When to Put Down a Dog with Distemper? (The Right Time)

When to Put Down a Dog with Distemper

Important Note: This article has been checked and verified by a professional veterinarian for accuracy. However, you should always seek advice from your own vet before making any decisions on euthanasia as there are never black and white answers for this decision.

The thought of your dog getting the distemper virus is enough to strike fear in your heart. Fortunately, the successful implementation of canine vaccines has decreased the chances of dogs catching this nasty virus. Before vaccines however, this virus was most commonly seen in dogs up to the 1970s.

There still is a chance though, and if it does happen, you might need to consider when the right time to euthanize your dog with distemper is. In this article, I attempt to help you with the decision. It is all personal opinion though; you should always consult with a vet.

When to put down a dog with distemper? The right time to euthanize a dog with distemper could be when they reach the final stages of the disease. When pain and quality of life has been significantly affected, the decision to put down your dog becomes paramount. However, all cases are different, so professional advice should be sought.

The symptoms of distemper include (but are not limited to) seizures and paralysis. It’s estimated that over half of dogs infected with the distemper virus die with more than 80% of puppies not surviving. If treatment is started early, dogs can survive distemper.

Some dogs will recover with no or very few complications. However, depending on the severity of the illness, some dogs may have life-long side effects.

How do you tell if your dog has been infected with distemper? What can you do to prevent it from happening? And what treatment is given to dogs suffering from this contagious virus?

Lastly, do I have to euthanize my dog with distemper? These are all questions dog owners ask and I’ve done some research to help you with the answers.

Read on and find out more about this contagious virus which threatens our four-legged friends if we’re not on the look out and take the necessary precautions.

What is canine distemper?

Also known as footpad disease, canine distemper is known to infect dogs, wolves, ferrets, raccoons, and even large cats. Both wild and domestic animals are at risk for catching this highly contagious virus.

Distemper affects the gastrointestinal, respiratory, and neurological systems of the body. The disease is caused by a single-strand virus and is most contagious via inhalation.

Canine distemper was one of the highest causes of infectious deaths among domestic dogs until the successful rollout of vaccinations. Despite vaccines though, distemper continues to be a threat to dogs with its high percentage of mortality rates.

What are the common symptoms of canine distemper?

If you’re wondering if your dog has caught this virus, you can look out for some of the most common symptoms which include the following:

  • High fever
  • Dehydration
  • Inflammation of the eyes or watery discharge
  • Discharge from the nose
  • Difficulty in breathing and coughing
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Lethargy and loss of appetite
  • Hardening of the footpads and the nose
  • Incontinence
  • Twitching of the muscles
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Sensitivity to light

If you suspect your dog has distemper, you need to separate him immediately from any other pets in the home.

What must I do if my dog has distemper?

Once you’ve separated your dog from other dogs and cats in the home, call your vet. You’ll have to tell him you suspect your dog has distemper and go through all the symptoms. Your vet will ask you to bring your dog into the rooms for further tests to confirm the diagnosis.

Your vet will perform a physical examination and may also run some blood tests and urinalysis before diagnosing your dog with distemper.

How can I treat my dog with distemper?

Unfortunately, there’s no cure for this viral infection. Treatment includes supportive care and sometimes, your vet will prescribe antibiotics for any secondary bacterial infections. Your vet may also give your dog intravenous fluids to manage the dehydration.

If your dog is already presenting with neurological symptoms, your vet could prescribe anti-seizure medications. They could also give your dog medications to control the vomiting and diarrhea.

Home treatment includes managing your dog’s intake of fluids, giving him his medications, keeping him comfortable and warm, and keeping up his food intake. This is often challenging when your fur-baby is vomiting all the time.

However, home treatment for distemper is often irrelevant and unlikely, as dogs with distemper are usually admitted to veterinary hospital isolation areas, and need intensive treatment to help them recover. Not something that should really be done at home.

Tips for treating your dog at home

Here are some tips to help you treat your dog at home while he’s battling with distemper:

  • Give him comfortable bedding to lie on and have some blankets to keep him warm during fevers and chills. You could also place a hot water bottle, wrapped in a cloth or towel, under his bedding.
  • Keep him hydrated with water throughout the day using a syringe or a teaspoon.
  • If he has a seizure, stay calm. Remove all sharp objects and stay with your dog. Reassure him with soothing words and pet him occasionally. Once his seizure is over, comfort him and take him outside for some fresh air.

Your dog’s recovery is dependent on his immune system and his age. It can take a dog anything between 10 days to up to three months to recover from canine distemper.

However, many dogs never fully recover from distemper. Dogs that recover from the disease are often left with persistent nervous muscular twitches and recurrent (repeated) seizures, as well as increased hardening of the nose and feet, and discoloured teeth.

When is the right time to put down a dog with distemper?

When to put down a dog with distemper is a distressful question. It’s one every dog owner dread facing and asking their vet. If you’ve caught your dog’s distemper early on, and you’re able to treat him accordingly, then you may not have to face this question.

However, if your dog has already reached the final stages of the disease which include severe neurological symptoms such as ongoing seizures, paralysis, and even blindness, your vet may suggest euthanasia.

Deciding when to put down your dog with distemper will also depend on how old your dog is and whether he’s able to fight the disease. Many puppies still have an undeveloped immune system and are less likely able to fight the disease. Older dogs are also less likely able to resist the infections.

Recovery from this nasty virus is a long process and even if your dog does survive it, there may be long-term complications such as muscle and brain damage.

These are all considerations you need to factor in when deciding to put down your beloved fur-baby diagnosed with canine distemper.

Can canine distemper be prevented?

Your dog can get canine distemper in a number of ways. An infected bitch may pass it to her puppies through her placenta. Your dog can get it through direct contact with infected animals and it’s also transmissible through the air.

With the rollout of vaccines for distemper, you can help your dog not catch this contagious virus. Even though vaccines are not always 100% effective, they have played a role in significantly decreasing chances of contracting this deadly disease.

However, by taking the following steps, you’re giving your dog a much better chance against catching the disease:

  • Ensure your puppy gets the full distemper vaccinations series before 4 months old
  • Keep up with boosters throughout your dog’s life and don’t leave any gaps between vaccinations
  • Keep your dog away from wildlife
  • Don’t socialize your puppy or dog until they’re up to date with all their vaccinations

It is possible to prevent your dog from getting canine distemper. Make sure you get your fur-baby vaccinated and follow through with all boosters.


I remember visiting my grandparents one holiday and their Poodle  was having funny turns. It wasn’t easy watching her suffer and as a kid, I didn’t really understand what was happening.

I do know my grandparents felt sad and they finally had to make the decision to put their special dog down.

The moment will stay with me forever, so I do hope you make the best decision on putting down your dog with distemper based on their quality of life.

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Image in header via https://pixabay.com/photos/dog-brown-face-eyes-snout-2766034/

Marc Aaron

I write about the things we've learned about owning dogs, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips we've picked up along the way.

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