Canine distemper is a virus that affects domestic dogs gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems as well as the conjunctival membranes of the eye. Distemper is common throughout the canine family, which includes coyotes, foxes, skunks and raccoons, and is very contagious.
Raccoons typically carry a strain of distemper that is transmissible to canine species including domestic pets such as dogs and ferrets. It is common to see increased cases of distemper in large raccoon populations and it is more prevalent in juveniles than adults.
Distemper in raccoons starts slowly, initially appearing as an upper respiratory infection, with a runny nose and watery eyes developing into conjunctivitis. The raccoon may be thin and debilitated, and suffer from diarrhea. In the final stage of the disease, the raccoon may begin to wander aimlessly in a circle, disoriented and unaware of its surroundings, stumbling and may even fall over. Distempered raccoons are often seen during daylight hours, out of their normal nocturnal routine. They may curl up to sleep in open areas in close proximity to people and even approach people or animals. They generally act disoriented or lethargic, but can become aggressive if cornered and exhibit other bizarre behaviour due to brain damage. Ultimately, they suffer paralysis and likely death.
Dogs are susceptible to this highly transmissible disease and are more likely to come in contact with an infected raccoon due to their odd behaviour. It is important to make sure your pet is up-to-date on vaccines to protect them from becoming deathly ill. Pet owners should be vigilant in checking their backyard, forest areas, and in leash-free parks before allowing their dog to be off-leash, to avoid coming into contact with wildlife.