Over the last few years, the incidence of Distemper has increased greatly

Canine Distemper (sometimes called hardpad disease in canines) is a viral disease that affects a wide variety of animal families, including domestic and wild species of dogs, coyotes, foxes, pandas, wolves, ferrets, skunks, raccoons, and large cats, as well as pinnipeds, some primates, and a variety of other species.

Canine Distemper virus is an extremely contagious disease. It usually occurs in unvaccinated younger dogs as well as young puppies who have not received sufficient antibodies against Distemper from their mother.

This virus causes decreased immunity as well as gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous system (brain and spinal cord) symptoms. Affected animals may show symptoms related to any or all of these organ systems. There are also occasionally signs related to other organ systems such as the skin.

The virus can be found in any body fluid, so urine/faeces and respiratory discharges are all very infectious. The shedding starts about a week after infection and continues for up to three months. This is important to remember. If your dog has recently been diagnosed with Distemper, you should avoid getting a new puppy for at least three months.


The infection rate is higher than the disease rate. This means that not all infected animal show signs of infection and that animals may be a source of Distemper without us even being aware that they are infected. The nature and severity of the disease are dependent on the animal’s age and immunocompetence.

The clinical signs are extremely variable due to the different organs of the body which may be affected. A large percentage of infected dogs show signs that are difficult to distinguish from kennel cough. These include fever, lethargy, coughing and nasal discharge.

Unvaccinated animals and those with poor maternal antibodies will most likely develop severe systemic disease. Symptoms include vomiting, diarrhoea, ocular and nasal discharge with conjunctivitis and respiratory tract infections. They can have fever that comes and goes. There may also be nervous symptoms where the dog may have seizures, paralysis and muscle twitching. If the dog survives after nervous symptoms, these may remain for life.

Early on in the course of the disease, it may be worth treating as some dogs never develop nervous symptoms. However, if neurological symptoms begin, most affected animas have a poor quality of life and a decision has to be made concerning euthanasia.


It may be difficult to confirm a diagnosis, especially if this is attempted later in the disease-neurological stage. Diagnostic tests that are useful include low blood counts, intracellular inclusions in white blood cells, antibody and antigen testing of body fluids, virus isolation and PCR (checking for viral nuclear material).

Limiting the spread of the disease is extremely important and sick animals should be isolated. If possible, they should be managed as outpatients to reduce risk of infection to other patients in hospital. Fortunately, most disinfectants kill the virus in the environment.


The only way to prevent your dog from contracting this terrible illness is by correct vaccination. They should receive their first vaccine at six to eight weeks of age and then every three to four weeks, with the last vaccine administered when the pup is more than 16 weeks of age. It should then be repeated at one year of age and thereafter every two to three years.

Older dogs may develop a form of the disease called Distemper myelitis (inflammation of spinal cord) or old dog Distemper. In this condition the dog develops partial paralysis (paresis) or complete paralysis in their later years.

The theory is that the virus which has been dormant in the spinal cord becomes activated. The only way to diagnose this condition is by analysis of fluid bathing the spinal cord.

When I was a child, Distemper was a very common condition. The disease then became uncommon for a long time because of better vaccines. However, over the last few years the incidence of Distemper has increased greatly. The reason – poor vaccine compliance and the increased number of stray dogs. Please be responsible and sterilise and vaccinate your dogs.

Shopping Cart