Coast animal control officials are seeing an uptick in the amount of suspected distemper cases across South Mississippi.
Long Beach Animal Control Officer Kerry Hall said he responded to five cases just Tuesday, and at least 20-25 in February.
“A couple months back we were seeing one or two cases a week, but lately we’ve seen five, six, seven, eight a week,” he said Friday. “It’s a common thing down here. It’s all the way up through North Mississippi.”
Hall said they see “outbreaks” every 5-7 years due in part to overpopulation.
“It exacerbates to a point where a lot of them get sick,” he said.
What does distemper look like in raccoons, and why should the general public care?
For starters, anyone who has a dog or cat as a pet should care because those animals are potentially susceptible; humans are not.
Hall said raccoons with distemper are often wandering around aimlessly in the middle of the day, sometimes in the middle of the street. He said the raccoons are often lethargic — although they’re “much more” aggressive when approached, so do not attempt to approach a raccoon you believe to be infected. Hall said infected raccoons also salivate more with glazed-over eyes and a mucus discharge from their mouths and noses. They’re also less coordinated, which leads to stumbling around.
Hall said the disease is often confused with rabies.
Hall said cats and dogs are susceptible to the disease if they’re not vaccinated. He said the pets can potentially contract the disease if they come into contact with an infected raccoon’s feces, urine, nasal secretions or saliva. Pets will exhibit the same symptoms as raccoons, Hall said.
If you believe you see an infected raccoon, call your local animal control officer. Any pets that are possibly infected should be immediately taken to your veterinarian.
Hall said pets can be protected from the disease with an annual vaccination.
Mississippi Spay and Neuter posted an alert in May 2017 warning of an increase in positive distemper cases across the state. The blog entry said raccoons, foxes and dogs accounted for the reported cases.
The site states canine distemper is “a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems.”