The canine distemper vaccine is a common shot dogs first get when they are between the ages of 4 to 20 weeks. Dogs are then given booster shots of the vaccine based on their veterinarian's recommendation. Distemper vaccinations are recommended because of how highly contagious virus is and the danger it poses to dogs.
The Distemper Virus Explained
Distemper can cause a respiratory infection in dogs, followed by a gastrointestinal infection as the virus replicates in the respiratory system via the lymphatic tissues. The virus can go as far as affecting a dog's central nervous system and eyes. A dog that has contracted the distemper virus will be symptomatic in less than 5 weeks after exposure. One of the first signs of a viral infection in a dog is a runny nose that has green-colored mucous, and discharge from the eyes. A dog will also lose his appetite, become lethargic, cough, have diarrhea, vomit, have inflamed eyes, and have difficulty breathing as the virus invades the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems.
Neurological signs become noticeable usually after the other symptoms seem to clear-up. These signs include seizures, weakness, twitching, neck pain and encephalitis, and even a change in the dog's behavior.
The Canine Distemper Vaccine
Vaccination is the answer to preventing canine distemper. The vaccine is easy to access and is one of the standard shots dogs should receive, especially if they are living in a shelter. The vaccine works by introducing the live distemper virus to the dog so he can build immunity against it. There is also a distemper vaccine that involves introducing a dog to a live recombinant virus (that is not the distemper virus) that carries only a part of the distemper virus to help a dog build immunity against it. The benefit of using a recombinant virus in a vaccine is that the chances of a dog to become ill with side effects are slim.
The success of the vaccine depends on the interference, or lack thereof, of the maternal antibody. Some veterinarians may recommend a puppy be vaccinated at the age of 6 weeks and then every 2 to 4 weeks after that until the dog is 16-weeks-old. Surprisingly, the virus that causes measles can help a dog become more immune to the distemper virus, so it is not uncommon for puppies to receive a measles vaccine along with the one for distemper.
Side Effects of the Canine Distemper Vaccine
There is a chance a dog will have side effects from the canine distemper vaccine if a live virus is used. Side effects may include a low-grade fever, lack of energy and appetite, and irritation at the injection site. Not all dogs will have a negative reaction to the distemper vaccine. The slight chances of side effects from the vaccination outweigh the risks of a dog contracting the actual distemper virus.
Canine distemper is an illness that can have severe consequences for a dog, yet it is easily prevented. The reason one does not hear about dogs contracting it often is because the canine distemper vaccination is easily accessible and it works.