Puppies with Distemper

Puppy at the Veterinarian's Office

Puppies frequently get distemper after being exposed to the contagious virus in kennels, shelters, or other places where there may already be diseased and unvaccinated animals. Despite decades of successful vaccines, this dangerous illness still exists among dogs. Regardless of the age of your dog, you should be particularly watchful for signs like eye discharge or nervous system issues.

What Is Distemper?

A virus comparable to the measles that can harm the neurological system is known as distemper in pups. The mortality rate for this condition is about 50% in adult dogs and 80% in pups, especially when untreated. Wild animals including the wolf, coyote, raccoon, ferret, mink, skunk, otter, and weasel are also susceptible to the distemper virus.

Symptoms of Distemper in Puppies

Early indications of a dangerous illness may appear to be a puppy's common cold, but they might actually be. Other symptoms that emerge might be less noticeable—like thicker paw skin—or more noticeable—like convulsions.

The period of time between exposure and the onset of illness symptoms is known as the incubation period. The virus quickly spreads throughout the body after infection. The efficacy of the canine immune system determines whether or not the sick pup survives. The following body systems of the puppy are where the infection can spread:

  • Lymph nodes
  • Tonsils
  • Bone marrow
  • Spleen
  • Tissues
  • Skin
  • Respiratory tract
  • Kidney
  • Liver
  • Brain
  • Spinal cord

Here are the outward symptoms of distemper in puppies:


  • Discharge from nose and eyes
  • Fever
  • Cracked/thickened skin
  • Loss of appetite and diarrhea
  • Trouble breathing/coughing
  • Central nervous system symptoms such as seizures, behavioral changes, weakness, and poor coordination

Discharge From Nose and Eyes

Puppies with the condition may initially appear to have a runny nose. The fluid is frequently a distinctive thick white to yellow discharge from its eyes and nose that resembles a common cold symptom.


A fever usually occurs three to six days after infection. This is because the virus destroys white blood cells resulting in a fever that may last a day or two.

Cracked/Thickened Skin

The skin, particularly the puppy's footpads, may thicken and crack.

Diarrhea and Loss of Appetite

The virus can enter the intestinal and stomach lining cells and may manifest itself in the puppy's excrement. When the infection has spread to this organ, the puppy will exhibit diarrhea and appetite loss.

Trouble Breathing/Coughing

Infection of the respiratory system can cause puppies to cough and develop .

Central Nervous System Issues

The puppy will exhibit signs including convulsions, behavioral abnormalities, weakness, and lack of coordination when the distemper virus has entered the neural system.

Causes of Distemper

Highly infectious and frequently lethal, distemper is. Saliva, respiratory secretions, urine, and feces all contain viral remnants. Distemper spreads among animals by sneezing and coughing, just like a virus can do among humans.

The disease is more likely to infect puppies adopted from stressful environments such animal shelters, rescues, and pet stores, as well as homeless animals, especially those who are younger than four months old. Even after receiving a vaccine, puppies might appear healthy throughout the disease's incubation phase and then develop ill after moving into their new home.

Diagnosing Distemper in Puppies

Unvaccinated pups discovered in shelters or pet shops may have distemper when they really have typical kennel cough. A veterinarian will often detect distemper if there are clear clinical signs. To test for the virus and confirm the diagnosis, further blood, tissue, and nasal/eye swab diagnostic procedures might be used.


The distemper virus cannot be cured. If not hospitalized and given supportive care, puppies with severe symptoms typically pass out within a few weeks. Owners may offer some nursing care in their residence.

Although medication can be provided to sick dogs with less severe symptoms, no one treatment is definitive or always successful. To treat your puppy's condition, you may need to continue therapy for up to a few weeks. When a puppy has distemper, your veterinarian may suggest the following:

  • Antibiotics may combat secondary infections that result from a suppressed immune system.
  • Fluid therapy and medications may help to control diarrhea and vomiting and counteract dehydration.
  • Anti-seizure medication may be necessary to control seizures.

Prognosis for Puppies With Distemper

Each puppy reacts to therapy differently. Some people's symptoms improve, then they grow worse before they get better. Others don't seem to be getting better despite extensive therapy. Before making the sad choice to put an ill puppy to sleep, speak with your vet.

Enamel hypoplasia, which is characterized by poorly grown tooth enamel that is pitted and discolored, can affect dogs who survive illness when still puppies. Even after an infection has cleared up, some dogs may have lasting central nervous system damage that leaves them with neurological symptoms like recurring seizures for the remainder of their lives. Prevent contact with other unvaccinated dogs and wildlife while providing your puppy with preventative immunizations as advised by your doctor.

How to Prevent Distemper

Distemper is one for which there is a . The easiest and most reliable approach to protect your puppy against distemper is to follow the schedule of vaccinations recommended for them. The DHPP combination vaccination, which stands for distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus, includes the distemper vaccine.

Is Distemper Contagious to Other Animals?

As previously indicated, even in a puppy that is recuperating from the infection, distemper is extremely infectious. For several weeks or months after recovery, a puppy will continue to discharge the virus, which can still infect other healthy canines. Dogs who are ill or recuperating need to be isolated from healthy animals. A disinfectant such as household bleach can destroy the virus on surfaces.

If you suspect your pet is sick, call your vet immediately. For health-related questions, always consult your veterinarian, as they have examined your pet, know the pet's health history, and can make the best recommendations for your pet.


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