‘Crazed raccoons’ may be wandering in your backyard – or not

Kansas State University is warning that a surge in raccoons with distemper poses risk to dogs.
Kansas State University is warning that a surge in raccoons with distemper poses risk to dogs. Wichita Eagle file photo

Sure, they are cute – but don’t feed the raccoons.

Don’t encourage them.

The Kansas State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine in Manhattan issued a news release Tuesday warning about a surge in raccoons with distemper, which can cause a health threat to dogs and can potentially cause canine distemper or rabies.

“While we may see raccoons on a fairly regular basis, there seems to be a recent uptick in cases,” said James Carpenter, professor of exotic pet, wildlife and zoological medicine in the College of Veterinary Medicine, in a prepared statement.

“The raccoons are often found out during the day showing abnormal behavior such as uncoordinated, difficulty in walking and aimless wandering.”

It’s unclear whether there are more such raccoons in Wichita.

“I haven’t heard of any spike in crazed raccoons,” said Jim Mason, director of the Great Plains Nature Center.

Nevertheless, Kansans are encouraged to vaccinate pets and be aware of the wildlife that frequents neighborhoods.

“We strongly discourage against putting out unlimited food outdoors for your dog or cat to eat,” Mason said. “Only put out what they will clean up right away so as not to tempt raccoons or foxes, coyotes, skunks or opossums that can come around the premises.”

Lt. Brian Sigman, Wichita Police department animal control, said his department has received three calls this summer regarding raccoons. One call last week involved an animal acting suspicious; its remains were sent to K-State to test for possible disease, Sigman said.

This time of year, wildlife is seeking food and shelter for the upcoming winter. It is not uncommon to see or smell skunks in neighborhoods.

Canine distemper is a highly contagious viral disease and can spread from infected raccoons to susceptible dogs. Dogs should be vaccinated against distemper at six weeks and then every three to four weeks until they are 18 to 20 weeks old. Vaccinations after that should be every one to three years depending on the recommendation of your veterinarian. The disease is not passed on to cats or humans.

“We haven’t seen any cases like we used to years ago,” said Dr. Garry Cowan at East Douglas Veterinary Clinic. “The vaccines are so effective that if the dog is vaccinated, we rarely see it.”

But if a dog gets distemper, it can be a horrifying death — upper respiratory infection and pneumonia going into gastrointestinal issues such as vomiting and progressing to skin lesions and seizures.

“Usually the dogs are suffering so, we end up putting them to sleep,” Cowan said. “It’s a high rate of mortality in dogs if they are not protected.”

Dogs can be vaccinated with a six-in-one shot that protects not only against distemper but parvo, influenza, hepatitis, influenza and others. It typically costs between $40 and $50 and is given every two to three years.

There is no way to control distemper in wildlife populations. People should never try to capture or handle the wild animals. Call animal control and have the animals trapped removed from your property, Cowan said.

“The vaccine is inexpensive protection when it’s a disease that can be fatal,” Cowan said.

Steve Dowdy, a mechanic at Kings River Golf and Country Club in Kingsburg, Calif., shows a baby raccoon he found at the flooded golf course Saturday. Dowdy said he would take it home and his wife would help feed it and restore its health.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner