Prevention of Canine Distemper

The best prevention against canine distemper is vaccination. Vaccination works well even in animals that have already been exposed to the virus—if it is administered within 4 days of exposure. Exposure to CDV via vaccination induces long lasting, but not permanent, immunity. Dogs should receive annual vaccinations to ensure protection.

There are several different types of distemper vaccines available, each with advantages and disadvantages. Pet owners should discuss the various options with their veterinarians. The two most common vaccines are canine tissue culture-adapted vaccines and chick embryo-adapted vaccines.

Canine tissue culture-adapted vaccines (e.g., Rockborn strain) are nearly 100 percent effective; they can very rarely cause fatal encephalitis (swelling of the brain) 1 to 2 weeks after vaccination. This type of vaccine is especially risky in dogs with weakened immune systems.

Chick embryo adapted-vaccines (e.g., Onderstepoort and Lederle strain) are safer than the Rockborn strain but are only about 80 percent effective.

Most puppies are born with their mother's antibodies to CDV, which prevents them from becoming infected if exposed to the virus. They begin to lose their maternal protection between 6 and 12 weeks of age, which is when puppies should be vaccinated. Two to three vaccinations should be administered during this period. Dogs should be revaccinated yearly thereafter.

Multidog Households & Canine Distemper

Any dog that is suspected of being infected should be isolated from other dogs. Other dogs should be vaccinated, if they haven't already been.

CDV doesn't last long outside the dog's body; heat, sunlight, most detergents, soaps, and various chemicals inactivate it. After an infected dog has been removed from the premises, contaminated objects and living areas should be disinfected with a 1:30 bleach-water solution.

One-dog Households & Canine Distemper

If a dog has died from CDV infection, pet owners should wait about one month before introducing a new puppy or dog into the home. Contaminated objects and living areas should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected with a 1:30 bleach-water solution.

Canine Distemper Prognosis

Prognosis depends on the strain of canine distemper virus and the dog's immune response. After the initial fever subsides, the disease can progress in a number of ways.

More than half of all dogs die between 2 weeks and 3 months after infection, usually from central nervous system complications. Most veterinarians recommend euthanasia for dogs that suffer progressive, severe neurological complications.

Dogs that appear to recover may develop chronic or fatal central nervous system problems. Dogs with mild symptoms (e.g., myoclonus) may recover, though the symptoms can persist for several months or longer. Dogs with a strong immune response may never show any signs of infection. Once a dog has fully recovered, it no longer sheds the virus and is not contagious.

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at

Published: 01 Mar 2001

Last Modified: 04 Nov 2014