Canine Distemper: A Recent Uptick in the Number of Positive Raccoon Diagnostic Samples Underscores the Importance of Vaccination in Dogs

By Drs. Megan Niederwerder and Neala Boyer

Raccoons A recent news release from the Kansas State University Veterinary Health Center1 (VHC) reported an increase in canine distemper cases in local raccoons, increasing the risk of transmission to pets.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious, systemic viral disease that affects dogs as well as a wide range of wildlife species including raccoons, large cats, foxes, and skunks. Canine distemper virus (CDV) is primarily transmitted from infected animals by the oronasal route with viral shedding occurring for weeks to months after infection.

Disease due to CDV may range from subclinical to severe and sometimes fatal illness. Clinical signs may include fever, inappetence, coughing, ocular or nasal discharge, difficult respiration, vomiting, diarrhea, lethargy, and/or neurologic abnormalities. Neurologic disease may occur during acute infection or may manifest in the weeks following exposure. Clinical signs may also include muscle twitching, weakness, blindness or even seizures. Infection of the tissues of the nasal planum and footpads may result in excessive or thickened tissue. Puppies surviving CDV may have enamel defects of their permanent teeth.

Diagnostic testing for CDV can be performed on nasal swabs as well as tissue samples by PCR, and the virus is included in the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory (KSVDL) canine respiratory and diarrhea panels. More information concerning the cost, appropriate samples, and turnaround times can be found by following the links:

https://vetview2.vet.k-state.edu/LabPortal/catalog/show/26284 and

In addition to PCR, diagnostic testing may be performed on tissues by immunohistochemistry. More information concerning the cost, appropriate samples, and turnaround times can be found by following the link:


Unvaccinated or improperly vaccinated dogs between 3 and 6 months of age are at the greatest risk of infection. The American Animal Hospital Association recommends CDV as a core vaccine for all dogs. Puppies should be vaccinated starting as early as 6 weeks of age. The vaccine should be administered every 2-4 weeks until the puppy is at least 16 weeks of age. A CDV booster vaccine should be administered within the year following completion of the initial vaccine series2. Veterinarians should work closely with pet owners to develop a comprehensive vaccination program for all new puppies.

Dr. Megan Niederwerder is an Assistant Professor in the KSVDL and Diagnostic Medicine/Pathobiology Department and Dr. Neala Boyer is an Assistant Professor in the VHC and Clinical Sciences Department at Kansas State University.

1Veterinary Health Center at Kansas State University warns surge in raccoons with distemper poses risk to dogs. September 12, 2017. http://www.k-state.edu/media/newsreleases/2017-09/raccoons91217.html

2 https://www.aaha.org/public_documents/guidelines/vaccination_recommendation_for_general_practice_table.pdf

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