Home Health and Care Labrador Diseases & Conditions Canine Distemper: What To Do If Your Labrador Catches Distemper?

Canine Distemper: What To Do If Your Labrador Catches Distemper?


Canine distemper is one of the most feared diseases in dogs because it has a very high mortality rate. An airborne disease, it is highly contagious in dogs. Like Canine Parvovirus, canine distemper has no direct cure and can be quite a challenge to treat. Canine distemper is also known as the “Old Dog Encephalitis” or “Hard Pad Disease.”

Canine Distemper Treatment

What is Canine Distemper?

Canine Distemper virus belongs to paramyxovirus group, the same group that is responsible for measles in humans and Newcastle disease in birds. However, symptoms of these diseases are different from each other. Once the virus enters the body, it attacks and grows within and destroys the white blood cells, particularly the lymphocytes and macrophages. The virus also attacks the respiratory system, the digestive system, and the nervous system.

The virus can be caught by a dog sitting merely in the same room with a distemper-positive dog. Unvaccinated puppies are at a greater risk of catching this disease. The canine distemper virus is transmitted through sneezing, coughing, and even just be breathing in the same room frequented by an infected dog. It can also be transmitted by sharing food or water bowls.

Which Dogs are at Risk?

The virus can affect dogs of all age and breed. But the disease is commonly seen in unvaccinated puppies, who have just been weaned from their mothers. Young puppies receive immunity from common viral and bacterial diseases by receiving antibodies from their mom, particularly by consuming the colostrum and the milk of the mother. Once they are weaned and the puppy grows beyond a few weeks, this immunity fades.

Canine Distemper Symptoms

There are different strains of canine distemper. Depending on the strain of the virus, dogs who have caught the disease may show the following signs.

  • Runny nose with green to yellowish discharge
  • Fever
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Green eye discharge
  • Red eyes
  • Loss of appetite
  • Labored breathing
  • Hardening of pads
  • Head bobbing
  • Diarrhea that may or may not have traces of blood
  • Respiratory infection
  • Twitching of legs
  • “Chewing gum” fits
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis

A week after catching the virus, the infected dog will show early signs of infections, including green eye discharge, conjunctivitis, and runny nose. As the disease progresses, the infected dog experiences lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. Once the virus reaches the brain, twitching, head bobs, chewing gum fits, and seizures may slowly develop until the infected dog experiences full paralysis and ultimately, death.

Diagnosing Canine Distemper

Veterinarians may be able to diagnose distemper following the clinical signs present in the dog. But since canine distemper has the same symptoms as some other diseases, most vets require additional laboratory tests to confirm the diagnosis.

There are two tests suggested for canine distemper.

  • Canine Distemper Rapid Test Kit – This test kit needs samples such as eye discharge, nose discharge, blood, spinal fluids, or blood. The test kit detects the canine distemper antigens or the actual virus.
  • The Enzyme Linked Immunoassay or ELISA–While rapid test kits detect antigens, the ELISA detects canine distemper antibodies, which the body produces to combat the virus. The samples used for the ELISA is the blood.

Preventing Canine Distemper in Your Labrador Retriever

The best way to protect your Labrador from this disease is to make sure his vaccinations are complete and updated. Inoculation for canine distemper is done by giving a series of combination vaccines. The most common combination vaccine is the 5-in-1 (DHLPP) vaccine, which protects dogs from

  • D- Canine Distemper
  • H- Hepatitis
  • L -Leptospirosis
  • P- Parainfluenza
  • P – Parvovirus

This vaccine is administered to dogs 3 to 4 times with 2 to 4 weeks intervals. The vaccination starts as soon as the puppy reaches 6-7 weeks of age. After the series of initial shots, booster yearly shots are also recommended. But despite the immunization shots, there may still be a small chance for your Labrador to catch the disease. Therefore, you should provide your dog adequate nutrition and care to keep his immune system in good condition.

In case a dog in your home or neighborhood tested positive for this disease, ensure your pet has no contact with the infected dog. Sanitize him as soon as possible if he makes contact with the infected pet. When there is an outbreak in your area, avoid taking your dog to public places, such as dog parks, boarding kennels, or doggie day care.

Treating Canine Distemper

Like Parvovirus, there is no medication that can directly kill the canine distemper virus. The treatment of canine distemper involves administration of antibiotics to help manage secondary infections. Vitamins help boost the infected dog’s immune system to fight the virus. Here are some important medications your vet may recommend:

  • Antibiotics: To fight/prevent infection in the digestive system and respiratory system,
  • Probiotics: Usually prescribed 5 hours after taking antibiotics. Probiotics are also given to replenish the good bacteria in the dog’s stomach.
  • Vitamin C and some immune system boosters: Vitamins boost your dog’s immune system to fend off the virus.
  • Vitamin B complex: This helps repair the damage the canine distemper virus makes in the nerves, brain, and spinal material.
  • Anticonvulsants: Once the disease advances to the neurological stage, the vet may prescribe anticonvulsants to minimize or lessen involuntary movements and seizures.

Canine distemper is a very frightening disease, but years of research led to the discovery of different treatment options and here are the most effective ones.

Canglob D for Canine Distemper Treatment

Canglob D is the most common of treatment option for canine distemper. It is a type of manufactured immunoglobulin – a boost to the immune system against an “invader”, such as case the canine distemper virus. This treatment option is only effective during the first phase or when there is still no neurological symptoms.

Newcastle Disease Vaccine Injection

The Newcastle disease virus only affects birds and chickens but this virus belongs to the same group as the Canine Distemper virus. The effectiveness of using Newcastle disease vaccine in helping battle canine distemper virus was accidentally discovered by Dr. Alson Sears.

A direct shot of the NDV can be effective in puppies or dogs who more than 3 months-old and do not have any other diseases. Unfortunately, this method is said to be not effective in some dog breeds such as Poodles, German Shepherds, Irish Setters, Gordon Setters, English Bulldogs, and Chinese Shar-Peis. This method is also not effective in infected dogs already with neurological infection.

NDV Serum

This method also uses Newcastle Disease Vaccine. Instead of having the vaccine injected directly into the infected dog’s body, the vaccine instead is injected into a healthy dog. In this method, NDV is injected into a healthy dog’s body to provoke an immune system reaction. The veterinarian then collects a serum from a donor dog and that serum is injected into the infected dog.

Spinal Tap

The spinal tap is the last resort for distemper-positive dogs, who are already showing neurological signs. Here, the NDV is injected into the spinal cord in an attempt to provoke the dog’s immune system and create a response. However, this procedure is highly sensitive and dogs undergoing this procedure require sedative drugs.

Canine Distemper Recovery

If your infected Labrador starts eating on his own two weeks after infection, then there is a high chance that he will survive. Puppies and dogs who recover from Canine Distemper are recommended to be separated from other dogs for two to three more weeks as they will be shedding the virus through air and feces.

If a distemper-positive dog who reached the neurological stage manages to survive, there is the risk that he will have involuntary movements, such as head-bobbing and seizures, for the rest of his life. Some survivors also experience permanent organ damage and need Vitamin B supplements as long as they are alive.


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