This past April, Virginia Beach Animal Control posted the following notice, warning the community about an increase in rabies and canine distemper in our wildlife populations:
“The health department has reported a drastic increase in rabies in raccoons; along with rabies in a fox and a domestic cat. Additionally, the veterinary staff at Virginia Beach Animal Control has worked in conjunction with the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (DGIF) to test a select few raccoons displaying unusual behavior. All of the raccoons tested positive for the canine distemper virus.”
Canine distemper is a contagious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Although the virus is identified as a canine strain, many wildlife – including raccoons, foxes, and skunks – can also carry and transmit the virus.
Distemper is spread when animals are in contact with body fluids or droppings from an infected animal. The virus is also airborne and can be contracted if an infected dog sneezes or coughs near your dog.
Unlike rabies, the virus remains present in the environment after the infected animal leaves the area, so just passing through an area where an infected animal had been poses a threat to an unvaccinated pet. This means that if an infected raccoon passed through your backyard, your dog is at risk.
Canine distemper, like many viruses, does not have a specific treatment available. Supportive care can be used to help treat pets, but the infection is often fatal and pets who do survive often have irreparable damage to their nervous system.
Additionally, because the signs of canine distemper and rabies can be very similar, it can be difficult to determine which disease a pet has. Live animals can’t be tested for rabies; and due to the significant public health risk, the law requires that animals who are suspected of having rabies be euthanized.
The good news is that distemper can be prevented.
The DHPP vaccination protects canines from the four major canine diseases: distemper, hepatitis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus.
Starting vaccinations when canines are puppies is an important first step, and making sure there are no gaps in your pet’s immunization is critical for keeping your pet safe. Puppies are the most susceptible due to their weaker immune systems, and even with vaccinations, caution should be taken when socializing with other puppies or unvaccinated dogs.
Vaccinations are often thought to to be unnecessary by pet owners who consider themselves careful with their animals; however, vaccinations are incredibly important in keeping all pets safe. This applies to canines and felines, and vaccines should be given to both indoor and outdoor pets.
The core canine vaccinations recommended by veterinarians in our area are the rabies vaccine, DHPP vaccine, canine influenza vaccine, and the bordetella vaccine. For felines, the recommended vaccinations are the rabies vaccine, the FVRCP vaccine (which protects against feline distemper and common respiratory infections), and feline leukemia vaccine. Additionally, your pet should be on heartworm prevention medicine at all times to protect against infected mosquitoes that can bite your pets both inside and outside the home.
The Virginia Beach SPCA offers vaccine clinics held at the clinic office on Holland Road and offsite in conjunction with the Neuter Scooter. Clinics held onsite are offered to qualifying clients on Mondays and Saturdays with varying hours, and Neuter Scooter clinics are open to the public.
For more information on vaccine clinics policies and the Neuter Scooter schedule, visit www.vbspca.com/medical-clinic/vaccination-clinics.
Mike Lawson is communications and marketing manager at the Virginia Beach SPCA. The shelter’s phone number is 757-427-0070.