Charlie, a 11/2-year-old black Lab, gets a vaccination from Dr. Bret Smith of the Animal Clinic of Walla Walla with assistance from Dawn Barer, while his owner and best pal Richard Goodhead looks on.
Photo by Donna Lasater.
WALLA WALLA — An alert has gone out to area veterinarians and others about the canine distemper virus infecting raccoons in the area.
The virus does cross species, according to Dawn Barer at Animal Clinic of Walla Walla.
“They’ve been finding dead and ill raccoons. Your pets need to be vaccinated” with the typical series of puppy shots, Barer said. If the puppy is 6 to 8 weeks old, it should be vaccinated every three to four weeks through 16 weeks of age.
“The vaccination that counts the most is the third one, at 16 weeks. Earlier, they are still working on their mother’s immunity, but over 4 months old they’re not fully protected any more. If you aren’t sure, have it vaccinated. It’s less expensive than fighting these diseases,” she said.
The canine distemper virus is transmitted through all animal secretions, Barer said. “Some breeds are more susceptible to it — the black and tan breeds, the German shepherds and Rottweilers. Poodles are the least likely to get it. There is a sense that a virus is hitting when a population is higher.”
The local population of raccoons appears to have increased, and the virus is weeding out the weaker animals.
“We are hearing a lot of reports of sick raccoons in the Walla Walla area for the last couple of months. Distemper tends to be cyclical. A lot of raccoons will die off. Those that survive will have immunity. The population has immunity for a while, then when the immunity wears off it will repeat,” said Dr. Kristin Mansfield, Washington State wildlife veterinarian.
Since raccoons are nocturnal animals, if you see one out in the daytime or acting strangely, “avoid it and make sure your pets avoid it. If it’s a threat or a nuisance, call the authorities. Avoid direct contact or handling,” said Mansfield.
“Canine distemper is the same family as the measles virus,” said veterinarian Harvey Crowder, who is public health administrator at the Walla Walla City/County Health Department. “There’s a runny nose and then it affects the central nervous system. It’s a serious illness. Raccoons have no natural immunity and most will succumb to the disease. It doesn’t pose a threat to people. It’s serious for raccoons and dogs that are not immunized. We strongly recommend dogs get vaccination. Don’t feed your dog outside, food can attract raccoons, possums and all kinds of things. Raccoons are cute but they can be really aggressive, making them a significant danger to pets as well as people,”
Mark Vekasy, with the area Department of Fish and Wildlife, said his office hadn’t received a large number of calls about raccoons, but enforcement officers have received some.
“The city animal control officer has reported 24 cases over the last two months and (Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife) had one tested at the WSU lab, which came back positive for canine distemper,” he said.
“Young animals are the most susceptible to the viral infection, so wildlife outbreaks usually occur during late spring and summer. The current outbreak has been largely restricted to areas south of Mill Creek and east of Second Avenue. It is likely the outbreak has come close to running its course, although there is still a chance it could spread to areas beyond the current infection,” he said.
Parvo is another virus veterinarians have seen, but there’s also a vaccination. “It’s so contagious,” Barer said. The vaccination provides solid protection, but “people have to do it,” she said.
“We often see it around in the fall,” Barer said of the parvo virus. “The virus is very hardy in the environment. The virus in feces in the ground will survive for a year. It’s not safe to bring a puppy into a house where a dog had parvo for at least a year.”
Barer sees more clients getting their dogs vaccinated. “We are seeing the less economically secure people come in,” she said.
If you aren’t sure of your pet’s vaccination status, call your vet, said Dr. Sara Campbell at Associated Veterinary Hospital.
Karlene Ponti can be reached at 509-526-8324 or firstname.lastname@example.org.