Distemper in dogs

dog in the sun
Written by: Sam Webster (BVetMed MRCVS) Head Vet at Joii

Distemper is a virus that causes all sorts of unpleasant symptoms in dogs, such as runny eyes, coughs, diarrhoea, tremors, and even fits.

It’s a very serious illness that’s sadly fatal more often than not, but thankfully it’s very rare thanks to vaccinations. The best way to protect your furry companion is to make sure they’re also fully vaccinated as soon as they’re old enough.

We’re going to look at how distemper can affect your dog, what symptoms to look out for and how to keep your dog safe.

What is distemper?


Distemper is mainly an airborne virus, meaning it’s easily passed between dogs, including through saliva and urine. When it infects a dog, the distemper virus takes hold of many different parts of the body, attacking vital organs such as the heart, lungs, and brain, as well as causing havoc with the digestive system, nerves, and immune system.

This can cause all sorts of symptoms, from a mild cold to seizures and even death.



What are the symptoms of distemper?


How distemper appears can be very different from dog to dog and depends on where the infection has taken hold and how their immune system is handling it. Symptoms can include any of the following, but often appear in this general order:

  • Fever / high temperature
  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Coughing
  • Low energy
  • Loss of appetite
  • Vomiting and diarrhoea
  • Thickened paw pads and nose
  • Tremors
  • Paralysis
  • Fits and seizures

How is distemper treated?


There is no specific medicine or treatment that is used to heal distemper once a dog has been infected, and all that can be done is to treat individual symptoms as much as possible. 

The best way to prevent distemper in your dog and ensure they’re safe is by making sure they are vaccinated against it. Puppies receive the distemper vaccine as part of their puppy vaccination course which starts at around 8 weeks of age and is followed by another vaccine 2-4 weeks later. To boost their immunity against this disease, they will then have a vaccination when they are 1 year of age and then routinely as part of their adult vaccinations.


If you’re considering getting a puppy of your own, don’t forget to check out our Asda Pet Insurance to make sure you’re covered against unexpected illnesses, as well as get expert advice any time from our 24-hour Vet Advice Line.

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