Canine Hyperesthesia

Brushing, or even petting, a dog with hyperesthesia can cause extreme pain.
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Hyperesthesia refers to an increased sensitivity to a sensory stimulant, such as touch or vision. In dogs, hyperesthesia is a symptom that occurs in dogs affected with the canine distemper virus. While preliminary symptoms of canine distemper typically affect the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, progression to the central nervous system occurs in many affected dogs. While dogs can recover from canine distemper, the prognosis is guarded if central nervous symptoms, such as hyperesthesia, are present.

Canine Distemper

Caused by the canine distemper virus, or CDV, canine distemper is less common today due to the regular administration of vaccines. CDV particles live throughout the environment but do not affect all dogs. Individual immune system, the weather and the strain of the virus play roles in whether not a dog gets sick. Even if a dog has not received a vaccination when he is exposed to the virus, he is not guaranteed to get sick. The virus enters the body through the nose or mouth and travels to the lymph nodes in the neck, where it replicates and spreads. Symptoms typically begin between five and 10 days after exposure.

Initial Symptoms

Initial symptoms begin in the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, though not every dog has the same symptoms. Common symptoms include fever, discharge from the nose and eyes, coughing, difficulty breathing, pneumonia, decreased appetite, weight loss, depression, eye swelling, blindness, vomiting and diarrhea.

Central Nervous System Symptoms

Central nervous system symptoms such as hyperesthesia may occur at the same time as other symptoms, though they can wait to surface up three weeks after the initial symptoms. In addition to hyperesthesia, or hypersensitivity to touch and light, other central nervous system symptoms include weakness, paralysis, loss of coordination, involuntary muscle twitching, neck pain, behavioral changes, seizures, coma and death.


Canine distemper has no treatment or cure. Supportive care addresses symptoms and secondary bacterial infections, such as pneumonia. Treatments include fluid replacement to prevent dehydration, antibiotics and anti-seizure medication.


Vaccination is the primary means of preventing canine distemper and symptoms such as hyperesthesia. Puppies should receive a series of shots, the first ones between 6 and 8 weeks of age and two more sets by age 14 or 16 weeks. The veterinarian gives additional boosters every two to four weeks until the puppy is 16 weeks old. As your do ages, distemper boosters are recommended every one to three years.