Wildlife officials warn California pet owners about rise in canine distemper cases

California Connection
Data pix.

(KTXL) -- Dog owners are being warned about an unusually high number of canine distemper virus cases all throughout the state.

Canine distemper is transmitted much like how humans transmit the common cold: by inhaling infected respiratory droplets or direct contact with saliva, nasal discharge or tears.

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife suggests removing food and anything else that might attract wild animals.

“We always recommend for pet owners that they don't leave food outside for long periods of time,” said CDFW senior wildlife veterinarian Deana Clifford. “Ideally, if you have an animal that's outside, then feed it a meal that it eats right away so that bowl is empty and then wash and clean that bowl and store it inside the house.”

The larger concern for canine distemper, however, is its potential to spread among dense wildlife populations like raccoons, possums and foxes.

“For the most part, it's not a curable condition,” said CDFW environmental scientist Jaime Rudd. “You just treat the symptoms the best you can. Sometimes animals recover from it, usually with sort of persistent, chronic neurological signs, or they die."

Distemper can cause respiratory, neurologic and gastrointestinal illness.

Rudd said dog owners should be looking for symptoms such as lethargy.

“Maybe the head is down. The ears are sort of flat, they're not up, they're not what we'd call bright, alert and responsive. They seem depressed. They're sort of listless,” she told FOX40.

Puppies and dogs that have not been vaccinated are the most vulnerable to the potentially fatal disease.

Wildlife officials were quick to point out that just as wild animals can spread distemper to domestic dogs, an unvaccinated pet can also spread the virus to wildlife.

“Our goal is to minimize transmission both ways and take pets out of that disease cycle,” Clifford explained. “Protect pets because if you vaccinate pets, you're also protecting wildlife.”

Usually, distemper shots for dogs last a year and should be done during annual checkups. Wildlife officials strongly recommend getting pets vaccinated by a veterinarian to ensure the quality of the vaccination.

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