Canine Distemper found in Central UP raccoons

Published: Jun. 24, 2016 at 6:07 PM EDT
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The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) confirmed Friday they have received positive tests for Canine Distemper in raccoons from the Central Upper Peninsula.

"I've been doing raccoon rehabilitation in Marquette County for sixteen years, and this is the first year, beginning at the end of March, that I received a lot of calls about lethargic raccoons in people's yards and in the roadway that just wouldn't move," said Gloria Urban, a Coordinator for the Upper Peninsula Wildlife Rehabilitation.

Many of those raccoons were removed and tested by the DNR. As of Friday, one of the raccoons has tested positive for Canine Distemper. Canine Distemper is a contagious and serious viral illness that affects wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, wolves, and foxes but can also be caught by your household dog or pet ferret.

"How an animal would present this would be, they're going to be disoriented, breathing funny, moving oddly and having a discharge from their eyes or nose that's often very green in appearance," said Doctor Tim Hunt, Veterinarian for Bayshore Veterinarian Hospital.

Thankfully, humans cannot catch Canine Distemper, but this disease looks very similar to the rabies virus.

"You can't distinguish between distemper and rabies by the naked eye, they look the same," said Dr. Hunt. "So, what I'm asking people to do if they see animals of this nature is not to try and handle them or be the Good Samaritan even though we all want to do that. If it is a rabies-positive animal in the end, then we have to go through all the rabies shots and procedures, and it's a big bad deal."

If you come across these animals, professionals advise to call the police to take care of it.

"I would notify your local law enforcement agency or the DNR if you're out in a very rural area," said Chief Greg Zyburt of the Chocolay Township Police Department. "The DNR has some officers that can come if the Sheriff, State Police, or the Township Police aren't available."

If you're a pet owner, there's one big step you can take to be proactive. Professionals all agree it's more important than ever you vaccinate your pets. Though cats are not susceptible to the disease, Dr. Hunt still encourages cat owners to stay up to date on their pet's vaccinations.

If you believe your dog or household pet may have the symptoms Dr. Hunt described, he advises to call your local vet to figure out the next step for your pet rather than bringing it into the hospital where it could infect other animals.