Signs of Distemper in Puppies

Distemper in dogs and puppies occurs due to a virus, known as the paramyxovirus. The virus is highly contagious and puppies under 6 months are particularly exposed to this disease. The signs of distemper in puppies may be observed on the skin, but the puppy may also present a few additional symptoms; the disease may attack the brain, the eyes, the teeth, the gastrointestinal tract or the respiratory system.

Ocular and Nasal Discharges

All puppies that have distemper will present ocular and nasal discharges. The discharges will be clear and may be more abundant in some puppies. These signs may also point to allergies or a respiratory tract infection, so you need to identify additional symptoms. The virus may affect the eyes and damage the vision of the puppy. If the puppy survives, the vision may be affected for life.

Dry Coughing

Dry coughing may be present in puppies affected by distemper. If the dog doesn't present other symptoms, he may be misdiagnosed with kennel cough, when in fact the problem is more severe.


If the respiratory system is affected by the distemper virus, the symptoms may be milder (coughing or sneezing), but may spread to the lungs and result in pneumonia. Pneumonia is often fatal in puppies, because their bodies don't have the capacity to fight the virus.

Thickening of Skin and Pads

In most puppies affected by distemper, a thickening of skin can be noticed. This can be visible on the skin of the nose and the foot pads as well. Distemper is also known as the "hard pad disease" for this reason.

Vomiting and Diarrhea

If the virus affects the gastrointestinal system, the puppy will be experiencing chronic vomiting and have diarrhea. These can lead to severe dehydration and if the puppy doesn't get help in a timely manner, the dehydration can be fatal.

Neurological Signs

If the paramyxovirus affects the nervous system, the puppy can also present a few signs such as:

Damaged Teeth Enamel

The distemper virus may affect the teeth of the puppy and the enamel may be damaged. If the puppy survives, the damage may be permanent and the teeth may remain mottled.

Not all these symptoms are present in puppies affected by distemper. Some puppies may only have respiratory symptoms. The symptoms will depend on how advanced the disease is and what areas the virus attacks first.

Canine distemper can be prevented by administering a vaccine when the puppy is 6 weeks old, and boosters on a yearly basis. Until the age of the first vaccination, the puppy should be kept away from dog kennels or environments with dogs that may carry the distemper virus.

Distemper in puppies can be fatal; however, not all puppies will die. Distemper in puppies has a mortality rate of approximately 75%. If the dog survives the virus, he may remain with permanent damage (physical or neurological).