Distemper Vaccine for Dogs and Cats: What You Need to Know

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By: CertaPet Staff Updated: June 15, 2020

distemper vaccineIf you’re like many pet owners, you’re wondering if your dog or cat needs a distemper vaccine.  Read on to find out everything you need to know about cat and dog distemper and the available vaccines.

At first glance it would appear that canine and feline distemper is the dog and cat versions of the same disease, but – despite their similar names – that is not the case.

Canine distemper and feline distemper are two completely separate conditions, caused by entirely different viral agents.  And while dogs, foxes, coyotes, ferret, and wolves are susceptible to canine distemper and cats, lynxes, and bobcats can suffer from feline distemper, other animals such as raccoons, minxes, skunks, and otters can potentially catch either disease.

What is Distemper Vaccine? Parainfluenza Virus?

What Disease and What Vaccination Mean for Animals Mean

The distemper vaccine is a vaccination that protects your pet against the distemper virus.

Most vaccinations are applied by way of an injection under the animal’s skin.  The distemper vaccine works by introducing a tiny amount of infectious organisms into the dog or cat’s immune system, which then fights the foreign bodies.

This teaches the pet’s immune system to identify these particular organisms and to respond quickly in future.

Parainfluenza Virus

The parainfluenza virus is a highly contagious animal disease with symptoms that include lethargy, conjunctivitis, runny nose, breathing difficulties, a dry cough, wheezing, fever, and even pneumonia.

In the event that your pet contracts the parainfluenza virus, your veterinarian may opt to treat them with a mixture of antiviral drugs and antibiotics to treat the virus and stop it spreading to other pets.

In addition, the dog or cat could be treated with additional fluids and a cough suppressant.

Protect the Kitties! Feline Distemper Vaccine

Cat hold by owner at a veterinarians clinic having feline distemper vaccine

Feline distemper is a virus that targets very young kittens, pregnant females, and cats with unusually weak immune systems.  The virus attacks the intestinal tract’s blood cells, along with stem cells, and the cat’s bone marrow.  Feline distemper can lead to anemia and paves the way for other bacterial or viral infections.

The feline distemper vaccine can be administered to a kitten as young as 6 weeks old and is often repeatedly given until the kitten is 16 weeks old, and then at regular intervals during their adult life.

As the name suggests, the feline distemper vaccine goes a long way towards protecting the cat from contracting feline distemper, along with other diseases including feline leukemia, calicivirus, and feline herpesvirus.

Protect the Puppies! Canine Distemper Vaccine

Canine distemper is an extremely contagious viral disease that is similar to the measles virus in humans.  The virus targets young unvaccinated puppies and older dogs with weak immune systems.

There is no cure for canine distemper, however, there is an extremely effective canine distemper vaccine with antibodies which can protect a dog or puppy from contracting the virus.

The canine distemper vaccine is typically given in the form of the DHPP vaccination, which protects a dog from parainfluenza, parvovirus, hepatitis, and distemper at the same time.

What is Distemper Parvo Vaccine?

The distemper parvo vaccine is one of many names for a combination vaccine that protects your pet from a multitude of viruses and diseases within one injection.

The exact makeup of the combination vaccine of the distemper parvo vaccine will vary depending on the age and breed of your dog and the preferences of your veterinarian, but the most common canine diseases to feature in the distemper parvo vaccine are parvo influenza, canine parvovirus, canine adenovirus, and canine distemper.

For dogs, the vaccine may be abbreviated as DA2PPV, DA2PP, DHPP, DHPPV, or similar.

3 Tips You Need to Know About Distemper Vaccines Dogs

  1. Studies have shown that puppies vaccinated just 4 hours before being exposed to infected dogs with distemper can be completely protected against contracting the virus.
  2. Other studies have shown that the distemper vaccine can be administered up to 3 days after a puppy’s exposure to a dog infected with infectious diseases like distemper, and still offer protection for the puppy.
  3. A single dose of the distemper combination vaccine administered between 12 and 16 weeks can provide close to 100% chance of lifetime protection against the distemper virus.

What Your Dog Could Experience! Distemper Vaccine Side Effects

All vaccinations carry potential side effects, yet the distemper vaccine is thought to be one of the milder, least controversial animal vaccinations available.  Distemper vaccine side effects in dogs can include:

  • Anaphylactic or allergic reactions, with symptoms including itching, weakness, facial swelling, diarrhea, and even death
  • Autoimmune hemolytic anemia, with symptoms including reading difficulties, diarrhea, poor immune response, vomiting, lethargy, weakness, and an increased heart rate
  • Local reactions, including redness, swelling, irritation, and pain
  • Systemic reactions, including weakness, loss of appetite, depression, fever, lethargy, and other neurological signs
  • Nervous system problems

Feline Distemper Vaccine Side Effects

Possible side effects of the feline distemper vaccine include:

  • Anaphylactic or allergic reactions, with symptoms including breathing difficulties, diarrhea, vomiting, collapse, itchy face
  • Local reactions, including mild pain and swelling at the site of the injection, or vaccine-associated sarcoma;
  • Systemic reactions, including loss of appetite, fever, lethargy, sleepiness;
  • Increased sneezing and nasal discharge, but only if the feline distemper vaccine has been administered via a nasal spray

3 Facts About Distemper Vaccine Cats

  1. The distemper live vaccine for cats is typically given in conjunction with vaccines for feline leukemia, caliciviral, feline leukemia (also known as the feline panleukopenia virus), and feline herpesvirus, and is often called the FVRCP vaccine.
  2. The feline distemper vaccine can be administered subcutaneously via injection, or intranasally by way of nasal drops or spray.
  3. The distemper vaccine for cats is considered so effective that it is now one of the core vaccines for cats.

Once a Year, Once Every Few Years? Distemper Vaccine How Often Is It Given

Man's hand holding a white board showing annual dog vaccination guide for distemper vaccine for dogs and cats

In both dogs and cats, the distemper vaccine is ideally first given between 6 and 8 weeks of age, with 2 further boosters given every 3 weeks.

From there, the animal should be vaccinated every year, or every 3 years – but only if the animal has a known vaccination history and has been vaccinated regularly.

Distemper Vaccine Schedule

Dogs and Puppies

Initial Vaccination – Puppies under 16 Weeks

  • 3 doses spread out between 6 and 16 weeks of age

Initial Vaccination – Dogs over 16 Weeks

  • 2 doses given 3 or 4 weeks apart

Booster Vaccinations – Puppies

  • 1 year after completing the initial vaccination series, then yearly or every 3 years if on a regular vaccination schedule

Booster Vaccinations – Dogs

  • Yearly or every 3 years if on a regular vaccination schedule

Cats and Kittens

Initial Vaccination – Kittens under 16 Weeks

  • Every 3 to 4 weeks between 6 and 16 weeks of age

Initial Vaccination – Cats over 16 Weeks

  • 2 doses given 3 or 4 weeks apart

Booster Vaccinations – Kittens and Cats

  • 1 year after completing the initial vaccination series, then every 3 years

Low-cost for Pet Owners! Distemper Vaccine Cost

The cost of administering a distemper vaccine for a dog or cat can vary depending on where the vaccination is given.  Veterinarians charge between $20 and $40 per vaccine, typically with a compulsory attendance charge of $35-$60.

Low-cost vaccination clinics for veterinary clinics will typically charge the usual $20 and $40 per vaccine, but do not require an examination attendance charge with the vaccination.

Distemper vaccines can also be administered at home, but this is only recommended for people who understand how to administer vaccinations to animals, and the clinical signs of adverse reactions and side effects to look out for afterwards.

The home administered distemper vaccine can cost as low as $5 each.

A Viral Bug That Can Hurt Your Pet! Don’t Wait, Vaccinate…

Both canine distemper and feline distemper, while separate and unrelated conditions, both have a high mortality rate.  Some of the most common animals infection conditions, in line with Lyme disease, purevax ferret distemper, infectious tracheobronchitis, kennel cough, rabies, and canine adenovirus, distemper is contagious and can be potentially life-threatening.

Vaccinations for both conditions are readily available and considered to be some of the most effective and least controversial animal vaccinations available.

Vaccinations like the rabies vaccine and the distemper vaccine protect animals by greatly reducing the risk of the transmission of diseases like distemper, which is why most veterinarians and animal experts highly recommend that all tests be vaccinated.

Common Questions on the Distemper Vaccine

Are distemper and parvo the same thing?

Can you administer the distemper vaccine at home?

What types of dogs does the virus target?

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