Veterinary Public Health

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Veterinary Public Health Program
313 N Figueroa St. Rm 1127
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Tel (213) 989-7060
Fax (213) 481-2375
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Canine distemper


What is canine distemper?


Canine distemper (aka distemper) is disease of dogs. It is caused by a virus. It can also infect 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 dogs. It does not cause illness in 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?

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 outbreaks in Los Angeles County.


Distemper cases occur periodically in wildlife and in dogs in Los Angeles County.


  • 2017. Distemper outbreak in raccoons, Temple Citypdf icon1

  • 2014-2015. Distemper outbreak in raccoons, southern Los Angeles County

  • 2009-2010. Distemper outbreak in Raccoons and other animals, countywide

  • 2007-2008. Distemper outbreak 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 heartworm disease by using this formpdf icon345  or by using the online reporting portal.

    Last updated: 06/28/2017

    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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