Wildlife officials: Canine distemper epidemic killing raccoons in New Jersey

POINT PLEASANT, New Jersey (WABC) -- Raccoons in several New Jersey towns are dying from what wildlife officials believe is an epidemic of canine distemper.

The illness, which usually affects dogs, is believed to be responsible for dozens of raccoon dying or needing to be put down in Point Pleasant, Point Pleasant Beach and Bay Head over the past few weeks.

Point Pleasant Borough Animal Control Officer "Muskrat" Jack Neary says signs that a raccoon may have distemper include the animal wandering aimlessly in a circle, disoriented and unaware of its surroundings. It may also suffer paralysis or exhibit other bizarre behavior as a result of brain damage.

Neary says many of these symptoms are indistinguishable from and therefore often mistaken for rabies, which can only be determined by laboratory testing.

Several of the raccoons have been taken to the lab for testing, and results are pending at this time.

So far, no pets have been infected. But officials urge anyone encountering a raccoon exhibiting this behavior to call the police immediately so Animal Control can be dispatched to retrieve the raccoon.

Pet owners are encouraged to keep their dogs and cats up to date on all vaccinations, as canine distemper is contagious and without a known cure. Experts say the virus is airborne and also spread by direct or indirect contact with the infected animal, but it does impact humans.

Food bowls should never be left outside for pets.

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