It was reported that in the GTA there were hundreds of raccoon deaths that could be attributed to distemper between 2009 and 2010. This disease is still prevalent in raccoons and is not widely understood. There is a huge risk for pets who come in contact with infected raccoons or skunks with the disease–dead or alive. It is important to become educated and take the proper precautions.
What is canine distemper?
Canine distemper is an infectious viral disease which is similar to rabies in its symptoms. The disease is spread through the air, as well as direct and indirect contact. The virus first attacks the tonsils. After a week it will then attack the respiratory, urogenital, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems. Canine distemper, as titled, affects dogs, but also affects many other carnivores, most commonly raccoons, skunks, and household ferrets.
What are the symptoms of canine distemper?
Among raccoons, the symptoms will begin simply with a runny nose and watery eyes, which makes it difficult to detect in early stages. As time passes, the raccoon may develop pneumonia, becoming extremely thin. Diarrhea is a clear symptom of the disease. In the final stages, the raccoon will become disoriented, walking aimlessly, seemingly dazed and confused. This is what makes people assume rabies is the cause, although the true cause can only be determined through laboratory testing.
Noticing symptoms in your dogs is important, because the disease can become fatal quickly. Your dog will have a high fever, and experience discharge from the nose and experience reddening of the eyes. The dog will become lethargic, and often times become anorexic as well. At this stage, vomiting, diarrhea, and coughing will begin. The final indicator will occur once the disease has reached the central nervous system, and the dog will experience fits, seizures, and bursts of hysteria.
How can I prevent distemper in my pets?
Routine vaccinations and isolation of infected pets is the best way to prevent the disease. As it can be spread through infected wild animals, you should make sure to be monitoring your dog at all times, ensuring that they are not chasing raccoons, or sniffing at dead raccoons who may be victims of the disease. Puppies are especially susceptible, so making sure they are protected is paramount.
Is there a cure for canine distemper?
No. At this stage, no treatment exists for the disease, and infected raccoons are often euthanized if detected. This is what makes prevention and control all the more pertinent.
(n.d.). Distemper in dogs. Retrieved from PetMD website: http://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/respiratory/c_dg_canine_distemper
Aulakh, R. (2010, February 18). Dogs and cats at risk as epidemic kills raccoons. Retrieved from The Star website: http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2010/02/18/dogs_and_cats_at_risk_as_epidemic_kills_raccoons.html
(2010, February 18). Distemper outbreak in toronto. Retrieved from CBC website: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/distemper-outbreak-in-toronto-1.924339
(n.d.). Raccoon diseases. Retrieved from Wildlife Education website: http://www.wildlife-education.com/raccoon-diseases.php
Content contributor: Dr. Sandra Drury