Question: Can my dog contract distemper if he’s had a vaccine?

Answer: Unfortunately, the short answer to this question is “yes”.

Vaccines are unable to 100% completely protect against a disease, however providing your dog with the recommended vaccination protocol will greatly reduce his chances of becoming sick. Vaccines are designed to do 3 things: boost immunity, lessen severity of clinical disease, and help control the incidence of infection.

In the first, boost immunity, a series of vaccines provides your dog’s immune system with anti-bodies against the infectious virus so that if he does become exposed to the virus his own immune system can attack it more effectively, and hopefully clear it before he becomes sick.

In the second, lessen severity of disease, if your dog does become exposed to the virus and also does get sick, he will likely not become as sick as if he had not had a vaccine series, and his chances of recovery are better. His boosted immune system will still be helping to clear the virus, and less of the virus will make your dog sick.

In the third, vaccines help to control the amount of virus out there in the environment, therefore lessening the chances of your dog getting exposed in the first place. This happens because most of the diseases we vaccinate our dogs for are transmitted from dog to dog, usually either by respiratory or fecal secretions depending on the virus. If we live in communities where vaccines are widely used, and dogs are therefore free from these diseases, then they are not potential carriers and shedders of the virus for other dogs to pick up.

The distemper vaccine is a core vaccine, meaning all dogs should be appropriately immunized against it, unless they are exempt for rare medical reasons. It is the “D” component of widely used vaccine combinations (such as DAP, DHPP, DHPPC). Distemper is a good example of how adequate vaccine protocols can greatly reduce the incidence of the disease- it was much more common before the vaccination was widely used. The usual protocol for Distemper vaccination is a series of 3-4 vaccines as a puppy and then annual or 3 year boosters depending on your veterinarian’s recommendations. The number one best way to reduce your dog’s chances of contracting Distemper is following the recommended vaccination schedule outlined by your veterinarian.

Dr. Salt earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree with honors from Washington State University. She then completed an internship at VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital. She earned her B.S. in Zoology and Anthropology from the University of Washington. In 2010 Dr. Salt also completed Certification in Veterinary Medical Acupuncture through Colorado State University.

Her professional interests include internal medicine, emergency and critical care, geriatric pet care, and pain management. She also enjoys volunteerism in the veterinary field locally and spent time in the South helping the animal victims of Hurricane Katrina.

Dr. Salt lives in North Seattle with two Basset Hounds (Henry and Cooper), a mixed breed dog (Mugsie), an Old Dog Haven foster dog (Granny Franny) and Ollie the cat. In her free time she enjoys swimming, hiking, camping, jewelry making, photography, and spending time with friends.