Raccoons with distemper can go undetected for a while due to their nocturnal lifestyle. They adapt easily to suburban environments, building dens in backyards, under decks and in storm drains.

Dozens of raccoons have contracted distemper, a viral disease that dogs can also catch, leading Long Beach officials on Thursday, April 15, to declare an outbreak, primarily in the eastern portion of the city.

Distemper is highly contagious and incurable, though there is a vaccine to prevent dogs from contracting it. Distemper does not cause disease in humans or cats. But it can infect skunks, foxes and large cats, such as lions and tigers, Long Beach Animal Care Services said in a Thursday statement.

The East Long Beach outbreak has infected more than 38 raccoons and at least one skunk, the agency’s statement said.

Raccoons are the local reservoir species — or hosts — for distemper in Los Angeles County.

Dogs can become infected with the distemper virus via direct contact with a sick animal or from being near an infected animal when it is coughing or sneezing. The virus can also be transmitted through shared food and water bowls, or other objects that were contaminated by an infected animal. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at highest risk for infection with distemper, Animal Care Services said.

Symptoms of the illness in dogs include a high fever, reddened eyes, and a watery discharge from the nose and eyes. Dogs may also become lethargic and tired. Raccoons and other wildlife will show similar symptoms.

Guidelines from the Los Angeles County Public Health Department for pet owners include:

• Vaccinating dogs for distemper: Puppies should receive a series of three or more distemper vaccines when they are 2 to 4 months old. Dogs should receive a booster shot a year later and then every three years after that.

• Protecting puppies: Keep puppies at home and away from unfamiliar dogs until they have completed the vaccination series. Use caution in areas where dogs congregate, such as dog parks, doggy day care and boarding facilities.

• Keeping dogs away from wildlife: Never allow dogs to have contact with wildlife.

• Keeping pet food and water indoors, away from wildlife: Pet food and water left outdoors attracts wildlife, which can spread distemper to dogs.

Suspected distemper cases should be reported to the Long Beach Veterinary Disease Reporting System at longbeach.gov/vdrs.


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