Contact(s): Lindsey Long, DNR wildlife health, 608-219-5038
MADISON -- State wildlife health officials have confirmed that canine distemper has been identified in raccoons, gray foxes and skunks that were submitted to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources for testing from Vilas, Kenosha and Racine counties. Examination and testing of animals collected from Ashland, Oneida, Portage, and Adams counties are still pending.
Canine distemper is caused by a virus that is highly contagious among certain species of wildlife including raccoons, gray foxes, skunks and other closely related mammals. When canine distemper affects the nervous system of wild animals, the signs observed are similar to those observed in animals with rabies and can include lack of fear of people, weakness, aimless wandering or stumbling, seizures and sometimes aggression. All animals that have been submitted in this outbreak have also been tested and found to be negative for rabies.
Although the canine distemper virus does not infect people it is important to note that it is not possible to identify the disease an animal may have from observing a sick animal. As a result, people should avoid contact with wild animals in general and especially those that appear sick.
People are also reminded to keep pets indoors or under direct control when a sick wild animal is present as domestic dogs and ferrets can also be infected with this virus. Exposure often occurs through close contact during sneezing or coughing events, but it can also be shared through food and water bowls.
DNR wildlife health officials recommend removing outdoor dishes when not in use and securing garbage to help reduce contact between wild animals with each other and with pets. Although there is a vaccine available for dogs and ferrets, the best protocols for keeping pets protected against canine distemper virus should be discussed with a veterinarian.
If a person has direct contact with a sick wild animal that results in a bite or scratch they should contact their county public health department for guidance. In the case of a pet being bitten or otherwise exposed, contact a veterinarian or Dr. Yvonne Bellay at Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection for further guidance at 608-224-4888.
People should report sick or dead wildlife to the DNR wildlife biologist for their county. A contact list can be found on the DNR website, dnr.wi.gov, by clicking on the link for "contact" and then selecting staff directory and searching for "wildlife biologist" for their county.
Canine distemper virus appears to circulate in the raccoon population in Wisconsin and each year there are scattered reports of sick mammals. The DNR wildlife management program keeps track of these reports in a comprehensive database as part of efforts to monitor wildlife diseases and their effects on wildlife populations.