Dog owners in HRM are being advised to take precautions in the wake of cases of canine distemper identified in Halifax area raccoons.
Cases of the disease were discovered by provincial department of natural resources officials in raccoons found in Halifax’s south end and Rockingham areas.
Dog owners who frequent Point Pleasant Park, Hemlock Ravine, Tremont Park and Glebourne Park are being urged by officials with natural resources and HRM to take precautions with their pets.
They’re reminded to keep pets under effective control at all times and to not approach or allow pets to approach any wildlife.
Although the disease isn’t harmful to humans, unvaccinated dogs can contract the disease. Literature provided by Cobequid Animal Hospital notes that dogs may contract the disease from other dogs or affected wildlife as they shed the virus, by means of secretions from the nose.
Hope Swinimer, director of the Hope for Wildlife Society in Seaforth, said the virus tends to be cyclical and shows up roughly every seven to 10 years. She said it started appearing in animals they dealt with last year and seems to be hanging on.
“Over the last (four) weeks hardly a day goes by that we don’t get a call with an animal having it,” she said. “We see it in raccoons. It’s a very good idea to be proactive and get your dog vaccinated or ensure vaccinations are up to date.”
A number of dog owners enjoying the First and Second Lake trails in Sackville on Oct. 12 were unaware cases of canine distemper had been identified in Halifax raccoons.
Allison White said she didn’t know much about the disease, but her dogs Opie and Jack were up-to-date on all their vaccinations.
Matt MacDougall was also unaware of the identified canine distemper cases, but felt secure because both his dogs were also vaccinated.
Dog owner Karen Chamberlain said although she didn’t know much about canine distemper, she did know to keep her dogs away from raccoons and skunks.
“It’s important for people to be aware. Not to scare them, but to remind them that wildlife is out there,” Swinimer said.
The Department of Natural Resources encourages people to contact the local office at 861-2560 if they observe raccoons or other wildlife exhibiting unusual behaviour.
Cobequid Animal Hospital provides the following information about canine distemper:
•Initially the virus causes respiratory signs--coughing and pneumonia--and eye discharge. It may also cause diarrhea.
•As the disease progresses it can involve the nervous system, causing convulsions due to brain swelling and involuntary muscle contractions.
•Dogs affected with distemper need to be hospitalized to be given supportive treatment. If the disease progresses to the point that a dog develops dysfunction of the nervous system, he or she is more likely to die or become brain damaged.
•Vaccination is highly effective in preventing infection by the distemper virus.