Distemper in Racoons

It will spring soon and we will begin to see more wildlife out and about.  One of the creatures almost all of recognize is the raccoon.   As with most wild animals the number one killer of raccoons are humans.  The second leading cause of death in raccoons is distemper.  They can die from either canine (dog) distemper or feline (cat) distemper.

Canine distemper and feline distemper come from totally different viruses but both can kill raccoons.  These distemper infections are contagious and can wipe out whole colonies of raccoons.  The infants and young are especially susceptible to distemper related deaths.

Symptoms of canine distemper in raccoons start as an upper respiratory infection with runny eyes and noses.  As it progresses pneumonia can develop.  Diarrhea and weight loss are likely to occur.  In the advance stages the raccoon will wander around aimlessly, be active in daylight and approach humans with no signs of fear, even indicating they want to be picked up.  This is caused by the distemper virus attacking the central nervous system and causing severe brain damage.  They may also hyper-salivate and drool.  The symptoms for canine distemper in raccoons are indistinguishable from the rabies virus and are often mislabeled by lay people.  Rabies can only be diagnoses post mortem from the brain tissue of an infected animal.  Both diseases are fatal.

Feline distemper symptoms in raccoons begin as a high fever, followed by anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, severe white blood cell loss and death.  Fleas may be the leading cause of transmission of feline distemper as well as body secretions.

There is no treatment for either type of distemper and death rates are very high, up to 100% in some colonies.  It is important to prevent distemper spread for both domestic dogs and cats as well as the general wild life populations.

Pets should be vaccinated against these viruses to prevent them contracting the diseases an spreading them to other animals.  Pet ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper as it’s fatal to them and all animal rehabbers should have pets and wildlife vaccinated before release back into the wild.

Neither canine or feline distemper affects humans so people are safe from the disease.  Never touch or feed a wild animal, no matter how friendly or injured they seem.  Contact Animal Control for your safety and the safety of the animal.  If you are concerned that a wild animal needs veterinary care you can request the animal be taken to a wildlife veterinarian if you are willing to defray the cost.  Most Animal Control organizations are limited in funds designated to wildlife medical treatment.

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