Edina warns dog owners to vaccinate against distemper

More sick raccoons have been reported. People do not get the viral disease, but it is highly contagious in dogs.

The city of Edina is warning residents to make sure their dogs are vaccinated for canine distemper after a surge in reports of woozy and dead raccoons that were believed to be carrying the disease.

The alert was issued by Tim Hunter, Edina's animal control officer, after he received eight calls within a week at the start of October about raccoons that appeared to be sick.

Dr. Erika Butler, the state Department of Natural Resources' wildlife veterinarian, said outbreaks of distemper among the raccoon and gray fox population are common, but "this fall it has been a little more active."

Butler said people may be seeing more raccoons, including dead raccoons on roadsides, because this is the time of year when kits separate from their parents to strike out on their own. Raccoons are usually nocturnal, but animals infected with distemper may be active during the day. They also behave oddly.

One homeowner who called Butler reported a raccoon curled up near the house's front door. Sick raccoons sometimes lose their fear of humans, the vet said.

"There's a lot of discharge from the eyes and nose, maybe a high-stepping funny walk or running into things," Butler said. "They're acting stupid and are out in the daytime."

Those symptoms, accompanied by coughing, diarrhea, vomiting, tremors and seizures, may mimic those of rabies and are diagnosed by testing the dead animal. While distemper does not affect people, the virus is highly contagious among unvaccinated dogs and is especially dangerous for puppies. Direct contact with an infected animal is not necessary: A dog can contract the potentially fatal disease by contact with eye or nose secretions or urine on the ground.

Dead raccoons are sent to the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Diagnostics Laboratory for analysis.

While more raccoons had been sent to the U through September than last year during the same period, the numbers lag behind 2008 and 2009, according to statistics kept by Dr. Jim Collins, the lab director.

Experts say homeowners should keep their pets away from any raccoons or foxes that are acting strangely or appear to be ill. Pet food should never be left outside. Butler recommended people call their local DNR office or police department if an animal is acting strangely and needs to be removed. Hunter recommended that dead animals be disposed of by bagging the remains in a plastic bag while wearing gloves, placing the bag in the garbage and washing hands afterward.

Hunter asked that Edina city residents report any apparently ill raccoon to the public safety communications center at 952-826-1600.

Mary Jane Smetanka • 612-673-7380

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