Can Puppies Give Older Dogs Distemper?

Soap and domestic detergent disables the canine distemper virus.
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Canine distemper is one of the most feared dog diseases out there. The virus is deadly and very contagious, so a puppy can transmit it easily to an older dog. Vaccinated dogs are resistant to it though, and adult dogs have a much better survival rate than do puppies.

Canine Distemper Virus

Canine distemper virus (CDV) has a high mortality rate, but some puppies and adult dogs manage to make a complete recovery. The estimated chance of survival for adults is around 50 percent, while puppies only have a 20 percent chance of pulling through, according to Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. If your puppy is infected, he may not show symptoms for up to two weeks. Difficulty breathing, as well as vomiting and diarrhea are among the first visible signs. Your pup also may have a runny nose or fluid leaking from his eyes. Some dogs experience seizures or lapse into a coma during the final stages of the sickness.


Canine distemper sounds like a dog-only problem, but the virus readily infects various types of wildlife, too. Foxes, coyotes, raccoons, badgers and many other animals can catch distemper from a dog or spread it to them. Your dog can contract the virus if he comes into contact with bodily fluids, like discharge from a sneeze or saliva, or excrement from an infected animal. It's technically possible for humans to catch the disease too, but the chances are so low that the virus is not considered a zoonotic pathogen, according to the University of Illinois Extension.


Consider vaccinating your adult dog if he spends time outside or if you plan to adopt a puppy in the future. The vaccine contains a modified version of the distemper virus. While it is very effective for adults, puppies cannot receive the vaccine until they are about 6 weeks old due to the presence of antibodies from their mom, according to the Merck Veterinary Manual. After the initial vaccine at 6 weeks, bring your puppy back for followups in the following months. Puppies should receive another dose of CDV vaccine once or twice a month until they are 4 months old. Schedule the next appointment each time you go so you don't forget to do it.

Disease Management

Don't lose hope if the vet diagnoses your furry buddy with canine distemper. Dogs of any age have a chance of surviving the illness and recovering completely. There is no way to cure the virus directly, so you must let it run its course. Boost your pup's health by keeping him in a warm environment and cleaning his face regularly. If he refuses to eat or drink, he can receive vital nutrients intravenously with the help of a professional. Your pup also may have to take some medicine to calm his stomach and fight off secondary infections. Always consult an experienced veterinarian regarding the health and treatment of your pet.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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