Veterinary Public Health

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Veterinary Public Health Program
313 N Figueroa St. Rm 1127
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel (213) 288-7060
Fax (213) 481-2375
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Distemper in Dogs and Wildlife


What is distemper?

Distemper (aka canine distemper) is caused by a virus. It can infect dogs, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and large cats such as lions and tigers. The virus infects the lungs, airways, nose, and eyes. It can also infect the brain and suppress the immune system. Distemper can cause serious illness and death in these animals. It does not cause illness in cats or people.


How do dogs catch distemper?

Dogs catch distemper from other dogs or wild animals that are infected with it. They can catch it by having direct contact with the sick animal, or by standing near the animal when it is coughing. They can also catch it if they have contact with food bowls or other objects that were contaminated by infected animals. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are the most likely to catch it.

What are the symptoms in animals?

 Coughing is the most common symptom. They usually develop fever and discharge from the eyes and / or nose. The disease can also cause disorientation, tremors, twitches and seizures. Infected animals are vulnerable to catching more infections, such as bacterial pneumonia. The symptoms are similar in raccoons and other wildlife.
How do you know if your dog is infected with distemper?

 You cannot tell for sure just by looking at the dog. Veterinarians can order blood and urine tests to test a dog for Distemper. Your dog is not likely to have distemper if it received a full series of three or more distemper vaccinations when it was a puppy.
What is the treatment for distemper?

Currently, there is no treatment that kills the virus inside the animal. Veterinarians administer medications to fight the extra infections (such as pneumonia) and to prevent seizures, while the dog's body fights off the virus.

How can I prevent distemper in my dog?

1. Vaccination. Distemper is prevented by vaccinating puppies with a series of 3 or more Distemper vaccines between the ages of 2 and 4 months. Distemper is the "D" in the DHLPP vaccine for dogs. The vaccine must be given again (booster) a year later, then every three years for life. To read more about vaccines needed for puppies and adult dogs, click here pdf icon2 (o aquí pdf icon3para español).

2. Protect puppies. Keep puppies at home, away from unfamiliar dogs, until they have finished their complete vaccination series.

3. Keep your dog away from sick dogs and wildlife. Do not let your dog have direct contact with any sick dogs, nor share food or water bowls with them.

4. Keep pet food and water indoors, away from wildlife. Outdoor pet food and water can attract raccoons and other wildlife. Distemper outbreaks occur in raccoons in Los Angeles County periodically. Sick raccoons can contaminate the bowls and transfer the virus to your dog.

Distemper in Wildlife in Los Angeles County

Distemper outbreaks occur regularly in wildlife and sporadically in dogs in Los Angeles County.

2020-2021 Distemper in wildlife in Los Angeles County

2017 Distemper in raccoons, San Gabriel Valley and South Bay

2014-2015 Distemper in raccoons, southern Los Angeles County

2009-2010 Distemper in Raccoons and other animals, countywide

2007-2008 Distemper in Gray Foxes, Foothills

2004 Distemper outbreak in Los Angeles LA City Animal Services press release

2004 Distemper outbreak in South Los Angeles  LA City Animal Services press release


Reporting Distemper Cases

Canine distemper is a reportable condition in Los Angeles County. Data from these reports helps identify outbreaks and trends.

VETERINARIANS: Report a case of Distemper by using this formpdf icon345 and email it in to or fax to 213-481-2375.



Brochures from the American Veterinary Medical Association

Last updated: October 11, 2022

Public Health has made reasonable efforts to provide accurate translation. However, no computerized translation is perfect and is not intended to replace traditional translation methods. If questions arise concerning the accuracy of the information, please refer to the English edition of the website, which is the official version.
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