Canine distemper

Distemper is a disease that affects younger dogs in their first year of life, it can also infect older animals that for some reason have not been previously immunized with their own vaccines, or that due to some disease, their immune system is weakened.

THE distemper it can reach several organs, it is systemic, it can act on the whole organism, it is highly contagious. It is a disease caused by a virus that survives for a long time in a dry and cold environment. However, it is a virus very sensitive to heat, sunlight and common disinfectants, it lasts an average of three months in the environment after the carrier is removed.

How is it transmitted?

Distemper occurs through animals that are contaminated by direct contact with other animals already infected, or by the respiratory tract, by contaminated air or by fomites, which are objects that have already had contact with the person with distemper.

Direct transmission is by secretion from the nose and mouth of infected animals, which is the main source of infection.

What are the symptoms of distemper?

There may be loss of appetite, ocular and nasal discharge, diarrhea, vomiting and nervous symptoms (nervous tics, convulsions and paralysis), difficulty in breathing and fever. And according to the immune status of the animal as a whole, it can die.

Basically, the disease presents itself in stages, and one of them may skip eventually. It begins with the respiratory phase (pneumonia and purulent nasal secretion, the well-known pus), and ocular phase (purulent secretion, or remela, in large quantities).

What is the treatment?

Does not exist. What you can do is use medications to control your symptoms. It is important that the animal is kept in a clean environment, with a pleasant temperature and correct feeding according to the veterinarian's instructions.

How to prevent distemper?

The best way to prevent it is vaccination, which can be done at a veterinary clinic. Dogs can be vaccinated at six months of age, puppies should receive three doses of this vaccine in the first phase of life. Thereafter dogs should receive a dose of the vaccine annually. Learn more about vaccinating dogs.

Distemper in Brazil

With a canine population of over 37 million, Brazil has only about 7 million dogs vaccinated annually; which means that most dogs in the country remain susceptible to the contamination of the disease.

Although, periodically, there are special campaigns to raise awareness among the population that has pets as part of the family - including offering the vaccine to dogs free of charge - the number of vaccinations in the country still leaves much to be desired; taking into account that, in addition to distemper, there are a number of other contagious and very harmful diseases for animals, which remain unprotected.

As a result, distemper continues to spread throughout the country, and in some specific cities - such as Alfenas, in Minas Gerais - the increase in the number of cases of the disease has been considerable. In the month of June 2013, even, the municipality came to be considered a place in an outbreak of distemper, given the amount of dogs infected by the disease being attended by veterinarians in the region.

Even if this type of outbreak is, in a way, isolated and somewhat punctual in the country, the situation is worrying - bearing in mind that there are almost 30 million people. unvaccinated dogs spread throughout Brazil - and, without the population becoming aware, this problem tends to grow more and more.

Contamination of dogs by distemper

As previously mentioned, distemper is a disease transmitted by a highly contagious RNA-like virus - that is, it has genetic material called RNA, which belongs to the paramixovirirdae family of the morbilivirus genus. Powerful, this virus can survive in an environment for some time if the climatic conditions are ideal for that and the place is cold and dry - and, even in hot and humid environments (not conducive for its survival), it can reach live for about a month.

Also called CDV virus - Canine Distemper Virus, responsible for distemper is quite aggressive and opportunistic, and affects mainly dogs that for some reason have their weakened immune system; such as puppies, dogs that are elderly or already weakened due to some other disease or problem such as stress.

Although it can affect animals of any age, in the case of puppies the prevalence of the disease can be higher - especially in those between 3 and 6 months of age; since this period coincides with the loss of maternal antibodies present in the animal's body. Among veterinary professionals, there is also the belief that brachycephalic breeds (short-nosed) show greater resistance to the problem; however, there is no evidence for this suspicion.

It can also affect all types of dog breeds, there are some that are considered more susceptible to distemper, including names like Husky, Greyhound, Weimaraner, Samoyed and the Alaskan Malamutes.

Highlighting a mortality rate of up to 85% of the dogs affected (not all die from the disease, but are left with neurological symptoms that end up leading the animal to euthanasia), the disease will have its severity related mainly to the region of the animal's body that will be attacked; with symptoms that start in the respiratory system and in the eyes, progressing to the gastrointestinal system and finally the worst part, when it affects the nervous system.

There being no races, times of the year or specific genera more likely to be contaminated, the distemper virus it usually affects animals in a very intense way and, as the disease progresses quickly, in some cases it can be fatal for the affected dogs. Although there are countries where the disease is practically eradicated, Brazil does not fit this profile - since only a small portion of the country's canine pets are vaccinated; which greatly increases the chances of contamination.

Fortunately, distemper is not considered a zoonosis and, therefore, it does not have the capacity to reach human beings, who can interact with sick animals without major concerns. However, the situation changes when this interaction is between animals; since a sick dog can transmit the disease to a healthy animal almost immediately, through direct contact between them.

The secretions released by the sick animal - whether through the nostrils or the mouth -, in addition to the feces of the infected dog, are potent agents for the transmission of the disease. Even fomites can be responsible for the spread of the problem, and someone who came into contact with a sick dog can take the disease with him (in his clothes or shoes, for example) until he finds other animals and facilitate contamination of these.

The evolution of distemper in dogs

Canine distemper is a disease with very rapid evolution in dogs and, about 7 days after contamination, the first symptoms can already begin to be noticed in affected dogs. In many cases, the disease manifests itself in animals in such an aggressive way that the chances of improvement or cure are practically ruled out - since, when the diagnosis is made, the neurological changes are already so advanced that the treatment becomes useless.

However, the level of distemper aggressiveness in a dog it will depend both on the regions affected by the disease and on the state of the immune system of the dog in question. Animals with immunity at adequate levels, for example, can eliminate the virus without promoting its spread or having severe symptoms of the disease - dogs with low immunity are the most affected by the problem (and those most at risk of dying in function of the disease).

The areas linked to the respiratory and digestive functions are, in most cases, the first ones affected by the disease - which, in advanced stages, changes the animal's nervous system and causes irreversible conditions, in addition to important sequelae in (rare) cases in that the animal can be treated and recover.

One of the major problems of the disease - and which greatly influences the worsening of the infected animal's condition - is the variety of symptoms it causes, making an accurate diagnosis difficult. A good part of the animals that end up dying, even though they are treated as soon as the first signs of the disease appear, suffer from receiving the wrong treatment; which, most of the time, focuses on eliminate symptoms in an isolated way (since the source of the problem, until then, is unknown).

By taking care of punctual signs and without knowing the presence of distemper, it is possible to promote a significant improvement in the animal; however, this apparent recovery lasts for a short time, and the symptoms and consequences of the disease reappear in the animal even more aggressively.

Regardless of the type of treatment, unfortunately, distemper it is a disease that generates a relatively short survival in animals that are able to recover and; As previously described, infected dogs need specific medications to have the maximum quality of life possible while the disease is spreading.

How to identify distemper in your pet

As described above, having the correct diagnosis is essential for a dog to have a chance of recovering from distemper and to be able to live beyond the disease. Therefore, it is essential that pet owners are always attentive to the main signs that occur with the emergence of the problem. Check out, below, a list of symptoms common to dogs infected by the disease - increasingly exposed, according to the evolution of the disease in the animal's body:

  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Apathy (the dog has no desire to do anything)
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Nasal secretions
  • Eye secretions (conjunctivitis)
  • Lack of motor coordination (the dog seems to be "drunk", "bed")
  • Nervous tics
  • Myoclonus (involuntary muscle contractions)
  • Convulsions
  • Paralysis

It is worth remembering that both the evolution of neurological symptoms and the appearance of any type of distemper sign it varies a lot from one case to another and, therefore, there is no way to predict what kind of consequences the problem may cause or whether the disease will trigger noticeable signs until reaching a very advanced level.

One of the most characteristic neurological signs of distemper is myoclonus - which promotes involuntary contraction of the animal's muscles - considered a specific symptom of the disease and which can also occur due to other problems caused by the paramyxovirus.

When distemper comes to affect the neurological system of dogs the condition can already be considered very serious, and consequences such as meningitis, paraplegia and quadriplegia can occur, as well as a coma (which, in most cases, evolves to the death of the animal in a short time). In addition to these, more varied symptoms may also occur in specific cases, including abortions and premature births in bitches, bone lesions, changes in the dog's tooth enamel and various infections.


Due to the aggressiveness of the disease and the ease of prevention, there is no doubt about what should be done: always keep your pet's vaccination up to date and make frequent visits to the veterinarian.

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Video: My dog survived distemper. (September 2021).