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SAFE Vaccination for Canine Distemper Virus

If you’re wondering whether to have your dog vaccinated against distemper, the answer is YES. Canine distemper vaccinations are safe and will protect your dog against this deadly disease.

Many dog owners worry about the side-effects of canine vaccinations despite the evidence of safety.

If it weren’t for vaccinations, the world would still be fighting debilitating and deadly diseases like Smallpox or Polio. Vaccinations are safe for dogs and should be a high priority on your to-do list when raising a puppy.

This post will cover the importance of vaccinations against distemper, where to get them, how much they cost, and the ongoing threat for dogs who have not been adequately protected.

Are Canine Distemper Vaccinations Safe for Dogs?

There’s a greater risk to dogs health when they are not vaccinated compared to when they are.

Generally speaking, vaccinations may cause a very low fever, fatigue, soreness at the injection site and maybe even a small change in appetite, but these are short-lasting and not serious.

If you are very worried about the safety of vaccinations in dogs, consider reading this article by Consumer Reports: Why You Should Vaccinate Your Dog.

How Expensive are Dog Vaccinations?

As with anything, it depends on where you get the vaccinations done. The cost is going to vary depending on your geographical location and access to competitive clinics.

Generally speaking, you can expect to pay anywhere from $75 to $100 for the core set of vaccinations. Keep in mind that some vaccinations do require boosters; however, those boosters should only cost about $20.

If the expense is a concern to you, don’t be afraid to phone around for the best price. Remember that animal shelters might offer inexpensive vaccinations as well.

What Would Happen if my Dog Contracted Distemper?

Canine distemper is highly contagious and has no cure. It affects domestic and wild animals including coyotes, wolves, fox, skunks, racoons, and ferrets.

Dogs can easily come in contact with the virus through shared drinking water, air particles or after receiving a bite from another animal.

Symptoms of Canine Distemper Include:

  1. Enlarged lymph nodes in your dog’s neck. Distemper initially enters the body and settles within the lymphatic system. Keep in mind, however, that many non life-threatening viruses and allergies can also cause a dog’s lymph nodes to swell.
  2. Persistent red eyes with a watery discharge.
  3. Extreme fatigue
  4. No appetite
  5. Vomiting
  6. Persistent Cough
  7. Diarrhea
  8. Seizures
  9. Head Tremors (damage to the nervous system)
  10. Unable to walk without stumbling
  11. Hyperkeratosis on the paw pads or nose. This causes severe hardening and cracking of the skin.

The sad truth is that there is no cure and the prognosis is poor. The only medications available are those that will help the dog remain comfortable. Once diagnosed with canine distemper, follow-up care is mostly palliative.

Safe Canine Distemper Vaccinations are available for dogs through any veterinarian office
veterinary is giving the vaccine to the puppy dog Shar-Pei

Side-Effects of the Canine Distemper Vaccine in Dogs

There’s no comparison to the mild side-effects of the distemper vaccination to the dire consequences of the disease itself. As with human beings, there is always a rare chance of serious side-effects including severe allergic reaction.

A severe reaction might include hives, red splotches on the stomach, swelling of the face, and difficulty breathing.

Some of the most likely side-effects of the distemper vaccine include:

  • Mild swelling at the injection site
  • Mild and temporary fatigue
  • May be a fussy eater temporarily
  • Pain at the injection site.

Rare but Serious Side Effects:

Can My Dog Catch Distemper Even After Being Vaccinated?

Canine distemper vaccinations (and others) require booster shots to remain effective. In rare cases, dogs who have been vaccinated may still catch the virus.

The important thing to remember is that a vaccination (followed up with booster shots) gives your dog more than a fighting chance.

No vaccine equals no chance to fight the disease at all.

How Do Dog Vaccinations Work?

Vaccinations are developed after years of scientific research. According to

A vaccine works by training the immune system to recognize and combat pathogens, either viruses or bacteria. To do this, certain molecules from the pathogen must be introduced into the body to trigger an immune response.

Vaccinations introduce microscopic amounts of pathogens (either virus or bacteria) into the body. In doing this, the immune system learns how to to protect the body from them. It only takes a small amount to trigger this response safely.

For More Information on How Vaccinations Work, Read: How Vaccines Work

Canine distemper is the last thing you want your dog to suffer through. The risks of the vaccination are ridiculously small compared to the death-sentence of distemper.


The two main ways used to diagnose canine distemper is through biochemical tests and urine analysis. During the analysis, the number of lymphocytes—white blood cells that are contained in the lymph nodes are greatly reduced.  

The urine sample will often show viral antigens. Mucus may also show antibodies. MRI or Magnetic resonance imaging will show whether there are any lesions on the brain.


Once a dog is infected with canine distemper, the most the veterinarian can do is provide supportive, palliative care. That would include painkillers and the treatment of secondary infections as a result of the compromised immune system.

Antibiotics would be administered for secondary infections. If seizures are present, the doctor will likely administer a course of potassium bromide.

While the dog may survive, some of the negative effects of the disease may remain hidden and only show up when the dog gets older. Seizures may develop along with abnormalities of the teeth.

Has Your Dog Received the Canine Distemper Vaccination?

If you have taken in a rescue dog from a reputable shelter, there’s a good chance the dog has received the core vaccines, including the one for distemper. If you’re not sure, make sure to check with the agency.

If you have a dog and have been putting off getting him/her vaccinated, give the veterinarian a call to talk about the options. It’s not too late. It’s possible the veterinarian will want to examine the dog for signs of underlying disease or conditions before administering vaccinations. Sometimes it depends on the veterinarian.

Not sure what to do? If your dog has a regular veterinarian, contact the clinic and ask them to check your dog’s health records. If you ask, they may even give you a copy to keep for your own records.

Summing it Up

Keeping your dog adequately vaccinated will protect him/her for a large variety of potentially life-threatening disease. Not only do vaccinations protect your own dog, they also protect every animal around. There has been a trend toward parents not vaccinating their children OR their pets. This is leading to increased disease in schools and unnecessary suffering of animals.

Remember that some vaccinations are legally required. Rabies, for example, is an important vaccination that dog’s must have.

Your veterinarian should be your first source of information for vaccines including their safety, availability, costs, etc.

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Consumer Reports:

Embrace Pet Insurance

World Health Organization

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