The Farmington Police Department’s Animal Control Unit has noticed an increase in the number of calls related to sick raccoons. Many of the raccoons are exhibiting signs consistent with canine distemper. The following includes information on distemper, steps to safeguard your pets and who to call when encountering a raccoon that may have distemper.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is canine distemper?
Canine distemper is a contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system of puppies, dogs and even ferrets. The virus can also be found in wildlife, such as raccoons, skunks, coyotes, foxes, and wolves (this is not an all-inclusive list). There is no cure for distemper, and the disease is often fatal. Canine distemper is generally always present in the raccoon population, although at low levels. The presence of the disease tends to spike in the fall.
What are the behaviors and symptoms of a raccoon with canine distemper?
Raccoons infected with canine distemper may exhibit unusual behaviors such as, slow movement, giving the appearance of being blind, stumbling, confusion and wandering aimlessly. They may also lose their fear of humans and become aggressive if cornered.
A mucus discharge will often be present around the eyes and nose and may be accompanied by coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, tremors, seizures or chewing fits. The animal may only exhibit some of these behaviors and symptoms and otherwise appear quite healthy.
What should I do if I see a raccoon I think has distemper?
If you see a raccoon and it appears sick, do NOT approach it; immediately call non-emergency dispatch at 505-334-6622. An animal control officer will be dispatched to assess the situation and will either make a referral to Department of Game & Fish or, if safe to do so, will catch the raccoon.
NOTE: Please remember, as cute as they may appear, a raccoon is a wild animal. Whether it’s carrying an infectious disease or not, it’s dangerous to try to make contact with or feed it.
Can my dog catch canine distemper?
Yes. If your dog has not been vaccinated against distemper and comes in contact with an infected animal, he/she can contract the disease. Puppies younger than four-months-old and dogs that have not been vaccinated against distemper are at an increased risk of acquiring the disease.
How can I protect my dog from contracting canine distemper?
To help reduce the changes of your dog becoming infected with canine distemper, owners should vaccinate their dogs when they are puppies and maintain booster shots as recommended by their veterinarian. Keep your dog on a leash when taking walks, and if you live in an area where raccoons, skunks or other wildlife have access to your yard, scan the area before letting your dog out.
How is canine distemper spread?
Canine distemper can be spread through a variety of ways. The most common transmission is through airborne exposure (sneezing or coughing). The virus can also be transmitted by food and water bowls, sharing of contaminated objects (such as toys, blankets and bedding) and ingesting or inhaling infected saliva, mucus, urine, or blood of an infected dog or animal.
Can humans catch distemper?
While canine distemper does not pose health risks to humans, people can be carriers of the virus and spread it to their pets. If you’ve ever owned a dog that suffered from canine distemper, it’s important to vaccinate new pets before they’re brought into the home.
*The information provided in this article is an overview of canine distemper. The purpose is to provide basic awareness and general safety guidelines. We encourage citizens to speak with their veterinarians for more in-depth information pertaining to the health of their pets.
American Veterinarian Medical Association