Canine Distemper Reported in the Upper Valley
N.H. Fish and Game Issues an Advisory
Gray foxes displaying symptoms of Canine Distemper have been found in the Upper Connecticut River Valley and southern New Hampshire.
Canine distemper is a naturally occurring viral infection spread by close animal contact, such as den (sleeping quarter) sharing. According to NH Fish and Game Department furbearer biologist Patrick Tate, the rate at which the virus is spread among wildlife depends upon the density of animals on the landscape. As a species' population increases, the virus is more easily transmitted by increased numbers of individuals interacting. Among wildlife, canine distemper can occur in foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, mink, weasel, fisher and otter.
Behavioral symptoms indicative of canine distemper include tameness, confusion, and high-risk daytime activity such as walking down, or standing near, busy streets during times of peak human activity, such as mid-day. Displayed symptoms occur late during the infection, and most animals suffer from neurological complications.
Canine distemper is fatal to wildlife. There is no effective means for vaccinating wildlife against the disease, nor is there any cure after infection. Fortunately, canine distemper is not transferable to humans.
However, pet owners take note: Canine distemper can be transferred to domestic dogs and ferrets. (Cats cannot get canine distemper.)
Domestic animals can be vaccinated to prevent infections. Regular revaccination is the best step in safeguarding pets. Like wildlife, there is no treatment for domestic animals once infected. Distemper is often fatal, and animals that survive usually have permanent nervous system damage. The NH Fish and Game Department advises the public to be aware of this situation and to be diligent about keeping pet vaccinations current.
It is important to note the majority of incidents of wildlife reported with canine distemper occur during the spring and summer, when wildlife are most active breeding and raising young. Domestic dogs can be infected at any time of the year. Given the scenario at hand, it is important for owners to discuss distemper vaccination with their veterinarians and monitor pet activity outdoors to prevent interactions with wildlife. Anyone who believes their pet may have been exposed to or be suffering from canine distemper should contact their veterinarian.
For more information on canine distemper, talk with your veterinarian. Good online resources include: avma.org and merckvetmanual.com.