CONCORD, NH – Several gray foxes and raccoons displaying symptoms of Canine Distemper have been reported in the Berlin area in recent weeks. The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department (NHFG) is submitting several of these animals to the University of New Hampshire Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory to confirm whether this is a cluster of canine distemper infection. New Hampshire Fish and Game and the New Hampshire Department of Agriculture, Markets & Food advise the public to be aware of this situation and to be diligent about keeping all pet vaccinations current.
Canine distemper is a naturally occurring viral infection spread by close animal contact, such as den sharing. According to NHFG furbearer biologist Patrick Tate, occasional reports of symptomatic wildlife began to occur in New Hampshire in late 2016. Since then, tests conducted by Fish and Game and the UNH Veterinary Diagnostic Lab on several animals have confirmed canine distemper in both gray fox and fisher. Among wildlife, canine distemper can occur in foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, mink, weasel, fisher, and otter. Behavioral symptoms indicative of canine distemper include tameness, confusion, and high-risk daytime activity including walking down, or standing near, busy streets during peak activity times. These displayed symptoms occur late in an animal’s infection, and most experience neurological complications.
Canine distemper is fatal to wildlife. There is no effective means for vaccinating wildlife against the disease, nor is there any cure to treat an animal after infection. Fortunately, canine distemper is not transferable to humans. Because the clinical signs of canine distemper can look like rabies in foxes and raccoons, everyone is advised to avoid contact with wildlife behaving abnormally.
Pet owners take note
Canine distemper can be transferred to domestic dogs and ferrets. Cats cannot get canine distemper; however, there is an unrelated virus called feline distemper that affects cat species.
Domestic animals can easily be vaccinated to prevent infections. Regular revaccination is the most important measure in safeguarding pets. Like wildlife, there is no treatment for domestic animals once they are infected with the disease. Distemper is often fatal, and animals that survive usually have permanent nervous system damage.
Most reports of wildlife infected with canine distemper occur during the spring and summer when wild animals are most active reproducing and raising young. Domestic dogs can be infected at any time of the year. It is important for owners to discuss distemper vaccination with their veterinarians and monitor pet activity outdoors to prevent interactions with wild animals. Anyone who believes their pet has been exposed to, or is suffering from, canine distemper should contact their veterinarian immediately.
For more information on canine distemper, talk with your veterinarian. Good online resources include avma.org and merckvetmanual.com.