Distemper Do Not Eat Do Not Feed To Pets
Causative Agent
  • Distemper is an infectious and contagious viral disease of many domestic and wild carnivores caused by infection with Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) of the genus Morbillivirus.
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Raccoons are often diagnosed with distemper.
  • Worldwide in distribution, but usually localized depending on the species involved.
  • Most cases occur in spring and involve young animals not previously exposed to the virus.
Hosts, Transmission and Life Cycle
  • Wild and domestic carnivores that can be infected with CDV include dogs (Canidae), cats (Felidae), foxes (Vulpes), mustelids, raccoons (Procyon), and bears (Ursidae).
  • In North America, coyotes (Canis latrans) and wolves (Canis lupus) are common hosts of CDV.
  • Transmission of CDV is primarily through contact with body fluids containing the virus or through inhalation of fine mists (e.g., from an infected animal coughing) containing the virus.
  • Because CDV is so fragile in the environment, close association between infected and non-infected animals is necessary for transmission. As such, dense populations of susceptible animals are necessary to sustain an epizootic of canine distemper.
Life Cycle:
  • Inhaled virus enters the upper respiratory tract or ingested virus enters the digestive tract and is spread via the lymph throughout the body, causing damage to the immune system.
  • Following spread to the lymph nodes, the virus is then often found in parts of the digestive system and liver.
  • Widespread infection begins about 1 week after infection and virus may be shed in the environment for several months after the animal recovers.
  • CDV is relatively fragile and quickly inactivated in the environment by ultraviolet light, heat, drying and common disinfectants.
Signs and Symptoms
  • Signs of canine distemper will vary depending on the species, age and immune status of host, the strain of virus, and environmental conditions.
  • Young animals are the most susceptible.
  • The incubation period for CDV ranges from 1 week to greater than a month, while the duration of the disease ranges from 1 to 4-6 weeks, ending either in recovery or death.
  • Classic signs of infection include:
    • depression and crusting or pus-like discharges from the eyes and nose;
    • coughing, fever, vomiting, diarrhea, lack of appetite and thickening of skin of the nose, lips, eyelids, ears, anus and foot pads, particularly in mustelids.
  • Signs of infection of the central nervous system in several species include:
    • abnormal behavior, convulsions, seizures, paralysis, incoordination, aimless wandering.
Meat Edible?
  • Meat from carnivores is rarely consumed; however, DO NOT consume meat or feed meat to your pet from an animal that is suspected to have CDV.
Human Health Concerns and Risk Reduction
  • CDV is not believed to be a health concern for humans.
  • Domestic dogs are a more likely source for CDV than wild carnivores.
  • To prevent spread of CDV and other diseases to domestic dogs, they should be vaccinated and not allowed to roam free in areas where they may encounter wild carnivores.
  • CDV has been examined as a cause of multiple sclerosis in humans. There is at present no evidence to prove this theory.
Samples for Diagnosis
  • Submission of the whole animal is necessary as a variety of tissues must be examined to confirm the disease.
Similar Diseases
  • Some of the neurological signs observed in CDV infection are similar to those seen in animals with rabies; however, in addition to being caused by a different virus, CDV infection is caused by inhaling virus particles, while rabies is transmitted through bites.
  • Because of the similarity and the potential for human infection with rabies, follow the protocols outlined in the description of rabies in this manual for how to handle an animal or carcass that is suspected of being rabid.
Further Reading
Return to Manual Home Page Disease List - Body Region Affected Disease List - Causative Agent or Risk Factor Disease Surveillance Form Glossary Contact Information
Return to Manual Home Page Return to Disease List - Body Region Affected Return to Disease List - Causative Agent or Risk Factor Disease Surveillance Form Download Glossary Contact Information