Content Reviewed by an Essentials PetCare Veterinarian

You may have heard of the distemper/parvo vaccine and wondered: are distemper and parvo the same disease? Does my dog need to be vaccinated against both?

Distemper and parvo are not the same disease. But they are both highly contagious viral diseases that can cause serious symptoms and even death – especially for unvaccinated puppies and adult dogs.

How do you keep your pup safe from distemper and parvovirus? Get them vaccinated by your veterinarian. Early vaccination is the key to prevention for either illness, and the puppy series of vaccines will be the most important ones your dog will receive throughout their life. This series should be strictly followed as recommended by your veterinarian.

The distemper/parvo vaccine is considered one of the core vaccines within your dog’s first year of life. Core vaccinations are those vaccines that are recommended for every dog regardless of lifestyle or other risk factors. So, it will often be part of a core vaccination bundle, ranging from $70-120. Below, we’ll go into the details of these diseases, prevention, and costs.

Reasons to Vaccinate Against Distemper/Parvovirus

As mentioned, distemper and parvo are both very contagious and dangerous to your dog. Both can cause severe symptoms leading to intense hospitalized treatment and may even lead to death. Distemper, in particular, can also cause long-term issues if your puppy is able to survive the initial illness.

If your dog contracts distemper, they may experience the following symptoms as it progresses through the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems:

  • Discharge from the eyes and nose
  • Fever
  • Coughing
  • Lethargy
  • Reduced appetite
  • Vomiting
  • Head tilt
  • Circling behavior
  • Convulsions
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Thickening of the paw pads (why it’s nicknamed “hard pad disease”) 

Parvovirus focuses on your dog’s digestive system, especially the small intestine. Your dog may show these parvo symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea, often bloody
  • Fever
  • Lethargy and weakness
  • Loss of appetite – and, from that, weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Depression

Any of these symptoms would be unpleasant for your pup. And some could be fatal. Also, keep in mind: no cure exists for distemper or parvo. Your veterinarian can only treat symptoms while your dog hopefully recovers. This typically requires intensive care in the hospital and can quickly become quite expensive.

All of these reasons make a strong case to vaccinate your canine friend – most importantly through a proper puppy series of vaccines. For puppies, that means a dosage of distemper/parvo vaccine every 3 to 4 weeks, starting by 8 weeks of age and continuing until they reach 16 to 18 weeks of age, according to the guidelines of the American Animal Hospital Association.

Keep reading to learn answers to commonly asked questions about distemper and parvovirus.

FAQ about Distemper and Parvovirus

What Are the Chances My Dog Will Catch Distemper or Parvovirus?

Distemper and parvovirus both easily spread among dogs if they share space. Distemper is transmissible through airborne droplets, like coughing, sneezing, or just barking. Mother dogs can also give it to their puppies.

Both parvovirus and distemper particles remain on surfaces like food, water bowls, or clothing. Parvo can be transmitted through contact with infected feces or contact with a human who has touched a dog with parvo. This means that proper hygiene is extremely important to help prevent rapid spread of these infections.

Parvo also tends to be more severe in these breeds of dogs:

  • Labrador retrievers
  • German Shepherds
  • English Springer Spaniels
  • American Staffordshire Terriers
  • Doberman Pinschers
  • Rottweilers

Perhaps trickiest of all, in the case of distemper, dogs can shed the virus for days, weeks, or sometimes months after contracting it.

You may think your dog is safe if you don’t take them to dog parks or boarding facilities. But they could still pick up either virus from exposure to wild animals like raccoons or skunks. The behavior of wild animals is unpredictable, so you cannot guarantee that your pup will avoid contact with them.

This exposure can easily occur just by allowing your dog into your yard, as wildlife often pass through without ever leaving any evidence of their presence. In most cases, dogs that are considered “indoor only” are still going outside to urinate and defecate.

Is the Distemper/Parvovirus Vaccine Required by Law?

No. Most states only mandate the rabies vaccine. However, as you learned in the previous paragraph, distemper and parvovirus pose a similar threat as rabies due to exposure in nature.

With vaccination, your dog can build up enough antibodies to fight these viruses if they’re exposed.

What Is the Vaccination Schedule for Distemper/Parvovirus?

According to the American Animal Hospital Association, the distemper/parvovirus vaccine is one of the earliest recommended vaccinations. Your puppy should begin this series of vaccinations by 6-8 weeks of age.

Typically, distemper and parvovirus are included in a combination vaccine called DHPP, which covers adenovirus and canine parainfluenza. Your pup needs to continue the DHPP vaccine at these ages:

  • 10-12 weeks
  • 12-16 weeks
  • 16-18 months

As you can see from this schedule, the first four months of your puppy’s life is the pivotal time to get them vaccinated. Why?

Puppies are born with some antibody protection from their mothers (referred to as maternal antibodies). As this begins to fade, their immune system meets many viruses and bacteria in the world for the first time. In other words, they’re extra vulnerable. This is when you can build a new shield of immunity for them through vaccination shots.

The protection from vaccinations does not become effective until the maternal antibodies are gone. This is why a series of vaccines are administered to puppies. Because the final vaccine needs to be administered after the maternal antibodies are gone. The entire series of puppy vaccines is critical – a partial series may leave your puppy unprotected.

After the initial puppy series of vaccines, you’ll want to get a DHPP booster shot for your adult dog one year later, then every 3 years afterwards to make sure that your dog continues to have enough protection throughout their life.

How Can I Protect My Puppy Before She Is Immune?

You can reduce your puppy’s exposure to distemper and parvo by keeping them close to home in the first four months of their life. That means no boarding in kennels and minimal contact with other dogs. While you’ll still need to allow your puppy into your own yard for house training purposes, you should avoid areas frequented by other dogs, such as dog parks.

Most importantly, your puppy needs to begin the vaccine series at the proper time and stay on schedule. This will ensure they remain safe during this critical time of development. Simply trying to avoid exposure to the viruses doesn’t work, as they can survive in the environment for many months at a time.

This may tie you down for a little bit, but it’s for your puppy’s safety. You’ll probably have your hands full for the first few months, anyway, as you train them to be housebroken, walk on a leash, and establish basic obedience commands. On the bright side, you’ll get in some good bonding time between you and your new pup!

How Long Does Distemper/Parvovirus Vaccine Last?

After the initial puppy series and adult booster one year later, the distemper/parvo vaccine lasts at least 3 years according to current research. To be on the safe side, booster shots fall within that time window to ensure that your dog doesn’t have any gaps in protection.

Is the Distemper/Parvovirus Vaccine Safe for Dogs?

While veterinarian opinions on vaccination safety may vary slightly, the overall consensus is that vaccination protection far outweighs vaccination risk. This is especially true with regards to the initial puppy series of vaccines. There is little to no reason to avoid early-life vaccination for your puppy. They may experience some mild side effects, just like people do with vaccines. These can include a few days of fatigue, soreness, or fever. But serious side effects are rare.

Most of the differences of opinion occur later on in your dog’s life. Some veterinarians think that too many boosters pose a health risk. Others believe in the value of that extra protection. Luckily, research has shown these vaccines to provide longer protection than initially thought. That means most adult dogs will not need booster vaccines every year of their life.

Some veterinarians will offer titer tests, which show you how many antibodies remain from previous vaccinations. However, if you are working on a budget, remember that titer, antibody, or immunity tests cost anywhere from $100-300, depending on the disease being measured. And if your dog does not demonstrate enough immunity, you will still need to pay for the vaccine.

So it may be worth simply sticking to a recommended schedule, especially if your dog shows no ill side effects.

How Much Will Parvo Vaccine Series Cost?

As discussed, you can expect to pay between $70-120 per round of vaccine shots. A puppy in her first year of life will need more shots, so costs can total around $100-350. Annual vaccine/booster costs for your adult dog will amount to $80-250.

Why the range? It depends on where you go. Some veterinarians offer comprehensive annual care, so the price may include doctor exams and other services as well as shots. On the other hand, if you are willing to work with the schedules and sometimes limited availability of animal shelters, you can get shots for as little as $20 each – even free, in certain cases.

At Essentials PetCare, we keep our prices on the lower end of the spectrum by offering, well, the essentials! Like our puppy vaccination packages to help you afford indispensable care for your beloved pup. Each bundle of puppy vaccines costs $70 and includes a doctor’s exam and fecal exams to check for intestinal parasites. You can also opt for a Best Start Puppy Package to save even more.


Essential Tip: We not only offer vaccine packages, but minor illness packages as well! These include a veterinary exam, diagnostics, treatment recommendations, and portable prescriptions, if necessary, tailored to your pet’s needs.


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