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Published: Dec 20, 2011

Pet owners must make sure to get the necessary dog vaccinations in order to ward off fatal diseases such as distemper. VCA Animal Hospitals reports distemper is a highly contagious viral disease which is incurable and often fatal. Dogs and other animals such as ferrets, skunks and raccoons are susceptible to the virus, which attacks these animals' respiratory, gastrointestinal and central nervous systems.

According to VCA, distemper is spread by direct contact between an infected dog or other animal and a healthy dog.

Clinical signs of distemper vary, though the main signs include diarrhea, coughing, vomiting and a thick yellow discharge from the eyes or nose. VCA reports in severe cases, the disease can cause seizures and neurological issues that could cause the animal to walk off-balance or tilt its head to one side.

There is no specific treatment for distemper.  A veterinarian who suspects distemper will provide supportive care such as antibiotics for secondary infections and anti-seizure medications, if needed.  Prevention of the disease is the best medicine.     

The best way to avoid such serious diseases is through proper dog vaccinations—beginning as a puppy and boostering vaccines as recommended by your veterinarian throughout the life of your dog.  Keeping your dog away from stray dogs or dogs with unknown vaccination history or from any sick dog or wildlife can help limit your dog’s exposure to infectious diseases.