In response to a suspected outbreak of canine distemper in raccoons on the Eastside, King County Public Health has issued warnings to residents to avoid feeding wildlife, keep domestic pets away from wild animals and be sure their pets' vaccinations are current.
Distemper causes encephalitis, inflation of the brain, in animals. Infected animals may have runny eyes and stagger, tremble, foam at the mouth or snap, according to veterinarians. Daytime activity by a raccoon does not necessarily indicate the animal is sick.
Canine distemper is not transmissible to humans but is highly contagious among dogs, ferrets and certain wild animals such as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, weasels and harbor seals. Cats are not affected by canine distemper.
"Dogs are normally vaccinated against canine distemper, but the disease has become generally uncommon and some pet owners are not getting their pets vaccinated," said Dr. Sharon Hopkins, the veterinarian for Public Health -- Seattle & King County. "If you have questions or concerns about your pets' immunity to canine distemper, contact your veterinarian."
"While we have seen an increase in the number of raccoons this year at our wildlife hospital that appear to be infected with canine distemper, we encourage people not to panic," said PAWS' wildlife veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee. "The best way to avoid potential exposure to pet dogs and ferrets is to avoid feeding or otherwise attracting wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally."
People should feed pets indoors, and secure garbage and compost. Bird feeders and chicken food also attract raccoons. Residents should also secure pet doors so that raccoons cannot get inside.
The state Department of Fish and Wildlife offers advice for dealing with problem wildlife and the PAWS Wildlife Center (425-787-2500 x817) can offer tips for solving and preventing conflicts.
King County residents who encounter raccoons exhibiting symptoms of canine distemper can call 206-296-PETS to receive information and suggestions about potential resources. Animal Control Officers will also pick up deceased raccoons. People bitten by raccoons should contact their health care provider and Public Health at 206-296-4774.
WDFW also maintains a list of Nuisance wildlife control operators licensed by the department to respond to problem wildlife.
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