VIRGINIA BEACH — Virginia Beach Animal Control has noticed a substantial increase in the number of reported cases of raccoons acting abnormally, according to Meghan Conti, the city’s animal control spokeswoman.
Conti said the veterinary staff at animal control have worked with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to test a select few raccoons displaying unusual behavior.
All of the raccoons tested positive for the canine distemper virus.
The signs of rabies and distemper in wild animals are indistinguishable, according to Conti, who said wild animals behaving abnormally should be left alone, and residents should call animal control at 757-385-5000.
Conti said canine distemper is a serious contagious infectious disease with no known cure. It is caused by a virus that affects dogs, ferrets and other wildlife, including raccoons, coyotes, foxes, and skunks.
Conti urged the public to contact a local veterinarian immediately if there is suspicion of an infected dog specifically, since humans are more likely to encounter dogs and know their normal behaviors.
Dogs are routinely vaccinated for this disease, which is why it is important to make sure that pets have up-to-date vaccinations, Conti said.
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The signs of distemper in dogs vary, depending on the dog’s age, health and immune status. The majority of dogs develop signs of upper respiratory infection or fever. Some of these symptoms progress to severe and sometimes fatal pneumonia, Conti said.
Severe and often fatal neurological signs, including seizures, can develop approximately one month after the respiratory infection, Conti said. Vomiting and diarrhea may also be present.
Direct or close contact between dogs is the most common way distemper is transmitted. Droplets from dogs’ bodily fluids can travel up to four feet from a sneeze or a cough, contributing to the spread of the disease. Common disinfectants are effective at neutralizing the virus
The best way to protect your dog from rabies and distemper, Conti said, is to get your pet vaccinated.
Conti asked the public to consult their veterinarian for more information if there are any concerns about their pet.