I usually share photos of only a fraction of the animals I’m called to assist— the few that actually get brought into rehabilitation. The other animals I help are never “rescued” per se, but instead, mercifully euthanized because it’s the only way to assist them. This five-month-old male is one of the animals I’ve helped with canine distemper virus, a highly contagious infection that raccoons originally contracted from domestic dogs.
Raccoons, skunks, and foxes are among the most common wild victims of distemper. When this infection hits, the animal becomes congested and weak. It loses its appetite and grows confused. Soon, the “zombie” stage sets in as the infection invades the critter’s nervous system, causing it to stumble, stagger, and wander around aimlessly in the daytime, seeming unaware of its surroundings. Most, including this one, develop a haunting green glow in their eyes that becomes more intense as they near death.
Distemper is a horrible way for an animal to die and is extremely contagious, so most rehabilitators have a policy of euthanizing any animal that has it. And many states— including Tennessee— require euthanasia of wild animals with distemper because the infection looks similar to rabies. Because this condition is raging through wildlife populations in our area, most of the calls I receive right now end tragically, with a heartbreaking but necessary euthanasia.
The reason I’m sharing this is because, if you’re a pet owner, you can help! Wild animals continue to contract canine distemper not just from each other, but from domestic dogs. It’s extremely rare for a fully vaccinated adult dog to catch distemper, because there are highly effective vaccines that prevent it. You can do your part to protect wildlife by making sure your pet gets all boosters recommended by his veterinarian. Not only will immunization protect wild animals, but it will also help ensure that your own pup won’t contract this deadly disease.
Please do your part to help prevent this suffering, for the sake of your pets and your wild neighbors.