Many animals — including raccoons, foxes and ferrets — can acquire distemper, but dogs are most likely to pick it up through direct contact with an infected dog’s saliva, blood or urine. This can happen when your pet uses another dog’s food or water bowl. It can also be passed through the air if an infected dog sneezes or coughs near your dog. In extremely rare cases, your pet can contract it from an improperly attenuated vaccine.
Puppies and young dogs who have not received the distemper vaccine are at highest risk of getting the virus — particularly those under 7 weeks of age born to mothers who have not been vaccinated. Dogs with weakened immune systems due to bacterial respiratory and gastrointestinal infections are also at an increased risk of contracting distemper.