If 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 the Distemper Vaccine?

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.

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.

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 the 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 for 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.

Potential Side Effects in Dogs

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

Potential Side Effects in Cats

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

How Often Is the Vaccine for Distemper Given?

In both dogs and cats, the vaccine for distemper 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.

Vaccine Schedule for Distemper

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

Vaccine Cost

The cost of administering a vaccine for canine or feline distemper can vary depending on where the vaccination is given.  Veterinarians charge between $20 and $40 per vaccine.

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.