How Do Raccoons Transmit Distemper?

Raccoons can acquire various diseases such as distemper.
Raccoons can acquire various diseases such as distemper. (Image: raccoon image by masteraz from

Canine distemper infects many animals such as foxes, coyotes and raccoons. According to the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, canine distemper is a viral disease that is commonly acquired by raccoons. While distemper can be transmitted from animal to animal, distemper cannot be transferred to humans. The disease can be problematic among canines who aren't vaccinated.


Canine distemper is more prevalent in larger communities of raccoons. The disease can spread quickly among communities, causing high mortality rates in juvenile raccoons. While distemper occurs year-round, it's more common for raccoons to be affected by the disease during the warmer seasons (i.e. spring and summer). Pets who are free to roam outdoors are susceptible to coming into contact with infected raccoons.

Distemper is common in larger colonies.
Distemper is common in larger colonies. (Image: waschbär image by Petra Kohlstädt from

Direct Contact

If your pet is healthy, it can develop distemper from direct contact with a raccoon. The distemper virus can't survive for long periods of time outside of an infected raccoon's body. This is why close contact is necessary for the transmission of the virus to occur. An example of direct contact would be your pet being bitten by an infected raccoon. Saliva from the infected raccoon will infect your pet through the bite wound.

Your pet can get distemper from a raccoon bite.
Your pet can get distemper from a raccoon bite. (Image: raccoon image by pixelcarpenter from

Aerosols and Droppings

Aerosols refer to fine droplets that are dispersed into the air. For example, if an infected raccoon sneezes or coughs within close vicinity of your pet and your pet inhales the aerosols, your pet can become infected with distemper. Distemper can also be shed in bodily contaminants such as urine and droppings. If your pet sniffs around any infected urine or droppings, the virus becomes inhaled and begins to replicate.

Inhalation of aerosols by your pet can cause distemper to develop.
Inhalation of aerosols by your pet can cause distemper to develop. (Image: dog image by Krzysztof Gebarowski from


Once your pet inhales the distemper virus, your pet's macrophages will enclose the virus. Macrophages are blood cells that are supposed to take in foreign invaders and destroy the invaders. However, with distemper the virus isn't engulfed and destroyed. Instead, the virus uses the macrophages as a way of using the host's body to produce more of the virus. Within a day, the virus will migrate to your pet's lungs and continue to migrate throughout your pet's body. Within a week, your pet will begin to show signs of distemper, which can include fever, lethargy, severe diarrhea and vomiting.

Distemper will present symptoms within a week.
Distemper will present symptoms within a week. (Image: dog image by Michal Tudek from


By reducing your pet's chances of coming into contact with wild raccoons, you can minimize the possibility of distemper transmission. According to the Animal Health Channel, dogs that haven't been immunized are at greater risk of developing distemper from wild carnivorous animals or other non-immunized dogs. Adequately securing garbage can prevent curious and hungry raccoons from raiding your garbage. Not feeding your pets outdoors or bringing in your pet's food dish after eating can help prevent close contact with raccoons.

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