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Distemper spike in raccoons could put dogs in danger

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Posted at 3:59 PM, Apr 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-02 17:57:44-04

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — A warning for dog owners. A Port St. Lucie veterinarian says he’s seeing a concerning rise in distemper cases in raccoons, which can spread easily to dogs if they’re not vaccinated.

In his 16 years of caring for Port St. Lucie pets and those sick and injured strays brought in by animal control, Dr. Leonard Fox, a veterinarian for the Animal Hospital of West Port St. Lucie, is seeing more raccoon than ever coming in with distemper.

"We sed to get three to four cases a month," Fox said. Then, it slowly has gone up to four, to five, to seven, to 10. Last month we actually saw 38 cases of distemper in raccoons, which is an incredible amount."

The surge in cases is also triggering concern by animal control officers who have also noticed the spike.

Distemper is a virus raccoons can spread to dogs that starts with symptoms like respiratory issues, but can become much more serious.

"A lot of the times it will progress to neurological problems and down the line they will have seizures, or things like that," Fox said.

His concern is also heightened because he’s actually seeing it in dogs.

“We saw two this last month and generally speaking we see one every couple of years because of herd immunity because most of the dogs are vaccinated," Fox said. "One of them passed away and one is getting better."

It’s hard to say what’s causing the spike and Fox suspects construction and development leading to habitat destruction can push more raccoons to live closer together, which can lead to easier spread of the virus.

"I'm really not sure what the outcome is going to be for the poor raccoon population," Fox said.

Fox says it’s easy to protect your dogs. Keep them away from raccoons or other sick dogs, but best of al- get them a vaccine.

Fox is also reminding people raccoons with distemper might be more approachable but stay away.

The Humane Society of St. Lucie County said it gives distempter vaccinations for just $20.

Fox says your veterinarian can give the shot for usually around $30.

Martin County officials said they're also seeing a spike in distemper cases among raccoons, specifically Jensen Beach, Palm City, and Hutchinson Island.