virus that assaults the gastrointestinal, nervous, and respiratory systems of dogs and puppies.

It’s truly a major infection and possibly deadly for dogs. Get through the article to know more about distemper in dogs and how you can prevent your dog from it.

What is Canine Distemper?

Distemper is a severe infection. It can break down the functions of various organs in dogs, damaging the stomach, brain, lungs, and nervous system. Distemper is a contagious virus that can be spread through saliva and urine in the air.

It is often subjected to low-age dogs, especially under one year. There is no particular cause for the distemper. It is caused by a microorganism known as morbillivirus. These are the same virus that causes measles.

Before we had a vaccination for the distemper virus, it was a deadly disease and had a high death rate in different dog breeds.

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Walkin’ Wheels Dog Wheelchair
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
Walkin’ Lift Rear Harness
drag bag for paralyzed dog
Walkin’ Drag Bag

The Stages/Signs of Distemper In Dogs?

Distemper survivor walks in new wheelchair

The symptoms of the disease show will manifest between one to two weeks after initial contact with the virus. You must have your dog treated at this time, or it can progress through to serious stages. Initially, distemper reflects the following signs:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Weepy eyes and nasal discharge
  • Coughing

If your dog has received vaccinations previously but has missed the yearly boosters, you may find it difficult to notice the initial conditions. And as the distemper progress, you may see the following symptoms:

  • Thickened paw pads
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Not all dogs are able to fight the virus when it reaches this stage. Their nervous system starts to break down and can cause severe health issues.

A dogs’ immune systems continues to fight the disease, but after the initial symptoms, the nervous system is affected causing-

  • Seizures
  • Stiff muscles
  • Twitching
  • Pneumonia
  • Imbalance
  • Weakness in limbs

Paralysis Caused by Distemper

As the virus becomes mature, it is more likely to hit the other bodily systems, specifically CNS (central nervous system), where dogs may start getting fits and paralysis. It can begin with the weakness in limbs and then can grow to permanent paralysis.

It happens due to the twitching of a muscle or a group of muscles in the legs. Failure of muscle coordination is another reason for complete or slight paralysis. Hind limbs are affected initially as distemper attacks the central nervous system. Then it can follow weakness or complete paralysis in all four legs.

Paralyzed by distemper, this wheeling dog loves life in his dog wheelchair
Elvis the Robodog & distemper survivor

In such a situation, you may need to look for an adjustable wheelchair for dogs so that your dog can move. You can also go for physical therapy if the paralysis is in its initial stages.

It is a must to keep your dog on a proper vaccination routine. The deadly disease kills almost one in every five dogs affected by distemper.

“Elvis was a stray so good chance he is a distemper survivor. His neuro defect causes weakness in his core and hind legs. But with help of his wheels and physiotherapy, he is happily roaming around and enjoying his life to the fullest.”

– Elaine, Elvis’s mom

Causes Of Distemper in Dogs?

Distemper in dogs is caused by morbillivirus, from the genre of Paramyxoviridae. The virus is transferred when an animal comes in contact with infected urine, saliva, respiratory droplets, or blood.

Mostly, the virus is transferred through droplets in the air. It can be spread by means of sneezing, coughing, water bowls, or contaminated food.

It can spread throughout the year. However, most of the cases of distemper in domestic dogs can be most virulent during early spring, fall and winter.

How Dogs Get Canine Distemper?

According to the research conducted by Academic Writing Services, “The virus is easily transmissible, if your dog is around wild animals or other dogs that have the virus. Newly born puppies and dogs under the age of one that haven’t been through vaccination are at the highest risk. Vulnerability also increases if the dogs’ vaccination is not up to date.”

When Do You Need To See A Vet?

Whenever you feel that your dog’s health is at risk, or your dog starts showing any signs of distemper, concern to a vet. Since the virus is highly transmittable among the dogs and initial signs are difficult to analyze, you should get your dog for a checkup regularly. The disease itself is dangerous and requires aggressive medical treatment.

Visit the vet also if:

  • You are not aware of the vaccination history of your dog.
  • You know that your dog has been exposed to other animals with distemper.
  • Your puppy is just six weeks and is ready for the vaccination.

How is Distemper in Dogs Diagnosed?

It is not easy to diagnose distemper in dogs right away as the signs are the same as some other infections and viruses. You will need to visit a vet. The vet will examine the dog properly for the distemper.

The vet may rule out different health conditions after running some tests. The conditions similar to distemper that can be ruled out are:

  • Toxin poisoning
  • Leptospirosis
  • Contagious viral hepatitis
  • Rocky mountain spotted fever

The vet can collect samples of urine or bone marrow or may take nose, eye, or throat swabs. By testing these samples, they may conclude their report about distemper or any other viral infection. Sometimes, the vet can also test blood or spinal fluid for antibodies. Or they test for viral DNA by taking biopsies of the footpad.

Can I Treat Canine Distemper?

Unfortunately, there is no complete cure for the distemper in dogs. However, the vet can recommend some supportive treatments and care for different symptoms. The treatments include:

  • Seizure medications
  • Electrolytes
  • IV nutrition
  • Hospitalization
  • Fever reducers
  • Pain relievers
  • Broad-spectrum antibiotics

Do not waste any time if you observe any sign of distemper in your pet. Visit the vet immediately as aggressive treatment may help your dog recover from the distemper. However, dogs are often left with neurological symptoms.

In such conditions, the vet recommends steroids, anti-inflammatories and prescribes immune system medication.

How To Prevent My Dog from Canine Distemper?

Vaccination is the most important part of a dog’s health routine in order to be safe from distemper.

Your puppy needs to go through a series of vaccinations. This can increase the immunity against several viruses and infections when the puppy is young, and the immune system is not matured. As concluded by the research proposal writing service, ensure to follow the given points in order to keep your dog safe from distemper.

  • Make sure that distemper vaccinations are up to date and avoid gaps in the immunization schedule as your carelessness can cost your dog.
  • Try to keep an eye on your dog. Avoid the contact of your dog with other infected animals and pets.
  • Be very careful and use proper caution when socializing your dog with other puppies and pets during puppy classes, doggy daycare, at parks, obedience classes, and other crowded places.
  • Pet ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper using a USDA-approved ferret vaccine

Since there is no particular cure for the distemper, taking care of your dog is the first and last option for you. Love your dogs and give them the care they need.

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Guest Author:
Claudia Jeffrey

Claudia Jeffrey is currently working as an Editor QA at Crowd Writer, where she helps students with dissertation writing services. Claudia enjoys her dog, named Ellie and is a pet lover. She loves to share her experience and knowledge with the readers. She often blogs at

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