The Erie County Department of Health (ECDOH) has received reports throughout the spring of wild mammals that show signs of canine distemper, a disease that can have serious effects for puppies and dogs.
Mammals like skunks and raccoons infected with distemper can exhibit some of the same symptoms as rabies: stumbling while walking, wandering aimlessly, showing no fear of humans and acting aggressively.
Canine distemper is an incurable virus and often fatal to dogs. Dogs that do recover can have irreversible nervous system damage. Dogs with distemper are isolated to minimize the risk of transmitting the disease to other animals. Rabies is always fatal in mammals.
Any vaccinated pet that encounters a known or suspected rabid animal must receive a booster vaccine within five days. Unvaccinated pets that encounter a known or suspected rabid animal must be euthanized or quarantined for six months at the owner’s expense.
ECDOH reminds residents to avoid touching wild animals.
“Making any physical contact with wild animals like foxes, skunks, raccoons and deer puts humans and domestic animals at risk for infection,” said Dr. Gale Burstein, Commissioner of Health. “The best advice is to leave wildlife alone. If you see one in distress, call a licensed wildlife control officer, a nuisance wildlife trapper or your local animal control officer.”
Dr. Burstein said any bite from an animal or exposure to its saliva should be thoroughly cleaned with soap and water as soon as possible, and medical attention should be sought immediately.
“All animal bites should be reported to our Division of Environmental Health at 961-6800, and we recommend post-exposure rabies treatment for anyone bitten by certain wild animals that are not captured,” she said.
Feeding wildlife is prohibited in New York state and extremely unhealthy for these animals. “Throwing peanuts to the ground and allowing birdfeeders to spill seed attracts unwanted wildlife like rats and raccoons that carry disease, and put you and your pets at risk of disease – not to mention nuisance and safety issues for your neighborhood,” said Senior Public Health Sanitarian Peter Tripi. “Once a disease like distemper is introduced to a wildlife population, it is very difficult to eliminate.”
Erie County offers free rabies vaccination clinics each spring and fall to make sure as many dogs, indoor and outdoor cats and ferrets are vaccinated against that deadly disease.
In New York state, raccoons, bats, foxes and skunks that are tested for rabies are frequently confirmed to be rabid, and if seen in the wild they should be considered rabid. And if a bat has been in proximity to an unattended young child, sleeping individual, or person with a sensory or mental impairment, it may be considered a contact and should be reported to the Department of Health.
Erie County has vaccinated 2,145 pets at four clinics so far in 2019. Three more free rabies vaccination clinics for dogs, cats and ferrets are scheduled for Sept. 11, 15 and 22 at locations around Erie County.
Tips For Protecting Your Pets and Family from Wild Animals
• Warn children to stay away from wild animals and to alert an adult if they see one in a private yard.
Do not feed wildlife; avoid overfilling birdfeeders and clear food sources and debris from yards to avoid attracting wildlife.
Vaccinate dogs, cats and ferrets for rabies and other diseases as recommended by a veterinarian.
Be cautious about socializing puppies and unvaccinated dogs at parks, dog daycare settings and in public.
If you choose to destroy a wild animal yourself, use a method that will not damage the head or expose you to saliva or nervous tissue. Do not touch the animal at any time without using rubber gloves or a plastic bag.