What is Canine Distemper Virus?


What is CDV (Canine Distemper Virus)?

Canine Distemper Virus is highly contagious and attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. All dogs are at risk, but especially puppies under 4 months old and unvaccinated adults. It is an airborne virus, meaning it can spread from dogs sneezing, coughing, or barking. Infected dogs can shed the virus for several months. 

Symptoms often come in two stages. 

Stage one attacks the immune system, with cold-like symptoms being present. This looks like: 

  • Discharge in eyes/nose
  • Fevers
  • Coughing 
  • Lethargy
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Reduced appetite

Stage two attacks the nervous system. This looks like:

  • Walking in circles
  • Head tilts
  • Muscle twitches
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis

If a dog survives the infection, it’s common to have lifelong nervous system damage.

If you see signs of CDV in your dog, take them to the vet immediately for testing and treatment. Treatment usually consists of supportive care to help infected dogs fight the virus, such as fluids and medication to prevent any secondary infections. Even with this treatment, canine distemper virus is often fatal. There is no cure, and no antiviral drugs have been approved to combat the infection. This is why vaccination is so important for prevention.


On a personal note…

Our quarantine facility for our positive dogs finally empty as the dogs were cleared from treatment.


Beginning in March of 2023, Cincinnati Animal CARE experienced an outbreak of CDV after the virus was brought in by a stray dog. In true CARE fashion, we took caring for these dogs head on to save as many lives as we could. We opened up 2 additional locations near the shelter, one for new intakes to go to to avoid exposure from the main shelter and one for infected dogs to be isolated to lessen the spread of the virus among our population. Our main shelter location on Colerain Avenue went into lock down with no dogs leaving the building until cleared by our medical team.

Dogs immediately receive core vaccines, including the vaccine against CDV, when we intake them into our system. This is often the first vaccine they have ever received. After testing 218 dogs, we had a total of 92 dogs in our shelter test positive for CDV. With our prompt response time, we helped 50 dogs survive the virus and halted the spread to our dogs who tested negative. This survival rate is unheard of at other shelters and we are incredibly proud of the dedication seen by our medical staff. 

We reflect now a year later on the experience with clear eyes. We could not have gotten through that difficult time without the constant hard work from our staff and volunteers, advice from CDV experts, and the understanding nature of our community.

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