Cases rise of disease carried by raccoons that can infect dogs

Reports are on the rise of a disease in raccoons that can infect domestic dogs. Taking precautions can minimize chances of the disease spreading to pets.

The disease, called canine distemper, can be spread through the air or by direct contact with urine, feces, blood or saliva.

Cases have been confirmed in Olmsted and Yellow Medicine counties and sick raccoons also have been reported in Dodge, Winona and Kandiyohi counties, according to the Minnesota departments of natural resources (DNR) and health (MDH).

“Canine distemper virus does not affect humans,” said Dr. Joni Scheftel, state public health veterinarian at MDH. “However, distemper in animals can look like rabies, so it is important to stay away from sick wildlife.”

Pet owners should ensure dogs are current on vaccines. Pets should be kept away from sick or dead wildlife. Anyone unsure if their dogs are current on canine distemper vaccine should talk with their veterinarian about the vaccination status of their pets.

People should stay away from sick raccoons and dead wildlife should be left alone. If disposal is necessary, the animal can be buried where it is found or picked up with a plastic garbage bag using gloves and placed in the garbage. Some municipalities may have an animal control officer who can assist. The DNR and the MDH do not provide animal removal services.

“The canine distemper virus is found throughout the state and a few cases are reported every year, but there seems to be a rise in reports this year,” said Dr. Michelle Carstensen, wildlife health supervisor for DNR.

Other states – including Tennessee, Virginia and Texas – also have reported increased cases of canine distemper virus in raccoons and foxes this year.

Canine distemper virus affects the central nervous system of mammals such as raccoons, foxes, wolves and skunks. Infected animals behave abnormally, losing their fear of humans, stumbling, shaking and can appear to be overly friendly. Other symptoms include sneezing, coughing and discharge from the eyes and nose.

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