Guide to Dog and Animal Distemper

Table of Contents

Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment


"Canine or animal Distemper (canine distemper virus or CDV) is a deadly disease that cannot be cured with medication. The symptoms of the disease can be treated.

The disease results in proteins that can enter membranes of infected cells making them susceptible to immune system attack. the virus is spread via the air and inhalation or contact with bodily fluids such as urine. It can also be transmitted by a pregnant bitch to her pups via transplacental travel. 

A dog that recovers from distemper is then immune from for the rest of his life. A large number of dogs (25% to 75%) are susceptible to the virus, but can fight off the disease without showing any clinical signs. Said another way, dogs that show clinical signs have an immune system that is not capable of fighting it off. Vaccination is a critical preventative. Homeopathic approaches are formulated to address problems such as a weak immune system or to lessen the severity of symptoms (see bottom of page)."

Dog Puppy Distemper -
Example of Eyes and Nose


Animal distemper is a paramyxovirus, very similar to the virus that causes measles in humans. In dogs, it affects a wide range of organs, including the skin, brain, eyes, intestinal, and respiratory tracts. It occurs in dogs and other wild carnivores.

Dogs that receive the vaccine should be protected from the virus unless the vaccine did not take hold as is sometimes the case in puppies, who need to be several months old (4 to 6) since antibodies in their system from their mother can prevent the vaccine from taking hold.

Contrary to rumors, there is no evidence the CDV can cause multiple sclerosis or infection in humans.


Dog health distemper symptoms generally are in the eyes, nose, respiratory system and the gastrointestinal system. Specific symptoms include:

  • Reddened eyes, discharge from the eyes
  • Blindness may occur
  • Cough
  • Runny nose
  • Fever
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite, weight loss
  • Loss of energy
  • Muscle tremors
  • Paralysis
  • Seizures
  • Thickened foot pads
  • Thickened pad on the nose

Symptoms may be mild or severe. In mild cases, it may not be easily recognized as distemper.


Distemper diagnosis is difficult. The veterinarian will attempt to detect the virus by testing bodily fluids such as blood or urine. In vaccinated dogs tests are less useful since they may indicate a incorrect results.

Blood tests that can help to diagnose the disease but they are not always effective. For instance, finding that white blood cells are very low suggests a diagnosis of distemper, but it can indicate other illnesses as well. Vets also look for evidence that white blood cells have produced special antibodies to fight distemper. However, if a dog has been vaccinated in the past, these antibodies will often be present, whether or not the dog actually has distemper. There are other blood tests that actually look for the virus itself, but these often show false negatives as the virus "hides" inside the cells and does not show up in the blood.

Another test for the disease is a cerebral spinal fluid test (CFS). This involves taking a sample of spinal fluid and examining it. It is a costly and somewhat dangerous test, however. And it will not always be accurate.

Hopefully, one of the tests for distemper will be accurate and give you a diagnosis. Otherwise, your vet may have to simply make a diagnosis based on your dog's symptoms.

Canine Distemper Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for distemper in adult dogs or for puppy distemper. That's why it is so important to get your dog vaccinated against the disease. Your dog should be vaccinated every year.

If your dog gets distemper, a veterinarian will focus on supportive care to address any symptoms. The Vet will treat him with antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections. He many need IV fluids and nutritional supplements. Anti-seizure medications can be given is he has developed seizures as a symptom of his condition. He should be kept away from other animals, as distemper is highly contagious.

Dogs that recover from the virus are immune from CDV (canine distemper virus) for life.  Any neurological signs such as seizures indicates the possibility of a poor prognosis for recovery.

Prevention and Vaccination

The best approach is the dog distemper shot or vaccination using a live attenuated virus. Guidelines suggest revaccination every 2 to 3 years depending on the vaccine used.

Homeopathic Remedies for Canine Distemper

There is a long history of homeopathic (herbal) medicine's ability to treat distemper. Pioneering veterinarians such as Dr Horace B.F. Jervis. To quote Dr. Jarvis:

"Since commencing the use of this product the death rate in my distemper ward has been very materially decreased, and I have really for the first time in my years of practice felt a sort of load being lifted from my shoulders."

We strongly suggest that you research and consider a homeopathic such as PetAlive Vi-Pro Plus to Naturally Prevent and Treat Distemper in Pets which is formulated to strengthen the immune system while addressing symptoms related to distemper. While not a dog distemper cure, it can help the body naturally fight off the virus.


Foster, Race DVM, and Smith, Marty DVM

Canine Distemper: Current Status
Appel, M. and Summers, B.

Clinical Signs and Diagnosis of
Distemper Encephalitis
Alejandro Luján Feliu-Pascual