Distemper outbreak hits raccoons in Glenwood area
June 16, 2010
GLENWOOD SPRINGS – The Colorado Division of Wildlife is reporting an outbreak of distemper among the raccoon population around Glenwood Springs.
Perry Will, area wildlife manager for the DOW, said the agency has received hundreds of phone calls in the past few weeks from residents regarding raccoons acting strangely.
“We definitely have a distemper issue in the area this year,” Will said.
The canine distemper virus is a disease found in a variety of animals including raccoons, foxes, coyotes and skunks, but can also affect domestic dogs as well. The disease in raccoons can be transmitted to other animals, but cats and humans are not affected by canine distemper. The disease causes fever, coughing and catarrh, an excessive discharge or buildup of mucus in the nose or throat.
Distemper is a nasty disease, according to DOW spokesman Randy Hampton; it moves quickly and is most often fatal. Oftentimes, once the animal contracts the disease, Hampton said, it can be fatal within 24 hours.
Raccoons affected by the disease will move slowly and may lie around or become very disoriented. But they can still be very aggressive and can cause harm to people or pets.
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“What happens is the animal becomes very lethargic,” Hampton said. “But if you get too close it may become very aggressive. It’s important that people stay away from these animals.”
A raccoon captured by the DOW near Glenwood Springs recently tested positive for distemper, Will said.
Glenwood Springs Police Chief Terry Wilson said that his office has received several calls in the past week as well regarding raccoons acting out of the ordinary.
“A lot of people think it’s rabies,” Wilson said, “but it’s not.”
An infected raccoon can transmit the disease easily by coming into contact with a dog’s food or water dish. Pet owners are encouraged to keep their pet bowls inside and make sure that their dogs vaccinations and distemper shots are up to date.
Area dog owners who have vaccinated their dogs shouldn’t have anything to worry about, according to Dr. Rocky Mease, a veterinarian with Glenwood Veterinary Clinic.
“[Canine distemper] is one of the core vaccines we do on dogs,” Mease said. “Most have been vaccinated for distemper.”
Typically puppies receive a series of vaccinations within the first 18 months and booster shots thereafter that protect them from this and many other diseases.
“The real crux of the issue is that if you vaccinate your dog, your dog is safe,” Mease said.
Hampton said that if residents find a dead raccoon on their property they can either bury it deep enough so that a dog cannot dig it up, or triple wrap it in trash bags and throw it away.
The disease is naturally occurring and, according to Hampton, infects raccoon populations every five to seven years. He said that the disease hit the area around Grand Junction two years ago.
People who see a suspicious raccoons and have concerns can contact the local DOW office at (970) 947-2920.