Canine Distemper Vaccine Schedule

Canine distemper is an airborne, potentially deadly disease, but the distemper vaccine is completely effective at preventing spread of the disease. While there is much debate among veterinarians how often this vaccine needs to be administered as an adult, there is no debate about the importance of it, which has reduced instances of what was once the leading cause of death of unvaccinated puppies.

About Distemper

Distemper affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems and is spread through bodily secretions, particularly airborne respiratory secretions. Initial symptoms include fever, loss of appetite, lethargy and nose discharge, though symptoms vary depending on the strand of distemper and the health of the dog. If not treated, dogs can suffer from a variety of gastrointestinal, nervous system and respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, eye or nose discharge, diarrhea, paralysis, muscle uncoordination or twitching, and progressive deterioration of mental abilities. Some cases end in death.

Puppy Vaccination Schedule

If the mother of your puppy received regular vaccinations, that immunity is passed to your puppy through his mother's milk during the first few weeks of his life. However, this begins to wear off around six weeks of age, when your puppy is particularly vulnerable to illness and should avoid contact with unvaccinated dogs.

Distemper is considered a "core" vaccination, which is recommended to every dog no matter where they live, and is given as a part of a combination vaccine that also includes adenovirus, hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvovirus. If your dog has a reaction to vaccinations, consult with your veterinarian about individual vaccinations, which separate this combination and can reduce risk of side effects.

The combination vaccine that includes distemper is first recommended between six and nine weeks, when the puppy's immunity first begins to wear off. This may be given while the puppy is still at the breeder or when you first bring him home.

The next puppy vaccination is recommended for six weeks after the first, since many puppy vaccinations don't prevent disease as well as vaccinations given later in puppyhood. After this, your puppy won't need his next vaccination until he is a year old.

Adult Vaccination Schedule

After your dog has received his one-year distemper vaccination, consult your vet about his or her recommendations for adult vaccines. Distemper vaccinations were once recommended annually, but the American Veterinary Medical Association suggests that this is no longer necessary, recommending every three years. Some holistic veterinarians even recommend waiting five years between distemper vaccinations.

Concern about vaccination side effects has resulted in these changes. Thus, if your dog has allergic reactions to vaccines, consult your veterinarian about waiting three or even five years between shots. If this concerns you, titers are available to show your dog's immunity to particular illnesses, including parvo.

If your dog has suffered from a serious illness as a puppy or has other health problems that may lower his immunity to illness, you may want to continue giving vaccinations on an annual basis.