Canine Distemper

Raccoon Distemper:

Next to humans, the second leading cause of death of raccoons is distemper. Raccoons are susceptible to infection by both canine and feline distemper. Though they are unique viruses, both can cause acute illness and death. Canine Distemper is a a highly contagious disease of carnivores caused by a virus that affects animals in the families Canidae, Mustelidae and Procyonidae. Canine distemper is common when raccoon populations are large. The virus is widespread and mortality in juveniles is higher than in adults. Feline distemper, also called feline panleukopenia, catplague, cat fever, feline agranulocytosis, and feline infectious enteritis, is an acute, highly infectious viral disease affecting members of the Felidae, Mustelidae and Procyonidae.

Signs and Symptoms:

Canine distemper in raccoons starts slowly, initially appearing as an upper respiratory infection, with a runny nose and watery eyes developing into conjunctivitis (the most visible symptoms). As time wears on, the raccoon can develop pneumonia. The raccoon may be thin and debilitated and diarrhea is a clear symptom. In the final stage of the disease, the raccoon may begin to wander aimlessly in a circle, disoriented and unaware of its surroundings, suffer paralysis or exhibit other bizarre behavior as a result of brain damage. Many of these symptoms are indistinguishable from, and therefore often mistaken for, the signs of rabies which can only be determined by laboratory testing. Raccoon distemper is cyclical and can spread and wipe out entire colonies of raccoons. The disease is transmitted through airborne droplets, direct contact with body fluids, saliva or raccoon droppings. Feline distemper usually begins suddenly with a high fever, followed by depression, vomiting, anorexia, diarrhea, and a profound leukopenia. The course of the disease is short, rarely lasting over one week, but mortality may reach 100% in susceptible animals. Feline distemper virus is shed in all body secretions and excretions of affected animals. Fleas and other insects, especially flies, may play a role in transmission of the disease


No treatment exists for canine or feline distemper (thereby increasing the need for prevention and control). Infected raccoons are usually euthanized. Control of distemper outbreaks includes the removal of dead animals’ carcasses, vaccination of at-risk domestic species to decrease the number of susceptible hosts, and a reduction in wildlife populations which also reduces the number of potential hosts. The canine distemper virus is inactivated by heat, formalin,and Roccal R. Disinfection of premises with a dilution of 1.30 bleach will help to reduce spread.


Unvaccinated dogs and cats that are allowed to wander unattended are at risk of infection from, as well as posing a risk of infection to, raccoons and other wildlife. Humans are not at risk from distemper as the disease cannot be passed on to people and presents no danger to humans. Dog and cat owners should make sure their pets have been vaccinated for the disease. Owners of pet ferrets should have their animals vaccinated against canine distemper which is fatal in ferrets. Wildlife rehabbers should quarantine any new rehabs until they get a clean bill of health and should have the animals vaccinated against both canine and feline distemper.

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