An increase in confirmed cases of canine distemper in raccoons has Cook County Animal and Rabies Control warning pet owners to protect their pets from the distemper virus, as well as a resurgence of canine flu.
The raccoons were tested after displaying abnormal neurological signs, said Dr. Donna Alexander, administrator of the Cook County Department of Animal and Rabies Control, in a news release Friday.
The department's surveillance program for wildlife diseases in Cook County monitors rabies infection and other zoonotic diseases, and detects trends in diseases that can be spread to companion animals.
"This year, 56 percent of raccoons that have been necropsied have been positive for the canine distemper virus," Alexander said in the release. "This exceeds the 46 percent in 2004, the last year of a distemper epidemic in pet dogs in Cook County."
She said the distemper virus is found in raccoons and coyotes in varying degrees.
"We believe that the numbers we have received so far this year warrant a precautionary warning," Alexander added.
The distemper virus affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous system of dogs. Symptoms include discharge from the eyes and nose, sneezing, coughing, lethargy, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, tremors and seizures. Dogs can die from secondary pneumonia or nonresponsive seizures.
Alexander said pet owners should vaccinate their dogs, and that dogs should be supervised while outside, even in a fenced-in yard, to prevent contact with wild animals.
Additionally, as of Feb. 2, 16 cases of canine influenza virus have been reported in Cook County. Last year, an outbreak of canine flu killed at least 11 dogs in the region.
Precautions recommended by the Alexander and the veterinary community include:
• Keep all pets vaccinated against core diseases and secure additional vaccines based on the animal's lifestyle. See your veterinarian as to his/her recommendations for your pet. Some vaccines are required by law.
• Social events for dogs -- dog-friendly areas, training classes, grooming and boarding -- should be visited with caution. Communicable diseases are transmitted through close association with other animals. Make sure that your pet is vaccinated and that the pets involved are equally protected.
• Visit your veterinarian at least twice per year for health reviews including recommendations on vaccines and intestinal parasite checks. Animals that are most susceptible to the viruses are those that are immune-compromised by age or other illness.