Distemper outbreak could hit Bay Area wildlife, officials warn

Bay Area residents should be on the lookout for any unusual wildlife activity due to possible canine distemper circulating in the area, according to San Francisco animal control officials.

“Heads up! There could be an outbreak of distemper in the Bay Area,” San Francisco Animal Care & Control posted on social media Thursday.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease that attacks the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems of dogs and wildlife, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. It does not cause disease in humans.

San Francisco animal control officials have urged the public to be on the lookout for wildlife such as raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes acting abnormally, including appearing disoriented, stumbling, circling and sleeping in the open air. If you see an animal acting in this way, do not approach it and call the emergency dispatch line at 415-554-9400 or email [email protected]

According to the Berkeley-based publication Bay Nature, distemper is a cyclic disease that typically flares up in local wildlife for a few years before disappearing. San Francisco Animal Care & Control reportedly received more calls this year about sick skunks and raccoons than last year.

Bay Area residents should keep their pets away from wildlife, officials said, because the disease can be spread by dogs not vaccinated against the paramyxovirus that causes it. Distemper is incurable and requires aggressive treatment.

San Francisco Animal Care & Control has urged pet owners to keep their pets up to date on vaccinations. Dogs can receive a distemper vaccine from the age of six months, and boosters are given every year in a combination vaccine called DHPP that also protects against several other diseases.

Cats can get a different condition called feline distemper or panleukopenia, caused by feline parvovirus; a combination vaccine is also available for them.

Kellie Hwang is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @KellieHwang