Canine Distemper: Causes, Symptoms, and Prevention

When welcoming a new canine companion into your life, it is paramount to prioritize their well-being. Learning about the canine diseases that pose a threat to their health and overall wellness is of utmost importance, particularly when it comes to highly contagious and potentially fatal illnesses like distemper.

What is distemper in dogs?

Distemper is a virulent and often deadly viral infection that afflicts not only dogs but also ferrets and various wild animals, including foxes, skunks, and raccoons. Alongside parvovirus, it ranks among the most severe maladies that can afflict dogs, transcending age barriers with puppies being particularly vulnerable. The clinical signs of distemper in older dogs mirror those seen in their younger counterparts.

What causes distemper in dogs?

The root cause of distemper in dogs lies in the paramyxovirus, a pathogen responsible for several other devastating animal diseases such as virulent Newcastle disease in avian species and rinderpest in cattle. This virus typically targets the respiratory system, although certain paramyxoviruses affect the nervous and reproductive systems. It’s noteworthy that distemper is one of the few paramyxoviruses for which a vaccine exists.

Is distemper in dogs contagious?

Distemper in dogs is highly contagious, transmissible through direct contact with infected animals, including transmission from mother to unborn puppies via the placenta. Additionally, it can be airborne, spreading through the respiratory emissions of infected dogs. It can survive briefly in the environment but can be easily eliminated with common disinfectants. Wildlife can also serve as intermediaries, transmitting distemper to dogs.

What are the early distemper symptoms in dogs?

Initial signs of distemper often resemble allergies, featuring watery or purulent eye and nasal discharges. Affected dogs typically lose their appetite, exhibit lethargy, and develop fever. Coughing, diarrhea, and vomiting may also manifest. These symptoms generally emerge within three to six days following infection. Early detection is critical, and veterinary attention should be sought at the onset of symptoms.

What other diseases look like distemper in dogs?

While neurological distemper symptoms in dogs may appear distinctive, other diseases share common signs with distemper. Canine hepatitis, for instance, leads to eye and nasal discharges, while leptospirosis may cause shivering and muscle tenderness. Rocky Mountain spotted fever can induce muscle pain and swelling, mimicking distemper symptoms. Lead poisoning exhibits the most parallels with distemper, including uncoordinated walking, tremors, and seizures. A veterinarian can provide further insight into the implications of these symptoms.

How is distemper diagnosed?

Diagnosis often entails a thorough examination of your dog’s medical history, vaccination records, and clinical presentation. If distemper is strongly suspected, diagnostic testing, such as swabs from the eye or nose or blood tests, may be employed.

How does distemper progress?

Distemper eventually causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. This causes the particularly worrying symptoms of neurological distemper in dogs, which includes circling, head tilts, paralysis, twitching and seizures.

As distemper in dogs progresses, it can cause hyperkeratosis, or “hard pad” symptoms in the nose and paw pads. Essentially, the skin thickens and hardens and can cause discomfort. Secondary infections of the lungs and gastrointestinal tract are also common because distemper compromises the immune system.

What is the prognosis for distemper in dogs?

Distemper in dogs frequently proves fatal, with estimates suggesting a mortality rate of approximately 50% in adults and 80% in puppies. Survival rates vary depending on virus strain, the quality of care received, and the strength of the dog’s immune system. Puppies are especially susceptible due to their underdeveloped immune defenses. Some dogs may recover without progressing to the neurological stage, while others may experience symptoms for an extended period.

Are there long-term effects of distemper in dogs?

If distemper advances to the neurological stage, it can result in enduring effects, including permanent twitches, tremors, seizures, or vision loss. These effects may not become apparent until the dog reaches middle age or beyond.

How do you treat distemper in dogs?

Currently, there is no cure for distemper, and treatment primarily focuses on symptom management to enhance the chances of survival. Isolation from other dogs is crucial to prevent transmission. Hospitalization may be necessary for proper care. Veterinary recommendations may include medications to address symptoms like vomiting, diarrhea, and neurologic issues, as well as hydration support. While antibiotics won’t treat distemper directly, they may target secondary infections, an integral facet of treatment.

Can you prevent distemper?

Preventing distemper is largely achievable through vaccination. Vaccination, given as part of the DHPP shot (distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus), is among the most effective preventive measures. Puppies can start the vaccination series as early as 6 to 8 weeks and complete it by 16 to 18 weeks. Until fully vaccinated, it’s prudent to limit a puppy’s exposure to unfamiliar dogs, wildlife, and communal dog-related settings.

Read our guide, “Pet Vaccinations: Common Questions Answered by Our Trusted Veterinarian” for more information on vaccinations.

How long is the distemper vaccine good for in dogs?

After the initial three-shot series, puppies require a booster shot at the one-year mark. Adult dogs should receive DHPP boosters every three years. Notably, the DHPP vaccine offers protection against multiple diseases, underscoring the importance of regular boosters.

Are there side effects of the distemper vaccine?

As with any vaccine, the distemper vaccine may induce side effects, including lethargy, loss of appetite, fever, and localized swelling at the injection site. Rarely, allergic reactions may occur, sometimes with delayed onset, necessitating vigilant post-vaccination monitoring. Given the severe consequences of distemper, vaccination is typically recommended.

In conclusion, distemper in dogs is a highly contagious and potentially lethal disease characterized by acute symptoms. On the other hand, prevention through vaccination is a relatively straightforward and cost-effective strategy compared to the challenges and costs of treating the disease.


What to Know About Dog Anxiety

Blog used with permission from Honest Paws



People can experience a range of anxiety symptoms – from a nervous heart flutter to a full-on panic attack. Having anxiety is one of the many ways dogs are like their pet parents. Just like us, their nervousness is normally nothing to worry about. It’s quite understandable that your pup may be a bit anxious when meeting people for the first time, or encountering a new situation.

With a little reassurance, your pooch will often quickly calm down. However, if dog anxiety is not addressed properly, or if there’s some underlying trauma at play, your pet’s anxiety could become a serious matter that takes time and energy to remedy. Read on to find out what you need to know about anxiety in dogs and how to help your pooch overcome this problem.

What is Anxiety in Dogs?



Basically, having anxiety is about being fearful or worried about something. It’s a natural emotion that helps alert us to danger, but it can be problematic in other circumstances. Dogs are pack animals and view their human family members part of their pack.

They feel safe with others around so it’s not unexpected that feelings of anxiety will surface when they’re left alone. This is called separation anxiety and is one of the typical forms of anxiety in dogs.

Our canines do best when they know what to expect. Therefore, anxiety may also become an issue if they’re dealing with a significant change in their environment, or too many changes at once. This means there can be a variety of reasons why your fur baby has developed anxiety.

Causes of Anxiety in Dogs

Some dogs have a generally calm disposition and will be less bothered by particular events than other canines might. Having said that, there are a number of common causes of anxiety in dogs. Keep in mind that there may be more than one reason for your pet’s anxiety.


Many dogs will become anxious when they hear loud noises like thunder. Interestingly, dogs can sense a drop in barometric pressure so they may disappear when they know there’s a storm coming. You might find your pooch cowering in the bathtub or under a bed in this circumstance. Other loud noises, like fireworks, will produce the same reaction.


Being in a crowd can be anxiety-provoking for your pooch. That’s because they don’t know what to expect in this environment. Crowds can be noisy and confining. This qualifies as an unfamiliar situation where, in your dog’s mind, anything can happen. Your pup may also worry about being separated from you.


Is your dog anxious when they’re around new people or other dogs? There may be a traumatic event in their past that’s affecting their behavior.

Maybe your dog has been rescued and the full extent of their history is unknown. Canines who aren’t socialized properly may have anxiety around other dogs and humans. They’re often simply not used to being with anyone else aside from their family members.


Despite the photos you see of dogs enjoying the breeze with their heads out the car window, not all dogs like car rides. It may cause anxiety in some dogs since they don’t know where they’re going – it could be a visit to the vet or to the boarding kennel.

Perhaps they’ve had a bad experience such as being confined in an uncomfortable space in the vehicle, or arriving at a destination that caused them anxiety.

Dog Anxiety Symptoms

Certainly, each dog is an individual and they’re apt to show different symptoms of anxiety. You may also see several of the following signs together.

In addition, some cases of anxiety will be more severe than others. And, symptoms that appear only once or twice could suggest that Rover or Rosie just didn’t get enough exercise or mental stimulation that day.

If behaviors persist or escalate to more destruction or aggression, you’re likely dealing with a case of anxiety that needs to be resolved. Plus, you don’t want your fur baby to injure themselves or others with their actions.


Here’s a list of dog anxiety symptoms to look out for:

  • Aggression
  • Barking
  • Compulsive or repetitive behavior
  • Depression
  • Destroying things
  • Drooling excessively
  • Ears back
  • Escaping or trying to
  • Panting
  • Pacing
  • Refusing food
  • Restlessness
  • Tail tucked in
  • Trembling or shaking
  • Urinating or defecating inside
  • Whining


Treatment Options for Dog Anxiety

Before you embark on using any treatment, it’s a good move to rule out the possibility that an underlying medical issue is causing your dog’s symptoms. Enlist the assistance of your vet to make sure your doggo is healthy. If the investigation suggests that your pup has anxiety, your veterinarian can assist you to put together an appropriate treatment plan.

This may include medications as well as some of the ideas below. Most successful plans of action will involve a number of different methods, all focused on encouraging your dog to relax. Here are some things your vet may suggest.


More and more, pet owners are discovering the benefits of CBD oil for dogs to reduce anxiety. This natural compound found in the hemp plant is extracted and made into a selection of safe pet oils and treats. If you are unfamiliar with CBD, check out this useful guide. Honest Paws CBD products are sold at all Best Friends Pet Hotel locations. The Calm line is design to help with anxiety.



There are things you can do to desensitize your dog to triggers that raise their anxiety level. For instance, if Snoopy or Stella shows signs of worry when you prepare to leave the house, pick up your keys and grab your bag like you’re heading out then put everything back again.

You can try desensitizing your canine friend to loud sounds by making quieter sounds and gradually moving up to louder sounds. As your pet gets used to these triggers, they’ll find them less anxiety-provoking.

Counter Conditioning

Counter conditioning builds on desensitization by training your doggo to judge stressors as a positive thing rather than a matter to be anxious about. Essentially, you offer your dog something good when their anxiety is triggered.

This could mean that whenever they hear thunder you give them a treat. If they have separation anxiety, when you leave the house put a food puzzle out for them to enjoy while you’re away. Your canine will start to anticipate getting something nice when these stressors happen.


Taking your dog’s mind off whatever is causing them distress is a good move. You might try getting their attention with a treat, food puzzle, a toy, or engaging them in doing a few tricks.

The key is to have your pooch focus on something else and not on whatever is causing their anxious thoughts. Make an effort to pick a distraction that is sure to please them and mix things up as often as you have to in order to keep their attention.

Music Therapy

Some dogs enjoy a little background noise so that they don’t feel alone. Soothing music can also help calm your pooch. Would you believe that there are actually audio tracks available specifically for canines? Try a few selections and see what your pet responds to best.

Touch and Massage

You know the favorite places on your pup’s body where they enjoy your touch. Maybe an ear rub is what they respond to or they really like a back scratch. Think about how touch relaxes them. Use this to combat their anxiety and kick it up a notch with a nice doggie massage.


There may be an advantage to hiring a professional dog trainer to encourage your pup to get over their anxiety. This is especially true if your pooch is showing aggression when under stress.

Look up any Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB or ACAAB) in your area to see what services they have available. This is another instance where your veterinarian may be able to advise you.

 Safety and Comfort

All dogs need comfortable safe places where they can relax and nap undisturbed. A soft pet bed and a favorite blanket can be used to bring their stress level down.

You can even buy heated pads for them to lie on to provide more comfort. Encourage your dog with praise and the odd treat when you see them taking a break in their safe space.

They’ll quickly begin to associate this with feeling protected and understand that it’s somewhere to soothe themselves when feeling anxious. A crate can also provide safety and comfort if it’s used this way.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you treat a dog with anxiety?

Treating dog anxiety usually involves a number of different methods such as CBD oil, counter conditioning, distraction, music therapy and more.

What are signs of anxiety in dogs?

Symptoms of dog anxiety run the gamut from changes in body language involving the ears and tail to behaviors such as whining and urinating inside.

How can I calm my dog’s anxiety naturally?

Offering nutritional supplements, providing exercise and mental stimulation, and socializing your dog are a few things you can try.