Canine distemper affects the Ames raccoon population


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According to the Ames Animal Shelter and Services Division, many callers have reported seeing sick raccoons walking feebly around Ames. These raccoons have tested positive for canine distemper. Humans are not at risk for catching the virus, but unvaccinated dogs can be infected. 

Katherine Klingseis

The Ames raccoon population has been hit by canine distemper, the City of Ames Animal Services Division reported.

According to the Animal Services Division, callers have reported seeing sick raccoons feebly walking around Ames. The division also reported the ISU Veterinary Diagnostic Lab’s confirmation that the raccoons had canine distemper.

Canine distemper is a contagious viral disease that can be transmitted to dogs, foxes, ferrets, skunks, raccoons and other dog-like animals. Humans are not affected by the virus.

Animal Shelter and Services Supervisor Lorna Lavender said raccoons contracted the virus from infected dogs through the transmission of body fluids.

“The virus penetrates a mucus membrane,” said Bianca Zaffarano, service leader at the Lloyd Veterinary Medical Center’s Primary Care service and director of Wildlife Care Clinic. “All an animal has to do is inhale it.”

Zaffarano and Lavender both said that canine distemper is a major disease that afflicts the world’s dog population. However, Lavender said the virus is not prevalent in Ames.

“We have pretty low incidents of it here in the Midwest, in part … because it is a preventable disease by vaccination,” she said.

Once it enters the bloodsteam, canine distemper can affect an animal’s respiratory system, gastrointestinal system and central nervous system, Lavender said.

“It can cause pneumonia,” Lavender said. “A lot of the time you will see a lot of discharge from the nose and the eyes will get matter in them.”

Jacie Garden, head of staff at the Wildlife Care Clinic, said infected animals behave in a noticably abnormal fashion.

“They will be walking really funny. Their eyes will be dilated differently,” Garden said. “And, they will just be really, really sick-looking.”

If dog owners suspect that their dogs have canine distemper, they should take their pets to a veterinarian.

“You need to be sure you budgeted that very important service called veterinary services, and you get them into that veterinarian right away,” she said.

Lavender said that, even with treatment, the side effects of the virus are often severe.

“The worst side effect is death,” she said. “An animal who survives the disease [will] almost always have some sort of central nervous system damage.”

To prevent the spread of the disease, Lavender recommends that dog owners vaccinate their pets, keep them from roaming free and protect them from contact with strange animals.