NEW YORK CITY — With numerous reports of raccoons in Central Park with canine distemper, the State Department of Agriculture and Markets is reminding pet owners to make sure their cats and dogs are up to date with their vaccinations.
The canine distemper virus is believed to be the cause of death of nearly 70 raccoons in Central Park, a press release from Ag and Markets said.
It does not cause human illness, but it can affect dogs.
"New Yorkers are reminded to never handle wildlife, especially wildlife that exhibits neurological signs or other symptoms of illness," the release said. "Pets’ contact with wildlife should be limited as well."
“Since there is no cure for distemper in animals and the illness is often deadly, the best treatment is always prevention," State Veterinarian Dr. David Smith said in the release.
Pets at highest risk are those that are not vaccinated against the disease. Pet owners who are unsure of the status of their animals’ vaccines should contact their veterinarians to verify vaccination status for canine distemper.
The virus is not uncommon in fox, raccoons and skunks and is typically seen in the spring and the fall, the release said.
Signs of infection, similar to rabies, include coughing; discharge from the eyes and nose; difficulty breathing; vomiting; diarrhea; lethargy; weakness; twitching; blindness; seizures and a loss of fear of humans and other animals.
Distemper is spread by the nose and mouth of sickened animals. The virus can be shed for weeks or months after infection.
Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, New York State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory has reported recent cases of canine distemper in grey fox, raccoons and skunks in Herkimer, Rensselaer, Lewis and Niagara counties as well.