So, just how bad are these disease if your pet catches them?

Warning some graphic images are included


As with most viral illnesses which invade & spread through the body, Parvo, Distemper and Canine Infectious Hepatitis infections can begin with fairly common signs such as fever, loss of energy & appetite, vomiting & diarrhoea, coughing, sneezing, runny eyes or nose, dehydration, or stomach & gut pain. However, it is their other effects which set them apart and make them deadly (see table below). In comparison, parainfluenza and kennel cough are not usually life-threatening for healthy dogs in their prime, but can still cause a lot of suffering and are notoriously contagious.

Distinctive Effects of Canine Diseases


  • Blood-filled diarrhoea
  • Intestine pain and damage of gut lining
  • Damage to bone marrow, white blood cells & immune system
  • Blood poisoning
  • Shock & collapse
  • Rapidly fatal without immediate medical treatment


  • Sore, crusting, peeling skin on eyes, nose & footpads
  • Nerves & brain affected:
  • Seizures (fitting)
  • Paralysed limbs
  • Head tilt / poor balance
  • Muscle twitching
  • Jaw-chattering
  • Convulsions (jerking body movements)
  • Always fatal

Infectious Hepatitis

  • Liver inflammation & destruction
  • Keratitis or “blue eye” (Irritation & damage to surface of the eye, giving it a cloudy appearance)
  • Adenitis (Painful swollen lumps in the armpit, neck, shoulder, jaw, thigh & groin area -caused by infection of small immune system organs called lymph nodes)
  • Usually fatal

Parainfluenza (“dog flu”) & Kennel Cough

  • Kennel cough often causes a distinct gagging cough
  • Often multiple bacteria &/or viruses working together
  • Older dogs, puppies, or dogs with poor immune systems or other major illnesses can suffer more serious effects
  • Pet owners can provide cover for these illnesses by upgrading from a C3 to a C5 vaccination

Blood-filled diarrhoea – Canine Parvo Virus victim

Painful face ulcers – Canine Distemper


In addition to the F3 vaccine which covers Feline Parvo, Herpes and Calici Viruses, an FIV vaccine is strongly advised for outdoor cats who roam, as the virus is transmitted through fighting and other contact and can be quite widespread amongst stray cat colonies.

Feline Parvo Virus / Panleukopaenia

  • Vomiting
  • Damage to gut lining
  • Blood-stained diarrhoea
  • Damage to bone marrow, which prevents it from making blood cells
  • Anaemia caused by blood cell shortage
  • Rough coat
  • Foetal damage in pregnant cats

Feline Parvo Virus / Panleukopaenia

  • Vomiting
  • Damage to gut lining
  • Blood-stained diarrhoea
  • Damage to bone marrow, which prevents it from making blood cells
  • Anaemia caused by blood cell shortage
  • Rough coat
  • Foetal damage in pregnant cats

Feline Calici Virus

  • Runny eyes and nose
  • Possible pneumonia
  • Painful deep ulcers on tongue, lips, nose, roof of mouth or footpads
  • Arthritis, lameness or muscle & joint pain
  • Internal or external bleeds


  • Loss of immune system function, similar to human AIDS/HIV
  • Due to loss of immune defences, more susseptible to cancers such as lymphoma and on-going and various infections of the upper airways, nose, mouth & gums, inner & outer eye, stomach, gut, ears & skin
  • More likely to catch Herpes &Calici Viruses & suffer worse effects
  • Kidneys can also become slow & weak (chronic renal insufficiency)

Eye ulcers – Feline Herpes Virus

Painful footpad sores – Feline Calici Virus


The only vaccine available for rabbits in Australia is the ‘Cylap’, which protects against Calici Virus. Calici is a swift killer in rabbits, with many victims dying before they even show any signs of illness. The virus causes internal bleeding, liver and intestinal damage and occasionally fever, restlessness, and bleeding from the eyes or nose. Another deadly rabbit disease is Myxomatosis, but unfortunately there is no vaccine for it in Australia. This virus is caught from biting insects such as mosquitos, so owners can protect their bunnies by keeping them inside when insects are most active, and by mozzie-proofing their hutches or living areas with flyscreens and mesh.


Similar to dogs, the Distemper Virus can affect ferrets’ respiratory, digestive and nervous systems, as well as their skin. Sneezing, coughing, vomiting & diarrhoea occur alongside more serious signs such as seizuring/fitting, poor co-ordination and a loss of balance. Skin problems such as crusting eyelids and face and hard swollen skin on the nose and footpads are also a tell-tale sign of this killer disease. Whilst some vets overseas use a vaccine made just for ferrets called Purevax Ferret, it is not available in Australia. However, dog or puppy vaccines such as the C3 work just fine for ferrets, in a slightly smaller dose. Do not forget that ferrets also need protection from heartworm; Revolution is suitable and often used for ferrets.

Skin thickening and crusting on a ferret with Canine Distemper

Thanks to Brigitte Duffield final year Vet student in 2017 for this excellent document!