Distemper Vaccine – How Often Should Your Dog Get It?

Many pet owners and veterinarians mistakenly believe that multiple distemper vaccines must be given for immunity building purposes; however, the 2017 AAHA Canine Vaccine Guidelines state that one at the appropriate time suffices.

At our hospital, the core canine vaccine for puppies is the DHPP (distemper/parvovirus/parainfluenza). Starting at eight weeks of age and continuing every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks have passed, puppies receive this vaccine series.


Distemper vaccine is one component of a combination vaccination for puppies known as DHPP (distemper, adenovirus type 2, parvovirus and parainfluenza). Puppies should receive their first dose at six weeks old and follow-up doses every 2- to 4-weeks until 16 weeks have passed. This vaccine stimulates their immune systems to produce antibodies that attack viral antigens that cause disease.

Young animals are highly vulnerable to infectious diseases because their immune systems have yet to fully develop. Newborns, infants, and puppies also receive temporary protection through maternal antibodies in colostrum for 14 days; however, over time these antibodies wane and interfere with vaccine responses; therefore it is vital that all puppies receive their full vaccination series on schedule.

Once vaccinated, puppies will develop immunity to disease for life; however, their vaccination must be renewed every three years for maximum effectiveness.

One of our clients recently witnessed an amazing demonstration of the power of distemper vaccination. Her dog Jack had been playing outside when he became involved in a scrap with a raccoon in her yard and returned inside with glassy eyes and massive nasal discharge – indicative of distemper.

Unvaccinated puppies or pets often die of distemper. The virus spreads by direct contact between dogs, people who interact with infected animals, air particles released during coughing, sneezing, barking and sharing food and water bowls as well as airborne particles released when coughing sneezing or barking occurs, shared food bowls and air particles released when coughing, sneezing or barking as well as sharing of food bowls; it can contaminate environments as well as transfer onto kennels leashes collars and clothing as well as people handling infected animals or those cleaning contaminated environments who deal with contaminations.


As soon as they are born or adopted from shelters, puppies often receive their initial distemper vaccination from either their breeder or rescue. At 12 weeks of age, puppies receive another booster dose containing vaccines against hepatitis, parainfluenza and parvo. This combination vaccine is commonly referred to as the distemper-parvo vaccination although its protection extends further than just those two deadly viruses; distemper attacks a dog’s respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts before leading to neurological symptoms such as muscle twitches seizures seizures even paralysis!

Canine Distemper can be spread between dogs through direct physical contact, shared water bowls and/or sharing food items as well as airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing. Most often it spreads via exposure to other infected animals in parks, pet stores, kennels, boarding facilities or wildlife that carry the virus.

Canine Distemper vaccination is essential, as there is no known treatment. Early symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea and loss of appetite before progressing into gastrointestinal tract infections, pneumonia and respiratory conditions such as wheezing and persistent coughing – potentially leading to pneumonia, wheezing or wheezing attacks or wheezing and persistent coughing episodes; long term symptoms could even include nerve damage, brain damage and seizures that lead to death.

Most veterinarians recommend vaccinating adult dogs against Canine Distemper every three years. While initial vaccination may provide protection for life, over time immunity memory cells diminishing in response to repeated exposure is important and that is why adult dogs should be re-vaccinated periodically.

Some attenuated (killed) vaccines may revert to their original virulence in immunocompromised individuals with AIDS or cancer; this occurrence is unlikely with modified live vaccines used on dogs; Rockborn strain CDV vaccine has been reported as having done this after vaccination in zoo animals, although such instances would likely not occur under normal veterinary practice conditions.


If your pet needs the distemper vaccine, they must be immunized within 72 hours of exposure to the virus; after this period has elapsed, antibodies will have dissipated and could leave him or her susceptible to disease. We strongly suggest vaccination against rabies and parvovirus for older dogs who spend much time outdoors or at boarding facilities; unfortunately we do not offer canine influenza virus vaccination due to rare instances at our hospital.

Early signs of distemper include vomiting and diarrhea, nasal discharge, loss of appetite and lethargy. Once in its advanced stages, distemper can attack the nervous system causing muscle twitching or paralysis that could even kill or incapacitate a dog permanently – as well as cause long-term health complications like digestive and respiratory issues as well as neurological symptoms.

Rabies and distemper vaccines offer excellent protection, while vaccines against two other respiratory viruses (Calicivirus and feline herpes virus) may not be 100% effective; this is likely because these viruses remain latent within cats’ systems for extended periods, often lifelong, before becoming active again when exposed to stress; their reactivation will likely be less severe if given the corresponding vaccines.

Distemper, rabies and parvovirus vaccines provide adequate lifetime protection; our veterinarians will discuss booster strategies with you and recommend one tailored specifically to the circumstances surrounding your pet’s vaccinations.

Senior pets are particularly prone to serious illness and longer recovery times than other age groups, making vaccination even more essential. Along with distemper and flu vaccines, we strongly advise senior pets receive flu shots, pneumococcal vaccines for pneumonia prevention, and tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis (whooping cough) vaccinations on schedule.


Feline distemper is one of the most severe upper respiratory infections that cats may contract, especially kittens due to their immature immune systems and may develop serious complications that may prove fatal. The virus is highly contagious among both cats and other mammals – including humans bitten by infected cats or mammals; fleas or insects carrying infected bodily fluids from an affected cat may also carry it further spreading infection.

Distemper vaccine is a core vaccine for cats, meaning that all kittens should receive it regardless of whether they live indoors or outdoors, access other cats or dogs or not. All kittens should receive three to four shots starting at six weeks of age until 16 weeks, then every three months until age 10 weeks – this initial series provides optimal protection from distemper and other diseases.

Most veterinarians recommend FVRCP (Feline viral rhinotracheitis, calicivirus and panleukopenia) vaccination for cats of all ages and lifestyles to protect them from feline infectious rhinotracheitis, calicivirus infection and panleukopenia; additionally it also offers protection from rabies which may be spread from other animals or humans bitten by infected creatures.

Cats should receive booster vaccinations every three years after initial kitten series vaccination and annually for rabies as required by law. Some cats who live outdoors or regularly visit groomers and boarding facilities may require more frequent boostering as risk increases; such as outdoor cats in rural areas.

All cats should closely observe the injection site after every vaccine to check for signs of swelling. Any increase or prolonging in swelling is likely a reaction and should be evaluated by a vet immediately. Injection site sarcomas are rare yet serious vaccine reactions which may lead to cancerous tumors in their body.

Lisa Thompson

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