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600 Capitol Way North, Olympia, WA 98501-1091

This document is provided for archival purposes only.
Archived documents do not reflect current WDFW regulations or policy and may contain factual inaccuracies.

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April 16, 2010
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife,
Capt. Bill Hebner (425) 775-1311, ext. 115 or
Margaret Ainscough, (360) 902-2408
King County, Christine Lange, 206-263-9752
PAWS, Mary Leake Schilder, (206) 419-6646

Raccoon distemper suspected in King County

Residents are urged to exercise caution and take precautions to protect pets

King County residents are reminded to avoid feeding wildlife, keep domestic pets away from wild animals, and be sure their pets’ vaccinations are current, in response to a suspected outbreak of canine distemper in area raccoons.

Samples from a raccoon collected in Bellevue have been submitted to Washington State University for disease testing, and final results are expected early next week.

Canine distemper is not transmissible to humans but is highly contagious among dogs, ferrets, and certain wild animals such as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, weasels and harbor seals. Cats are not affected by canine distemper.

“Dogs are normally vaccinated against canine distemper, but the disease has become generally uncommon and some pet owners are not getting their pets vaccinated,” said Dr. Sharon Hopkins, the Veterinarian for Public Health – Seattle & King County. “If you have questions or concerns about your pets’ immunity to canine distemper, contact your veterinarian.”

Distemper causes encephalitis, inflation of the brain, in animals. Infected animals may have runny eyes and stagger, tremble, foam at the mouth or snap, according to veterinarians. Daytime activity by a raccoon does not necessarily indicate the animal is sick.

In recent days, local officials in Bellevue, Redmond and Renton have received a number of reports of sick raccoons. King County Animal Care and Control responded to a call for assistance last week from Issaquah law enforcement and captured a raccoon believed to have distemper. Animal Control Officers have also picked up 3 deceased raccoons on the East Side of King County at the request of citizens.

“Wildlife disease epidemics tend to occur in cycles, appearing when animal populations are high,” said Kristin Mansfield, staff veterinarian with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW).

“While we have seen an increase in the number of raccoons this year at our wildlife hospital that appear to be infected with canine distemper, we encourage people not to panic,” said PAWS’ Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. John Huckabee. “The best way to avoid potential exposure to pet dogs and ferrets is to avoid feeding or otherwise attracting wildlife, intentionally or unintentionally.”

People should feed pets indoors, and secure garbage and compost. Bird feeders and chicken food also attract raccoons. Residents should also secure pet doors so that raccoons cannot enter indoor living spaces.

WDFW offers advice for dealing with problem wildlife on its website at and PAWS Wildlife Center can offer tips for solving and preventing conflicts by calling (425) 787-2500 x817.

King County residents who encounter raccoons exhibiting symptoms of canine distemper can call (206) 296-PETS to receive information and suggestions about potential resources. Animal Control Officers will also pick up deceased raccoons.

Raccoons present a risk of transmitting other diseases including leptospirosis, raccoon roundworm and rabies. For information about these risks, see

People bitten by raccoons should contact their health care provider and Public Health at 206-296-4774.

WDFW also maintains a list of Nuisance Wildlife Control Operators (NWCOs), who are licensed by the department to respond to problem wildlife. Contact information may be found on the WDFW website at or by calling WDFW’s North Puget Sound regional office at (425) 775-1311.