Canine Distemper Infection

Canine Distemper is a highly contagious and commonly lethal viral infection that affects the brain, lungs, and tummy. It is comparable to measles in man (tigdas).

When Taal erupted in early 2020, a lot of people rescued dogs from that area. Unfortunately, we had quite a number of cases of rescued Taal dogs who were positive with the virus. It is a common disease of rescued dogs. Before introducing any new dog at home, be sure to isolate the new pet for 14 days in a separate area to prevent the spread of any disease in your household.

In a hospital setting, I had encountered high numbers of Distemper-positive dogs. From afar, an experienced vet can detect an infected dog by seeing a gooey eye and green mucus from the nose, excessive coughing, and a “chewing gum fit” (a repetitive motion of your pet’s jaw that appears as though it is literally chewing a gum). A closer look would also reveal a thick nose and paws, giving it its name of hard pad disease.

Classic Distemper Signs. Too much mucus on the eyes and nose that get quickly replaced even with repeated cleaning. Photo courtesy of The Animal Medical Center of New York City.



Like COVID-19, it is transmitted by aerosol droplets. Meaning the normal dog will be infected if it inhales the droplets from the nearby infected dog that sneezed or coughed.

Another way is when an infected dog urinates, walk aways, and by some random chance your dog sniffs the infected urine. 7 to 14 days later, your dog starts to show the symptoms above.

You may also unsuspectingly touch an infected dog, drive home, and cuddle up with your pet.

The virus can survive at room temperature for up to 3 hours only.

No, this is IMPOSSIBLE when using a recombinant vaccine (a safe and stable form of vaccine).

Distemper can be confirmed in your vet’s office through a test kit. Your vet will take a swab from your dog’s eyelid and combine it with your pet’s serum (blood that has been separated by spinning). Results can be as fast as 10 minutes.

Your vet will combine his or her physical exam and Distemper rapid test kit results to confirm the presence of infection of your pet.

False positive result is also possible IF only your pet was recently vaccinated with 5-in-1. Ensure you bring your vaccination card to your vet every time you pay a visit.

Your pet may also be false negative if the test kit used has a problem. Your vet will rely on his physical exam findings and may request additional blood workup in order to ensure an accurate diagnosis.

Following confirmation, your vet may either confine your pet or send it home. In most practices in Manila, there are only a handful of facilities that confine Distemper cases. This is because the virus, like COVID-19, spreads easily in a closed room. Uninfected patients will be infected.

So do not be mad if your vet refuses your pet confinement. This is purely for safety and biohazard reasons.

Further, your vet may give you an idea as to how bad the disease is. More often than not, most cases do not survive beyond 2 to 4 weeks. Some cases recover from the pneumonia after a couple of weeks but dies suddenly because the virus travelled to the nervous system (neurologic or terminal phase).

If you just want to treat your dog at home, tell this to your vet. It will require a lot of effort on your part as you may need to give medicines every 4-6 hours for the next few weeks. You also need to isolate your pet from other pets.

I usually advice euthanasia if the disease is too severe (neurologic phase) and my assessment yields a very low chance of survival. You can not let your dog live longer if only it will suffer and perish in the end. Do not be selfish. This is about your dog, and not about your feelings. It will hurt you very much, but it is the only way. Humanely ending its suffering is better than it being with you while it succumbs to the disease and eventually dying an agonizing death.

For those pets who are in close contact with the infected one, they are already considered exposed or Patients Under Monitoring. Observe for 14 days while you give them a multivitamin, and clean their area daily with a 1 part bleach to 10 parts water spray. After 14 days of no symptoms, they should be allowed to receive the vaccine.

If one of them tests positive, they are all considered infected and you will need to give medicines to all of them.

If all of them are vaccinated, have strong immune systems, and have no underlying diseases, they should be able to ward off the virus naturally.

If you want to give it all to your pet and cling to that small chance of hope, these are the centers which we usually refer to. There are lots of success stories about the triumph of some dogs over this deadly virus.

  1. PAMC

Your pet’s strong immune system can cure its body. Antibiotics are prescribed to prevent bacterial overgrowth in pneumonia, Vitamin B complex for the twitching or chewing gum fits, electrolytes and fluids for hydration, mucolytics or mucus thinners in lung infection, and other supplements.

In short, your pet may receive all the best medicines in the world but its body has the final say if it will stay or go.

Yes but only through a prescription from a licensed veterinary professional, not from a Facebook group of strangers.

You still need to bring your pet to the vet to know what is wrong, and what options he or she can give you depending on your circumstances.

Buying medicines that you saw other people use on the internet is not only irresponsible, it may also endanger the life of your pet. For a medicine to be effective, it needs to undergo quality testing from official government or private laboratories. They approve medicines that show benefit to dogs by using the scientific method, and not internet testimonials.

Indiscriminate antibiotic use may help produce a multiple drug resistant bacteria in your dog that, when transferred to you, could end you up at a bed in the hospital.

The symptoms your pet is experiencing should reverse. Your dog should start to eat, have less coughing and sneezing, little to no pain, and a happy disposition. While it is healing, take note that it is actively shedding the virus on its environment through its body secretions. Take necessary precautions to protect your other dogs if you are treating your pet at home.

If your pet is not showing improvement, talk to your vet with regards to your next viable options.

Do not be complacent that when your dog has survived the disease (without undergoing the neurologic phase), you are safe. There are cases when the virus just hid in the body and after several months, comes out and starts a neurologic phase.

Absolutely not. Not only it is witchcraft, it is plain cruelty. If you consider doing this, you do not deserve to be a dog parent.

Yes, this happens. In order to determine when the vaccines your pet received are effective, you may request for a titer test. The titer test will help determine if the protection level is sufficient or not. Insufficient protection will require another round of vaccinations, and will only stop if the titer test tells us that the level of protection that we want has been reached.

After your pet’s diagnosis, your pet will be asked to undergo another Distemper test in 3 to 6 months (depending on your health provider’s protocol).

If negative, your pet may now be vaccinated. So be sure to give it a nice bath a day before your visit.

If your pet is an adult dog, it just needs two vaccines 2 to 3 weeks apart then annually. If it is still a puppy, it will depend on your hospital’s vaccination program. If your puppy got sick at 3 months of age, it may still need at least 3 shots, 2 to 3 weeks apart before it becomes an annual vaccine.

After the first year of immunization, it is very important to have your dog vaccinated EVERY YEAR. This means spending roughly PHP 500.00 annually for 10 to 15 years. So please save money and allot time.

However if your pet tests negative, a series of blood workup and follow up checkups will be required on your part to assess your dog’s overall condition post-infection.

No. But this does not mean that you should not bring your dog back for its annual vaccines. Remember, there are 4 more diseases in the 5-in-1 vaccine that your dog may acquire in the future.

No. Neither your children nor your little cousins. But other dogs  may acquire the disease if they are not vaccinated.

Realistically speaking, low.

If your dog passed away, technically yes after you disinfect your house and all the vehicles your pet go in to.

If your pet survived, you need to wait for 3 – 6 MONTHS for viral shedding to be over before you can get a new pup.

Request your dog to be tested for 1 or more test kits from different manufacturers. False negative is possible but very rare.

If you plan on buying a new puppy, you may set a vet appointment on the same day you will acquire the ball of fluff. Request a Parvo and Distemper Test, as well as a fecalysis to rule out common diseases that ironically are “free” with your purchase. Some choose to have an agreement with the seller that if the puppy tests positive with either of the virus, the buyer has the right to a full refund and that the seller should shoulder the vet bills. I have clients who do not return their pets anymore and consider them “rescues” instead of “purchase”.

If you are purchasing online, be sure the breeder will allow you to visit his or her home so you may see the conditions that the puppy is being brought up to. If the breeder does not allow this, look for another one. A responsible breeder is confident with his or her management system and simply has nothing to hide. I had multiple pet parents who bought puppies with Parvo (and some even had Distemper!) that spread in their entire household. The bottom line is, if the seller is fishy, don’t.

If you already have a dog but is not up-to-date with its vaccines, please be responsible. Distemper is a preventable disease. It only takes half a day to bring your dog to the vet and have it vaccinated.

If you are planning to rescue a dog, bring it to the vet for a Distemper test prior to going straight home. Even if your rescued dog is negative, it is still wise to isolate it for 14 days. With isolate, no household pet should come near it or its secretions or objects for the next two weeks. Wash hands and change clothing after handling the rescued pet during this phase.


Look for an emergency service provider in advance by calling your nearby vets. It helps to know who is open at the middle of the night. Be sure you meet with the doctors and staff to make sure that this place is where you would want to take your pet if you had to. You may opt to transfer your pet to your primary care veterinarian the next day if you wish.

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