Symptoms of a Dog Distemper Short Reaction

Pet owners should know possible reactions to dog distemper vaccines. Canine distemper kills dogs of all ages, but especially puppies because they must rely on immunities from their mother until they are a safe age for vaccinations (usually six weeks).

Canine Distemper Explained

Canine distemper is a virus that affects some domestic animals, mainly dogs and ferrets, and many wild animals like coyotes, foxes and wolves. Dog distemper causes many cold-like symptoms, such as:

  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Watery eyes

In addition, diarrhea, vomiting and lack of appetite may occur. As the disease spreads, seizures can occur because the virus will attack the nervous system. Treatments involve prevention of secondary bacterial infections and prevention of dehydration. Animals with distemper must be seen by a vet and kept quarantined. Puppies have a higher risk of dehydration and secondary infection because they lack the same immune response as an adult dog.

Vaccination doesn't remove all risk of contracting dog distemper, but it reduces the chances. You should have your pet vaccinated. The vaccinations are given to puppies as young as six weeks.

Reactions to Dog Distemper Vaccinations

Any vaccination comes with risks for side effects. Usually, the side effects are uncommon, but pet owners should watch for them as a precaution. Distemper is usually covered in a combination vaccine called DHPP. It protects against distemper, hepatitis, parvo and parainfluenza. There are three main forms of canine distemper vaccine available, including a modified live vaccine, killed vaccine and recombinant.

Modified live vaccines provide immunity from distemper within a week. However, dogs may show symptoms of the disease while the immunities build. Some pet owners see these signs and worry that the vaccination has given their dog distemper, but usually the signs are mild and clear up quickly. If they don't, contact your vet.

Killed vaccines take much longer to work. In fact, some take up to two weeks for the initial vaccine and up to three weeks for boosters. Dogs that spend time in shelters may be exposed to the disease before the protection kicks in.

Recombinant vaccines for dog distemper work quickly and usually have fewer side effects than either modified live or killed vaccines.


Of the possible canine distemper vaccine reactions, anaphylaxis is the most concerning. It's also extremely rare and occurs in 1 out of every 15,000 vaccines. Most of those occur only with killed vaccines. If your dog is showing signs of shock, diarrhea, vomiting or seizures after having the canine distemper vaccine, contact your vet immediately.

Pain and Swelling

Pain and swelling at the injection site is more common. Generally, these symptoms subside within a few days of the vaccine. If the swelling seems abnormal or persists for more than a week, speak to your veterinarian. The swelling may be related to an abscess that forms as a reaction between the injection and the dog's immune response. Rarely are abscesses problematic.

After the canine distemper vaccine, your dog may develop a low-grade fever and seem more tired than usual. This is also normal. If the dog doesn't seem to improve after two full days, call your veterinarian.