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What Should You Know About Canine Distemper Vaccine (CDV)?

What Should You Know About Canine Distemper Vaccine (CDV)?

Canine Distemper is a worldwide, contagious, viral disease that’s incurable and often fatal. It was once the leading cause of death in puppies but since the introduction of a vaccine in the 1960s is no longer commonly seen.

Puppies between the age of 3 and 6 months are the most vulnerable because the immunity they receive from their mom at birth is lessening and their own immune system has not fully strengthened.

The virus is closely related to the human measles virus. It targets the respiratory system, gastrointestinal tract and often the central nervous system.

Transmission and Symptoms

Airborne particles are the primary transmission. A dog inhales the particles and the virus spreads quickly to the lymph system. From the lymph nodes to the blood, to the lining of the lungs, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems.

Dogs that do survive are immune-compromised for the rest of their lives.

Early symptoms include: eye inflammation and watery discharge, fever, loss of appetite, diarrhea, vomiting and runny nose.

If the dog doesn’t mount enough of an immune response at this early stage to kill off the virus the symptoms become more severe…



Inflammation of the intestines

Labored breathing

Hardened foot pads








Diagnosis and Treatment

There is no single test to confirm CDV. A Vet will conclude Distemper by looking at patient history, symptoms and perhaps a number of different tests.

Canine Distemper has no cure so treatment is supportive – trying to control symptoms and prevent secondary infections. The disease is often lethal.


The best prevention is vaccination. The vaccination is shown to have a positive effect even given after exposure (within 4 days).

Prior to vaccination, puppies should not be around other dogs or wild animals.

The typical puppy vaccination includes a combination Distemper, Parvovirus and additional respiratory virus vaccines.