Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that kills more than half of the dogs that contract the disease.
The death rate is much higher in puppies. If the dog does survive, the results can be nerve damage and even paralysis. The best way to prevent this disease is through vaccination.
Canine distemper virus is passed through body secretions. Even though a dog hasn't been in direct contact with the affected animal they can still contract the disease. The virus can live on inanimate objects and can also be passed through the air. Disinfecting surfaces with bleach may help reduce the risk in kennels, but it isn't 100% effective.
Some of the early signs of distemper are:
Because not all dogs with Canine distemper show clear-cut symptoms right away, it doesn't always get treated right away. Most dogs just appear to have a cold or an upper respiratory infection and the owner will wait to see if their dog starts feeling better. The dog may appear to be getting better until the virus attacks the nervous system. That's when the dog begins having fits or begins twitching. It then can progress to partial paralysis. Some dogs start constantly shaking their heads or begin acting aggressively toward people and other animals.
When puppies are first born, they get some immunity to distemper from their mother, but this immunity rapidly dissipates so the vaccination is very important. Puppies will need to begin the series of vaccines around 6 weeks of age and then will need to continue every 3 months until they are a year old, then they will only need a booster shot once a year.
This disease is very contagious and once contracted there is no treatment or cure. The only way the virus can be treated is through the dog's own immune system. Even if the dog does fight off the infection, there is always a chance of relapse. The prognosis for canine distemper isn't very good, that is why prevention is so important.