Let’s Talk Distemper

Article and photos by Jen Howard

Read Time: 3 minutes

We were really hoping for a quiet winter this year, but like last winter, that hasn’t happened. Up to half our winter admissions have been coming in with distemper. A terribly sad disease for which there is no cure. This may be a sign of the times; changing climate and habitat loss affecting most every living being. During cold winters, raccoons enter a dormancy state called torpor. Due to the unusually mild and snowless winter this year raccoons have been awake and actively socializing with each other, thus increasing the risk of spreading viruses such as canine distemper. The virus is spread by one animal coming into contact with the infected animal’s bodily fluids, saliva or feces, and through inhalation of airborne droplets. The incubation period is 6 to 22 days.  

Early onset there may only be behavioural signs. They may just curl up with their head tucked under, they put themselves in harm’s way, getting hit by cars, quilled by porcupines. They may develop seizures which can be full blown or present like a chewing seizure or a chill effect. You may see one looking disoriented and or wandering aimlessly, walking in circles. A healthy wild raccoon is NOT friendly, and WILL NOT approach you or your pets in any way. They DON’T come looking in your windows or wait at your door. Any of these signs could suggest distemper. As the disease progresses there are physical signs as well. There may be a discharge from, or crustiness around the nose and/or eyes. The animal could be emaciated, their fur could look rough, not clean or groomed.  

Be aware though, that raccoons can come out in mild weather and search for food at night. When it gets cold again, they will go back to sleeping in a sheltered place. And remember, come spring, you can see them out during the day as they need to search for food, mothers will have young ones waiting for them, so DO NOT relocate them. 

If you see an animal suspected of distemper near your home, or on your journeys, please call us at 905 729 0033 and leave a message. We will call you back and tell you how to proceed.  Do NOT have your pets in the car when you transport a wild animal, it is not safe. Keep the ride warm and quiet, no talking, no radios. This is so very important to an already stressed animal.

You are being kind by getting them to a rehab centre. Here they will be put into isolation and monitored for 14 days. They will be be kept warm, have a full tummy and be comfy and safe. If it is immediately obvious that they are indeed suffering from distemper they will be humanely euthanized so they don’t suffer any longer. This saves them from any more pain, confusion, and suffering. It truly is a horrible sickness for them.  

If an animal you suspect of distemper was on your deck or around your home you can use 10 parts water to 1-part bleach and spray the surface down. Fix your home so they cannot get in. And please, if in doubt, MAKE THAT CALL. 905 729 0033 We are here for you, and wildlife in need. 

Jen Howard

Let’s Talk Distemper
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