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Parvo VS. Distemper: Which One Is Worse?

Canine Parvovirus and Canine Distemper are the two most common systemic viral diseases that affect our furry family members. Both are incredibly contagious and have the potential to become life-threatening without timely medical attention. But, which one is worse? Let’s compare the two viral diseases to find out!


What Do They Do to The Body?

Parvo VS. Distemper: Which One Is Worse?The Canine Parvovirus, commonly known as Parvo, is a viral disease that can affect all dogs, but especially puppies under four months and unvaccinated dogs. What it does is attack the gastrointestinal tract of dogs and cause infectious gastrointestinal disease. As time passes, the condition gets worse as the virus continues to replicate itself in the small intestines, bone marrow, and lymphoid tissues.

Similar to Parvo, the Canine Distemper Virus also affects the gastrointestinal tract of dogs. However, on top of that, it also damages the respiratory, urogenital, and nervous systems as the disease progresses. Another thing to note is that, while Parvo replicates in the small intestines, bone marrow, and lymphoid tissues, Distemper mainly multiplies in the tonsils and lymph nodes of its host.


What Are Their Symptoms?

Parvo VS. Distemper: Which One Is Worse?The first signs of a Canine Parvovirus infection typically appear about three to seven days after a dog contracts the virus. Infected dogs may experience weakness, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, weight loss, mild to severe diarrhea (with or without blood), loss of appetite, depression, or fever. They may also become dehydrated because of constant vomiting and diarrhea.

For Canine Distemper, the signs and symptoms vary depending on the different stages of infection. Initial symptoms include purulent eye discharge, clear nasal discharge, fever, coughing, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and inflammation of the brain and spinal cord.

In the later stages, neurological symptoms will begin to appear. During this time, infected dogs may start experiencing muscle tics/twitching, tremors, head tilts, circling, seizures, partial or full-body paralysis, increased salivation, or behavioral changes.


How Are They Transmitted?

Parvo VS. Distemper: Which One Is Worse?The Canine Parvovirus can easily spread from one dog to another simply through casual contact. Since infected dogs shed the virus in bodily fluids and secretions (mucus, saliva, vomit, urine, and feces), other dogs can pick it up by merely being around a sick dog or coming into contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (floors, toys, dog bowls, kennels, beds).

Additionally, the Canine Parvovirus is incredibly tough and difficult to kill. It’s highly resistant to common household cleaners and can persist in the environment for months! If your dog has Parvo or is recovering from Parvo, make sure to clean their belongings and your home using diluted bleach (1 part bleach, 30 parts water).

A dog that has Distemper can also infect others through bodily fluids and secretions, but unlike Parvo, the Canine Distemper Virus doesn’t last long outside of a host and can be destroyed by regular household disinfectants. The virus mainly spreads through the air in the form of aerosol droplets when an infected dog coughs or sneezes, and through contaminated surfaces and fomites, such as clothing, equipment, or even human hands.


How Are These Diseases Treated?

Unfortunately, there is no known cure for either Parvo or Distemper. Infected dogs typically receive supportive care that involves a series of medications that help control the symptoms that come with these viral diseases.


How Can They Be Prevented?

Since there is no specific medication that can cure both Parvo and Distemper, the best way to combat them is through routine vaccination.

Vaccines against Parvo and Distemper are usually given in combination in a series of three shots when puppies are about six to eight weeks old, then again at ten to twelve weeks, and at fourteen to sixteen weeks. They should receive a booster shot after a year, and every three years after that.


So, Which One Is Worse?

Well, in our opinion, Canine Parvovirus is worse than Canine Distemper. Although both viral diseases can potentially become fatal, Parvo spreads a lot easier and is so much more challenging to get rid of—given its extraordinary resistance to common household disinfectants and the ability to survive for as long as a year outside its host.


Which disease do YOU think is worse? Feel free to share your opinions in the comments!