What Do All Of Those Letters In The “Canine Distemper” Vaccine Mean?

When you bring your pet in for a routine wellness exam and vaccines, you are commonly presented with one of us reeling off a list of what vaccines your pet needs. These will often include the well known Rabies vaccine, the Kennel Cough vaccine, and the Distemper vaccine (also referred to as the DHLPP vaccine). What may not always be clearly explained is the fact that our “Distemper” vaccine is actually a combination vaccine that targets FOUR to FIVE different diseases.

Let’s break it down:

  • D = Canine Distemper Virus:
  • Canine distemper is a viral infection that can affect almost every system in the body. Most notably, however, it affects the respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal system. Clinical signs can start as weakness, fever, nasal and/or eye discharge, vomiting, and diarrhea but can progress to disorientation, eye inflammation seizures, paralysis, fluid in the lungs, and death. Although distemper cannot be transmitted to humans, the neurologic signs caused by canine distemper can be indistinguishable from those caused by rabies.
  • H = Infectious Canine Hepatitis:
  • This is a sudden onset infection in the liver that is spread through infected feces, urine, blood, saliva, and nasal discharge of infected dogs. Clinical signs include fever, weakness, coughing, abdominal pain, bloody diarrhea, jaundice (yellow skin caused by toxin buildup), vomiting, and inflammation in the eyes. Bleeding problems can also develop since the liver is responsible for manufacturing the products responsible for controlling bleeding. Dogs who have been successfully treated can still spread the virus in their urine for more than 6 months.
  • L = Leptospirosis (aka “Lepto”):
  • This is a bacterial infection that is transmitted through the urine of infected wildlife such as rats, mice, raccoons, opossums, skunks, squirrels, etc. This bacteria prefers warm, damp environments (special precautions should be taken around slow-moving or stagnant waters). Peak incidence in dogs occurs during the warmer months, especially after heavy rainfall or flooding. The bacteria enters into the bloodstream and causes serious damage to, and even failure of, the kidneys and liver. Some of the clinical signs include fever, muscle pain, gastrointestinal signs, abnormal bleeding, shock, and death. This disease can be transmitted to humans and causes similar clinical signs. There are, unfortunately, many different strains of lepto. Although the current vaccine does not protect against all of them, it does protect against several of the most common strains out there.
  • P = Canine Parvovirus
  • This is a highly infectious virus that causes severe inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Puppies and juvenile dogs are the most susceptible. Transmission occurs through contact with infected feces, infected soil, or contaminated surfaces. Clinical signs generally include severe diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and weakness. The inflammation in the intestines is so severe that bacteria can actually seep out of the intestines into the bloodstream causing systemic shock and death. The virus also destroys the body’s infection-fighting cells rendering the patient immunosuppressed and unable to fight off the disease.
  • P = Parainfluenza
  • Canine Parainfluenza is a viral infection that causes upper respiratory infections in dogs. Clinical signs generally include a dry, hacking cough, eye and/or nasal discharge, and fever. Secondary bacterial infections can develop which can result in damage to the tracheal lining. This disease is transmitted by eye and nasal discharge or saliva.

Feel free to ask us more questions about these diseases at your next vaccine appointment!