How Long Can a Dog Live With Distemper?

Dr. Joe Alcorn, M.S., D.V.M.

Dr. Joe Alcorn is founder of Care Animal Hospital in Temecula, California. He has a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University. He is a member of the American Veterinary Medical Association and his advice has been featured in large publications like Bustle and Martha Steward.

Home » Blog » How Long Can a Dog Live With Distemper?

Distemper is one of the worst diseases your dog can get. Luckily, it’s also one of the most preventable if you’re mindful. If your dog has a distemper, you’re probably concerned about how long can a dog live with a distemper.

How Long Can a Dog Live With Distemper?

How long your dog can live with distemper depends on the age of your dog and what strain of the virus your dog is infected with. It may last as fast as 10 days or can last for weeks and months if your dog exhibits neurological symptoms.

Don’t worry since your dog can survive distemper as long as it is provided with the necessary healthcare and on time. If you suspect symptoms of distemper do not hesitate to have your dog checked by me immediately.

Time is essential when treating a dog with distemper. Since it’s a viral disease, it isn’t curable with antibiotics. Your dog will need intensive care to keep the symptoms under control.

An image of a sick dog

What Is Distemper in Dogs?

Distemper is a disease that is caused by a virus named canine distemper virus (CDV). this virus target different systems in your dog’s body. It generally affects the central nervous, respiratory, and gastrointestinal systems. If left untreated, it can lead to death.

Distemper has a high death toll rate which makes dog owners panic. However, dogs can live a long time with extensive veterinary care. Some owners hesitate to do this because it will cost a lot of money and that’s why it’s important to know more about distemper to prevent infection.

Long-Term Effects of Distemper

If your dog managed to live and beat distemper, it may carry some permanent effects from its battle against the distemper. If your dog shows any notable long-term effects that affect its quality of life, you should consult with me so your dog can live a happy and comfortable life.

Some notable effects that your dog may exhibit include:

  • Involuntary tics, twitches, or muscle spasms. Most dogs who survive distemper will have this side effect. These side effects may become more apparent when your dog is under stress or exhausted.
  • Your dog’s jaw may seem like it’s chewing gum.
  • Puppies and young dogs may have underdeveloped teeth and even some adult dogs to some extent.
  • Your dog may not have proper balance and coordination.

Caring for Your Dog With Distemper

It’s important that you know what options you have for properly taking care of your dog. You can consult me to get the best course of proper care for your dog. For starters, you may want to do the following steps for your dog.

Have Your Dog on an Anti-Inflammatory Diet

The normal diet of dogs can cause inflammation in the body. You want to lessen that so your dog’s brain and nervous system don’t get compromised. A balanced raw food diet contains essential fatty acids and proteins which boost your dog’s brain and nervous system.

You can consult with me and we can make a diet plan for your dog so that it will stay comfortable and not have risky complications because of its diet.

Schedule for Exercise and Massages

It’s important to keep your dog active so that its brain and cognitive function are working. Regular exercise also helps your dog adjust to its new lifestyle and improve its coordination and make its muscle stronger.

How Your Dog Can Get Distemper

Your dog can get distemper by either:

  • Close contact with an animal that has distemper or anything that infected animal got close to.
  • The virus can be airborne so your dog may get it if it is in close proximity to an infected animal or object.
  • Can transfer from mother to pups

Generally, distemper is spread through direct contact or airborne exposure. An infected dog or animal can spread it to your dog through coughing, sneezing, and barking. Anything that releases aerosol droplets in the environment which can also infect food and water.

The virus won’t typically last long in objects and most disinfectants can neutralize it. Hence, it’s important to keep your dog’s place cleaned especially if there’s a case of distemper in your neighborhood.

An image of a dog having a check-up

Preventing Distemper on Your Dog

There is not a lot you can do in preventing distemper on your dogs except to get them vaccinated as early as in their puppy stage. Here are some steps you can take in order to decrease the likelihood of your dog getting distemper.

  • Administer your puppy to a series of vaccinations so that it may increase its chance of building immunity. Vaccination in puppies is heavily recommended since their immune system has not fully matured yet.
  • Avoid missing out on the immunization schedule. Make sure that your distemper vaccinations are up to date
  • Avoid contact with infected animals and the wildlife
  • Minimize interactions or be cautious when socializing your dogs with other pets. Some dogs may be unvaccinated in common places such as the park, puppy classes, obedience classes, and dog daycare.
  • Ferrets are more likely to get distemper, so if you have a pet ferret at home, make sure to get it vaccinated. The vaccine needs to be a USDA-approved vaccine.

Related Question

Can a Dog Live a Comfortable Life With Distemper?

It depends if the dog has some permanent neurological damage. Some damages are manageable and your dog can live a normal life. Although, your dog may suffer occasional seizures or imbalances which are generally not uncomfortable for them.

How Long Until Distemper Is Fatal?

Severe symptoms like neurological damage can exhibit one month after the respiratory infection. Symptoms may last for months after infection if it did not show clinical signs.

What Are the Chances of a Dog Surviving Distemper?

Distemper has a mortality rate of 30% to 80% in adult dogs and 80% in puppies. It also depends on the level of care and management of its symptoms. The chance also increases when your dog’s nervous system is compromised.


Distemper is a fatal virus that can last in dogs for weeks and months depending on the severity. It’s fatal to puppies which leads to almost certain death. Getting distemper is not the end of the world with proper treatment. However, you also have to be prepared for the worst.