puppy having a veterinary examination

Understanding and recognising distemper in dogs

Distemper is a serious virus that’s spread through the air. It’s most common in dogs less than a year old, who don’t yet have a fully developed immune system, and is caused by the same virus that causes measles – a microorganism known as morbillivirus.

Distemper is highly contagious, and there’s no known cure for the disease.

Canine distemper can be passed on by breathing in the virus from an infected dog or environment, or through direct contact with bodily fluids such as nasal discharge or faeces of an infected dog.

Why it’s vital to vaccinate your dog against canine distemper

Like kennel cough, distemper is quick and easy to vaccinate against. In fact, the distemper vaccine is so effective that the disease is rarely seen in vaccinated dogs.

With around one in every five infected dogs dying as a result of complications such as pneumonia or problems with the brain – both of which can be caused by a weakened immune system – it’s vital get new puppies vaccinated and to keep them up to date with their annual booster injections.

As well as protecting your dog or puppy against this highly contagious and nasty disease, regular vaccination is required by kennels and pet insurers as a condition of cover.

Identifying the signs and symptoms of distemper in dogs

Infected dogs usually show symptoms of the disease a week to two weeks after coming into contact with the virus. As the signs and symptoms of canine distemper are similar to many other conditions, always get your dog checked out by your local vet if they display any of the symptoms below.

The symptoms of canine distemper:

  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Sickness
  • Diarrhoea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Swelling around the eyes

“Around one in every five dogs with distemper dies as a result of complications, so it’s vital to keep your dog’s vaccinations up to date.”

Need advice on distemper in dogs?

For more information on canine distemper, contact your local vet. To find your nearest recommended vet or pet clinic, use our Find a Vet page.