About the Disease
Canine distemper is a contagious, incurable, often fatal, multisystemic viral disease that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems. Distemper is caused by the Canine Distemper Virus (CDV).
CDV occurs among domestic dogs and many other carnivores, including raccoons, skunks, and foxes. CDV is fairly common in wildlife. The development of a vaccine in the early 1960s led to a dramatic reduction in the number of infected domestic dogs. It tends to occur now only as sporadic outbreaks.
Canine distemper occurs worldwide, and once was the leading cause of death in unvaccinated puppies. Widespread vaccination programs have dramatically reduced its incidence.
Young puppies between 3 - 6 months old are most susceptible to infection and disease and are more likely to die than infected adults. Non-immunized older dogs are also highly susceptible to infection and disease. Non-immunized dogs that have contact with other non-immunized dogs or with wild carnivores have a greater risk of developing CDV.
Infected dogs shed the virus through bodily secretions and excretions, especially respiratory secretions. The primary mode of transmission is airborne viral particles that dogs breathe in. Dogs in recovery may continue to shed the virus for several weeks after symptoms disappear, but they no longer shed the virus once they are fully recovered.
It is possible for humans to contract an asymptomatic CDV infection. Anyone who has been immunized against measles, a closely-related virus, is protected against CDV as well.