Infectious Diseases in Dogs | Rabies, Parvovirus & Distemper

Picture of girl petting a dog

Keeping your canine friend a healthy member of your family isn’t very difficult, especially when it comes to infectious diseases. Many of those we will describe below can be prevented by getting your dog vaccinated.

Being a dog parent isn’t as easy as you might think, especially if you have never had a dog before. To keep you happy, a dog needs to be healthy. Besides, some of the medical conditions we’ll talk about in this article can also be transmitted to humans. Vaccinating your dog means that both the animal and yourself and your family will remain healthy.


Rabies is caused by a deadly virus. It is spread through the bite of an infected animal, and in most cases and due to group immunity (most dogs in most cities are vaccinated, and as such, they can’t be infected with rabies), it is spread by wild animals such as bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes.

In almost 15% of the cases where a dog is bitten by an infected animal he or she actually gets to manifest symptoms of the disease. That’s pretty low, right? Unfortunately, it’s always better to be safe than sorry, and since rabies can also be transmitted to humans, an unvaccinated dog that gets bitten by a rabid animal has to be quarantined for up to 6 months… more


Parvovirosis can be a deadly disease especially in young puppies that weren’t vaccinated. It strikes in two areas of the body – the heart and the intestinal tract. The intestinal form is common and is characterized by diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and weight loss. This disease cannot be transmitted to humans.

Fortunately, over the years, the incidence of Parvovirosis has significantly reduced because pet parents vaccinate their dogs regularly. It is a viral disease that has no treatment, so vaccination is paramount. In case your puppy does get it, there’s no way of helping him or her recover other than by preventing secondary bacterial infections (through antibiotics) and ensuring hydration…more


Leptospirosis is another disease that is preventable with a vaccine. This one can be transmitted to humans, so beware. It is caused by a bacteria that lives in water that has been contaminated by the urine of rodents, wildlife, or domestic animals.

It typically causes kidney disease, but there are strains that can result in neurologic issues, bleeding disorders, eye inflammation, and liver damage. Its symptoms range from fever and muscle tenderness to increased thirst, fever, and changes in urination. Jaundice is also noticeable when the liver has been affected. Unlike some viral diseases, leptospirosis can be treated with antibiotics, but the success of the treatment depends on the health status of the animal.


Canine distemper is a serious and contagious illness also caused by a virus. It has no cure. It is transmitted through direct or indirect contact with an infected animal. Your dog doesn’t necessarily have to come in contact with another dog – if you have several canines in your household and one of them is infected, it can simply be transmitted through saliva (food bowls) or urine. The virus affects the dog’s lymph nodes and tonsils. Since all mammals have lymph nodes spread throughout their bodies, the virus eventually attacks the gastrointestinal, respiratory, urinary, and nervous systems.

Kennel Cough

Canine infectious tracheobronchitis is highly contagious and is caused by a bacteria called Bordetella. It is preventable through vaccination, and fortunately, it can also be treated. Some of the most distinctive symptoms of kennel cough range from a loud cough to a runny nose, loss of appetite, sneezing, and a low fever. It can often be mistaken for a cold.

Because it is very contagious, the kennel cough vaccine should be administered yearly to dogs that are taken out for walks in the park. Those that will be kept in boarding facilities should receive the vaccine at least two to three weeks prior to their owners leaving on vacation so that the immunity is ensured.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection that’s transmitted through the bite of a carrier tick. However, only five to ten percent of all dogs that are infected manifest any symptoms. The typical signs of the illness range from fever to swollen joints and lameness. While there is a Lyme disease vaccine, its use is not common. However, you’ll be glad to know that the disease can be treated efficiently thanks to antibiotics. To prevent it, you should use topical treatments and collars against ticks.


Ehrlichiosis is another disease caused by the bite of ticks that carry the bacterium. It shares some of the symptoms with Lyme disease, but not all since this illness can also be characterized by respiratory distress, bleeding disorders, and even neurological manifestations. The treatment entails the use of antibiotics over a longer time (six weeks). It can be prevented thanks to tick prevention products.


Giardia is a protozoan parasite that affects the digestive tract of dogs and causes diarrhea. Sometimes, you might notice that your canine companion has watery stools with traces of blood or a greenish tint. The presence of mucus in the feces is also discernible as its quantity is definitely noticeable. In cases where the infection is more severe, vomiting could be a sign that shows up, too.

The issue with this disease is the digestive distress, but also the dehydration. Since the signs can last for as long as six weeks, we recommend taking your pet to the vet as soon as you see any. Treatment is readily available, and you’ll most likely be asked to administer it for two weeks… more


Coccidiosis is another parasitic infection that affects the digestive tract and whose main symptom is the appearance of mucus-type diarrhea. In time, if left untreated, it can damage the intestinal lining. As with other parasitic infections, there is treatment available, and it is very effective. While it rarely leads to permanent damage because the sick canines are brought in for an examination fairly quickly, it is the responsibility of the pet parent to take the dog to the vet as soon as any of the symptoms are noticed.


Brucellosis is caused by a type of bacteria, so there is treatment available. However, the issue with this disease is that it can spread from animals to humans. There are several different strains, and most affect different species – the disease can also affect goats, sheep, and pigs, and is commonly encountered in cows.

Brucella canis usually affects the reproductive system and is considered a venereal disease. It can lead to infertility, abortions, and it can spread to the kidneys, the eyes, the brain, or the intervertebral discs. Needless to say, this illness is more common in dogs that haven’t been neutered or spayed. In humans, the disease is mild, but one thing that needs to be mentioned here is that a human can only get it through a bite. Infected dogs don’t just spread the bacteria to their owners unless there’s a blood or fluid exchange. Vets are more predisposed to getting infected if they are bitten by infected patients.


As you can see, many of the infectious diseases that we have tackled in this article are preventable through vaccination. Antibiotics are effective for bacterial illnesses, and medication for parasitic infections (coccidiosis and giardia) is also available.

Vaccines are important especially while your dog is still growing and doesn’t have a strong immune system that can manage infections. Viral diseases are dangerous at all ages mostly because there are few options in the way of treating them. Make sure to vaccinate your dog against parvovirosis, distemper, leptospirosis, kennel cough, and rabies.



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