Raccoons with Distemper found in Petal


Petal residents are being advised to take extra precaution to ensure the safety of their pets following the recent discovery of Distemper in raccoons. Animal control released a statement Monday recommending pet owners stow away their pet’s food and water containers at night, and said that the Petal Animal Warden will begin checking for current rabies vaccinations per city ordinance/state law.

Distemper is the second leading cause of death of raccoons, with humans being the first. There are two forms of Distemper that are caused by two separate viruses; raccoons are susceptible to both forms, and both forms have a high mortality rate.

The first is Canine distemper, which is a highly contagious virus that affects animals in the Canidae, Mustelidae and Procyonidae families.

Canine Distemper may initially manifest as something similar to an upper respiratory infection. However, as the disease progresses, the animal may suffer brain damage resulting in paralysis, psychosis or other bizarre neurological conditions.

The second form of Distemper is Feline distemper, which is equally contagious and affects animals in the Felidae, Mustelidae and Procyonidae families. Feline distemper, also known as cat fever, typically only lasts for roughly a week. However, the mortality rate is extremely high.

Symptoms of Feline distemper include high fever, anorexia, vomiting, diarrhea, and leukopenia. Often times, the symptoms are almost indistinguishable from those of Rabies.

Dr. Christine Gibson of Panther Pet Hospital explained that these similarities can complicate things when it comes to approaching a situation regarding affected animals, given the potential threat that rabies poses to humans.

Additionally, quickly confirming the disease and taking action is difficult due to the fact that documented cases of Distemper in pets have been rather infrequent in the past.

“It’s a hard disease to confirm because you have to send off samples for serum testing, which takes a while,” she said. “We’ve seen it so infrequently that there is not really a good, quick in-house test for it like we have for other viruses, and it is more expensive to test for.”

Gibson explained that while dogs and cats cannot transmit the virus to the other species, raccoons are genetically similar enough to both animals to pass it on.

The disease is transmitted primarily through airborne particles and contact with bodily fluids or excrements.

“Raccoons are nocturnal and will often times eat the food owners leave for their pets if it is left out overnight,” Gibson said. “Pets can get the virus by simply eating out of the same food dishes later on.”

“Make sure you feed your animals during the daytime and then get it all up at night because you don’t want those raccoons in the same place your animals are,” she added.

While the mortality rate for both forms of Distemper is considerably high, Gibson said that some could recover from it.

“It is kind of like any viral infection,” she said. “If the immune system is healthy it has a chance of fighting it off.”

However, she explained that those who do recover from Distemper are more likely to develop complications later in life.

“For example, If a puppy has Distemper and gets over it, then usually as an adult that dog will exhibit some weird neurological intention tremors like head-bobbing or shaking,” she said.

However, unvaccinated pets, especially those that are left unattended on a regular basis, have a high risk of contracting the disease. Therefore, Animal Control is recommending that area residents take the necessary precautions to ensure the disease is contained and does not spread to their pets.

Gibson said that the best possible method of prevention is vaccinations, and stressed the importance of thorough vaccinations.

“One vaccine is not enough. You need a series of vaccines for them to be protected,” she said. “The vaccinations are great, and if you do them properly I would say they are greater than 90 percent effective.”