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3 min read

Can Dogs Get Feline Distemper?


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If kitty has distemper, do you need to worry about Fido contracting it from your sick cat? Although distemper is commonly vaccinated for, unvaccinated cats and dogs can get feline distemper or canine distemper. This is very sad, as feline and canine distemper are easily preventable with widely available vaccines, and the disease is untreatable and usually fatal to unvaccinated kittens and puppies who contract it. That being said, feline distemper and canine distemper are two completely different viruses, specific to their respective species.

Can Dogs Get Feline Distemper?


Your dog can't get feline distemper, in spite of the similar name for the disorder. Your dog is at no risk of being exposed to a cat with feline distemper. Dogs can, however, get canine distemper from other dogs, which is a very serious condition in puppies.

Does My Dog Have Distemper?

Although at no risk of contracting feline distemper, canine distemper is a risk to all unvaccinated dogs and puppies.

Symptoms of canine distemper include:

  • Nasal discharge

  • Coughing

  • Pus-like discharge from the eyes, eye inflammation, sudden blindness

  • Decrease in appetite, vomiting

  • Neurological symptoms such as circling, head tilting, muscle twitches seizures convulsions and paralysis

  • Lethargy

  • Fever

  • Pads of the dog’s feet may thicken

Canine distemper is a highly contagious virus that can be spread between unvaccinated dogs, (not cats) by airborne droplets, especially when the infected dog is in close proximity, like in a shelter or kennel. Some other species of feral animals may carry feline or canine distemper such as foxes, raccoons, and skunks and can transmit it to your pet. Dogs that have been previously vaccinated, but have not been kept up to date on their vaccines can contact the disease.

Diagnosis of canine distemper is conducted by taking a history of the symptomatic dog, determining possible exposures, and assessing symptoms. Blood tests and tests of body secretions can also be conducted to confirm canine distemper diagnosis.

Read more about canine distemper at Canine Distemper in Dogs.

How Do I Treat My Dog’s Distemper?

There is no cure for canine distemper. Once infected, treatment for canine distemper involves supportive care, such as:

  • Keeping your dog calm, warm and hydrated, and reducing fever with cool compresses. Intravenous fluids may be administered if required

  • Cleaning of discharge from eyes and nose regularly.

  • If post secondary infections occur, antibiotics may be necessary

  • Phenobarbital and potassium bromide may be administered if neurological conditions such as convulsions or seizures develop

  • Keep infected animals isolated so they do not infect other dogs while experiencing canine distemper.

The vaccine for canine distemper is widely available and it is recommended that all dogs eligible for the vaccine receive it and subsequent boosters. Puppy and senior dogs are especially vulnerable, so ensuring puppies receive vaccinations as soon as they are old enough and continuing to vaccinate senior dogs is necessary.

Dogs with compromised immune systems can succumb to the disease days or weeks after infections so continued monitoring of these individuals is required. Permanent nervous system disorder can result in survivors of canine distemper and will need to be addressed if it occurs.

How is Distemper Similar in Dogs and Cats?

Although different diseases entirely, canine and feline distemper have some similarities besides their name.

  • Both feline and canine distemper conditions are very serious diseases, especially for young or immunocompromised animals and they are frequently fatal or have permanent deficits associated with infection.

  • Many of the symptoms are similar including weakness, neurological symptoms, and fever.

  • Feline and canine distemper do not have cures and treatment depends on providing supportive care.

  • Both feline and canine distemper can be easily vaccinated for and vaccines are widely available.

How is Distemper Different in Dogs Different and Cats?

Feline and canine distemper are caused by different viral organisms.

  • Cats cannot get canine distemper and dog cannot get feline distemper

  • Feline distemper resides in infected soil and may be passed directly between animals, via infected materials, or through parasites, whereas canine distemper is passed between animals by inhaling airborne droplets from infected dogs.

Case Study

On their farm, a family frequently experience kittens and stray cats showing up and contracting feline distemper from the infected soil in their yard site. Sadly, most of the infected cats die. However, their dog never experienced any illness as feline distemper does not affect dogs. In addition, because their dog is regularly vaccinated for canine distemper, even when exposed to feral critters such as coyotes or foxes that carry canine distemper, their farm dog remains healthy.

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