Rise of canine distemper virus causes concern

STARKVILLE, Miss. (WCBI)- The canine Distemper virus has resurfaced in Starkville.

Starkville Police Department took to Facebook last Friday to announce that three wild raccoons were captured within city limits over the last month. Two of them have tested positive for the virus.

Distemper is a fairly common and dangerous disease among the canine species.

Area animal experts said there are several things you can do to help protect your pet.

“I’ve probably only seen two Distemper cases in the last five years, so this is actually pretty scary,” said Dr. Karen Emerson.

Dr. Karen Emerson operates Emerson Animal Hospital in West Point.

She said the recent outbreak of Distemper virus in Starkville should be a concern for area pet owners.

“The Distemper virus resembles the measles virus in people. Basically, there’s a lot of hosts out there. There’s raccoons, there’s weasels, there’s foxes, coyotes, all those different types of animals carry the Distemper virus,” said Emerson.

Starkville Animal Control said the city has a large raccoon population, and those raccoons are causing the issue.

“What happens is a few infected raccoons can come around and show up with a disease, which is distemper. It normally affects the canine variety,” said Animal Control Officer Vittoria Hammer.

Dr. Emerson said pet owners who feed their animals outside are especially vulnerable.

“Where you’re going to feed your animals– try to have it elevated. Have it in a contained area like an outdoor cage, like if you have them in a fenced in backyard. Once you feed your animal, pick them back up. Do not leave out the food bowls because that attract the wildlife to come. The Distemper virus is shed through secretions, but if you vaccinate your dogs, you can leave the food bowls out,” said Emerson.

Contracting the virus can sometimes be a death sentence for your pet.

“If your dog is between the ages of two and six months, they could die from it. Even older, they start showing really critical signs. They’ll start actually having secretions come out of their nose. They may start having seizure-like activity. They’ll start being really lethargic and depressed, so it’s very, very serious,” said Emerson.

Pet owners have been lucky – so far.

“There haven’t been any dog cases, but the important thing is to keep your dogs up on their vaccinations. It is 100% preventable,” said Hammer.

“If you feed wildlife, you’re risking your pet’s life,” said Emerson.

A third raccoon was picked up for suspicious distemper-like behavior and is currently being tested for the virus.

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