Is Distemper in Dogs Contagious to Humans?

One of the most dreaded veterinary diagnoses for any new pet owner is distemper in dogs. This dangerous infection tends to strike younger dogs and pets that have been adopted from the pound, and it is unfortunately quite often fatal. There is a distemper vaccination shot; technically, this shot protects dogs against the parvovirus, which is a specific type of virus that causes the infection known as distemper. If you are considering acquiring a dog as a pet, you should familiarize yourself with this vaccination as soon as possible. While distemper is a deadly and very dangerous disease for pet dogs, it is not often a major concern for humans; humans can get the virus, but there are no effects.

Overview of Distemper in Dogs

Distemper will generally lead to several different early symptoms in dogs. These include the following:

  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Loss of appetite
  • Coughing and difficulty breathing, often accompanied by pneumonia
  • Fever
  • Callusing of the nose and pads on the feet
  • Vomiting and diarrhea

One of the worst parts of distemper is that it begins by attacking the mucous membranes in your pet. This results in the symptoms above. Many younger and weaker dogs will die as a result of these symptoms. However, the disease often appears to end and the symptoms lessen. Unfortunately, at this point the disease moves into the dog's brain and causes a severe set of neurologically oriented symptoms several weeks later, including seizures and other damaging episodes.

The Distemper Virus and Humans

Distemper is closely linked with the measles virus in humans. The two diseases are so similar, in fact, that it is speculated by medical historians and pathologists that the measles virus may have mutated at some point and spread to dogs. Because of this close link between the two, human beings can be infected with the canine distemper virus. However, an important thing to note is that, while the virus can successfully replicate in the human system, it produces no illness and no symptoms.

Unfortunately, this does mean that you can be a carrier of the disease and that you, as a human, can then pass the distemper virus on to your pets. Therefore, if you've previously owned a pet that suffered from distemper, it's a good idea to ensure that any pet that you get later on be vaccinated against the disease before it comes into your home, just in case you might pass distemper on to it.

It was thought at one point that canine distemper in humans may be connected with certain conditions like multiple sclerosis. However, that has now been discredited, and in actuality it turns out that MS and other terminal conditions are linked with human measles instead. Because measles and distemper are so closely related, it can be difficult to tell them apart in laboratory tests.

Be sure that you familiarize yourself with the risks, symptoms and prevention methods for canine distemper. This will help you to not only protect your pets, but to also avoid getting the virus and harboring it yourself. Keep in mind, however, that there is no danger to a human being infected with this virus.