PAWS Magazine

Issue 72, Spring 2009

Ask PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian

PAWS' Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee answers a few questions about distemper and how it affects dogs, cats and Raccoons.

Q: What is distemper? Can other animals, besides cats and dogs, get it?

A: Distemper is a term for viral diseases that cause severe respiratory or intestinal illnesses. Canine and feline distemper are distinctly different diseases caused by unrelated viruses. Domestic house cats do not get sick from the canine distemper virus, and dogs do not get sick from the feline virus. However, each can cause severe and often fatal infections in Raccoons.

The canine distemper virus is actually capable of causing infection in several species, including all canines (dogs, foxes, Coyotes), Raccoons, the weasel family (skunks, otters, ferrets), large cats (African lions), seals and other carnivores.

Complications from this disease include pneumonia, crusty discharge from the eyes and nose, vomiting and diarrhea, and neurological problems such as disorientation and seizures. It is highly contagious and usually spread by droplets in the air, in body fluids such as saliva, or discharges from the eyes and nose of an infected animal.

Q: Is canine distemper prevalent among Raccoons?

A: Canine distemper is prevalent in wild Raccoon populations, including those found in suburban and urban areas, but the incidence of the disease varies each year. There tends to be a three to seven-year cycle of outbreaks in susceptible species. So far in 2009, PAWS Wildlife Center is seeing a modest increase in canine distemper in Raccoons.

Following an epidemic year, survivors have immunity that protects them which they can pass to their offspring. However, this resistance often diminishes over the next three to seven years allowing another epidemic to occur.

Q: What is the best way to protect pets and humans from getting distemper or spreading it to Raccoons?

A: Humans are not susceptible to canine distemper. But it is very important to protect your pets and to prevent the spread of the disease by making regular visits to your veterinarian, and keeping pets (including ferrets) current on all vaccinations. In addition, properly supervise your animal companions when they are outside or keep them safely indoors to help prevent exposing them to potentially diseased domestic and wild animals, as well as many other threats. For the same reasons, do not unintentionally invite hungry animals in the neighborhood to your yard by leaving out pet food or unsecured garbage.


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