SF Animal Control Warns of Possible Outbreak of Canine Distemper

San Francisco Animal Care & Control put out a warning over the weekend to be on the lookout for animals like coyotes and foxes appearing disoriented, because there have been recent instances of canine distemper.

Some of the warning signs, Animal Care & Control says, are when animals start circling or stumbling, acting disoriented, or sleeping in the open. They may move slowly and appear to be staring at something, yet simultaneously seem as though they don’t see what they’re staring at. They may also have crusty debris caking up around their eyes. The virus also causes fever, loss of appetite, and nasal discharge.

As Berkeley-based Bay Nature explains, the distemper virus can impact a variety of wildlife species, including skunks, raccoons, foxes, and coyotes. And the virus tends to go through cycles, with waves of increased cases that then die back down. Animal Care & Control spokesperson says it’s gotten significantly more calls this year regarding sick raccoons and skunks, and one caller expressed concern for a disoriented gray fox.

If you see an animal you suspect could be afflicted with distemper, it’s important to avoid contact. The animals can become aggressive as the disease attacks their respiratory, gastrointestinal, spinal cords, and nervous systems. Distemper is a respiratory virus, either it spreads through airborne transmission or contact with shared surfaces. It doesn’t affect cats or humans, but can be fatal for the animals it does infect.

Animals that survive the disease can have permanent damage to their nervous systems. Distemper is also sometimes called “Hard Pad Disease” because animals that make it through the infection are often left with a thickening and overall enlargement of their foot pads. They also have weakened immune systems afterwards.

Right now, there’s no known cure for distemper, but there are ways to protect against it. Most pets are vaccinated against the disease, so they are unlikely to be infected; wildlife is impacted more often. Making sure to change outside water bowls is a huge help, since infected animals can spread it through contact with that water.

Cats can be infected with their own version of the distemper virus, panleukopenia or feline distemper, and there are combination vaccines for that as well, as the Chronicle explains.

Distemper has been plaguing the Bay Area for a while now. Last year, an outbreak in Santa Cruz County spread to the Seabright neighborhood.

SF Animal Care and Control asks that if you see an animal you worry may be sick with distemper, either call emergency dispatch 415-554-9400 or email [email protected]

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