Rare canine virus re-emerges on Prudence Island
The state Department of Environmental Management is cautioning dog owners about the reemergence of a dog disease that is now considered rare in Rhode Island.
Canine distemper was recently diagnosed in a raccoon on Prudence Island. The raccoon was submitted for testing after residents notified the state about abnormal behavior and deaths among raccoons. When rabies was not confirmed, that state authorized testing for the distemper virus, which was confirmed.
Canine distemper does not affect humans. It is a virus that usually affects dogs, but can also infect raccoons, coyotes, foxes and other wildlife. Infection in the wild usually results in the death of the infected animal, and the disease can spread rapidly. Although there is an effective vaccine against the virus for dogs, there is no vaccine licensed for use with wild animals.
Signs of the infection include coughing and difficultly breathing. The disease usually progresses to involve the central nervous system. Animals will then show signs of depression and abnormal gait. The signs of distemper infection can look identical to rabies. Only laboratory tests can differentiate the two. Cats are usually resistant to the virus.
Dog owners should contact their veterinarian to determine if their dog is properly vaccinated.