There are no successful antiviral treatments available for CDV. Treatment is usually supportive care to treat the signs that come with infection. Many dogs will recover, although in severe neuorological cases, signs are irreversible and euthanasia may be the only viable option.

As with most diseases, prevention is the best cure. Many efficacious vaccines are currently available.

Treatment & Prognosis

There are no successful antiviral treatments currently available for treating canine distemper. Recovery depends mostly on the animal developing immunity; therefore treatment usually includes supportive care for the clinical signs associated with the disease.

A common complication of the disease is the presence of secondary bacterial infections, which can lead to pneumonia. Animals with this condition should be treated with antibiotics to limit bacterial spread, antipyretics to reduce fever, and airway dilators to decrease dyspnea.
In the case of vomiting and diarrhea, dehydration should be prevented with the use of intravenous fluids. Food and water should be ceased, and parenteral nutrition must be offered instead.

The control of the nervous manifestation of canine distemper is a difficult task. Some animals with chronic progressive neurological signs can be treated with anticonvulsants, doses of glucocorticoids or immunosuppressive therapy.

If a dog fully recovers from CDV, they will not shed the virus. However, despite supportive care available to animals, some will not make a satisfactory recovery. This is especially true in cases where the progression of neurological manifestations is acute. Severe neurological signs are often irreversible, and the prognosis of survival is low. In these cases the only viable option may be euthanasia.


As with most diseases, the two best methods of preventing infection include vaccination and preventing exposure to infected animals. Young animals are very susceptible to distemper, so exposure to puppy-frequented areas should be limited. This can include pet shops, parks, doggy day care, obedience classes and kennels. Exposure to other animals known to carry the disease should also be prevented; these include racoons, foxes and skunks. 

Vaccination against canine distemper virus is recommended. Puppies, like all young animals, are born relatively immunosuppressed. They spend several weeks protected by the antibodies they received from their mother. At this time, the efficacy of a vaccine will be limited, for the maternal antibodies will prevent the formation of new antibodies brought forth by the vaccine. However, as the maternal antibodies decrease, it will be some time before the puppy’s immune system will become active enough to mount its own successful immune response. There will be a period of low immunoprotection when the maternal antibodies are too low to protect the puppy, yet its own immune system is not active enough to respond appropriately to a vaccination.

To reduce this risk period, measles virus can be used as a vaccine for canine distemper; it induces immunity to canine distemper virus under higher levels of maternal antibodies. Therefore this vaccine can be used successfully at earlier ages than the distemper vaccine. This vaccine must be given IM; however, it is mostly out-dated, as the immunity induced does not last as long and is not as effective as some of the newer distemper vaccines now available.

Canine distemper virus vaccine is relatively commonplace and offered
in a combined vaccine along with canine parvovirus, parainfluenza, adenovirus 2, leptospirosis and occasionally also coronavirus. Vaccination regimes start at six to eight weeks of age and are boosted every two to four weeks until sixteen weeks of age. Continued boosters occur every one to three years, depending on antibody levels and the policy of your vet clinic.


There are two types of vaccines available: recombinant and modified live virus. A modified live virus involves modifying the virus so that it induces an immune response, but not illness. A recombinant virus is a live, non-pathogenic pox virus supplemented with the genes from canine distemper virus that induces the immune response. The benefit of the recombinant virus is that there is no chance of the vaccine causing canine distemper disease. However, because the vaccine does not carry all parts of the virus, the body’s reaction to this recombinant virus could be different than its reaction to canine distemper virus, when or if it is ever exposed. The modified live virus will generate very good immunity, but there is the possibility that the vaccinated dog could develop the illness. This can be of concern when vaccinating immunosuppressed dogs.

As with all viruses, the possibility of infection is not eliminated by vaccination. Many factors can influence whether an animal will be infected, even after receiving standard vaccinations. These include the virulence of the specific virus infection and the status of the animal, including its health, age, nutrition and current emotional state.

Current vaccines licensed for used in Canada