One of the leading causes of death among raccoon populations is a virus called Distemper. Although raccoons can become infected with the disease, there is no such thing as “raccoon distemper.” Instead, two kinds of distemper exist: feline distemper and canine distemper. Each one is caused by a different virus, but both can cause acute illness and death in animals. Continue reading to learn more about distemper, how it affects raccoons, and how to prevent your beloved pets from accidentally becoming infected.
Canine distemper is more common in raccoons than the feline version. Once infected, it progresses slowly, appearing initially as an upper respiratory infection. During this stage, raccoons will experience minor symptoms like runny noses and watery eyes. But soon after, the illness takes a harsh turn into conjunctivitis, which produces gastrointestinal complications, pneumonia, and extreme weight loss. Once this begins, raccoons will enter the final stages of the virus, which causes confusion, disorientation, and brain damage. Raccoons will evince strange behaviors during this stage, such as wobbling around, wandering aimlessly in a circle, and paralysis. This can happen sometimes during the day even though they are primarily nocturnal animals. Many people may confuse all of these signs with the Rabies virus, and understandably so, but to the trained eye, it is clearly distemper.
Feline distemper starts out differently than its canine version. Raccoons will experience high fevers and gastrointestinal complications (i.e. vomiting, diarrhea, loss of appetite, etc.), followed by depression and a reduction in white blood cells (leukopenia). It takes less than a week’s time for Feline distemper to become fatal in animals.
Distemper in raccoons is primarily spread through bodily fluids and excretions, including blood, saliva, urine, and feces. This means it can travel and spread via airborne droplets or bodily contact. Unfortunately, there is no cure for distemper once an animal is infected with the virus. This is why it is so vital for pet owners to have their dogs and cats vaccinated on a yearly basis. Curious pets may come across an infected raccoon, skunk, or opossum at any time. Having the proper vaccinations protects their immune system from contracting the illness.
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