Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 1:11 pm | A Few Clouds 60º


Bonnie Franklin: Keep Your Pets Safe from the Masked Bandits Carrying Disease

Displaced by the Thomas Fire and the Jan. 9 Montecito flash flooding and mudflows, many raccoons are venturing into neighborhoods along Santa Barbara County’s South Coast.

These “masked bandits” have been especially prevalent in the denuded riparian environment along Montecito, San Ysidro, Buena Vista and Romero creeks. Finding a very limited supply of food, these smart scavengers are looking for dog and cat food, tasty trash and even fish in your fish ponds.

The problem is that raccoons can carry many diseases to your pets. The county Public Health Department recently advised the community to be on “high alert” for distemper in wildlife populations and, primarily, in raccoons, which carry canine distemper.

Dogs most often become infected from the virus through airborne exposure — through sneezing or coughing — from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus also can be transmitted by shared food and water bowls. Hungry raccoons may share your dog’s outdoor food or water bowls, so keep the bowls indoors if possible. Keep your garbage can lids on and possibly enclose the cans.

Your veterinarian can update you dog’s distemper vaccine. Most distemper vaccines in adult dogs are a three-year vaccine.

But raccoons carry many other diseases, too. Raccoons, skunks and bats are notorious for carrying rabies. If your dog decides to protect your garbage cans or its outdoor food bowl from a raccoon, a fight may incur and rabies could be spread. Cats may see a bat with rabies fluttering around on the ground and play with it, thus potentially contracting the disease.

County Animal Services only requires that your dog’s rabies vaccine be current. I would highly recommend that you also keep your cat’s rabies vaccine current, especially if it is an outdoor or indoor/ outdoor cat. This will protect your cat as well as your family from rabies.

Raccoon urine may also carry leptospirosis, a bacteria. Raccoons tend to urinate in fresh water, such as creeks, especially slow moving or stagnant water, children’s pools, fish ponds, and wet and shaded grass under trees and along creek banks. Dogs can become infected if their skin has any wound, such as a cut or scrape, and they come into contact with infected urine or urine-contaminated soil, water, food or bedding. Dogs also can get leptospirosis from an infected raccoon bite or eating infected tissues or carcasses.

Leptospirosis is a bad disease that affects many body organs and can cause kidney failure, severe lung disease with difficulty breathing, bleeding disorders (which can lead to blood-tinged vomit, urine, stool or saliva, and nose bleeds. The disease can resemble many others diseases and may not show any symptoms until the dog is very ill. Kidney failure often is not diagnosed until a dog has irreversible damage.

Leptospirosis can kill your dog. Your veterinarian can run a blood test to check for the disease, which can be prevented with a simple vaccine given by your veterinarian.

Raccoons also carry Giardia in their feces. Giardia causes gastrointestinal upset and is contagious to people if they handle the feces.

A dog can have Giardia and not show symptoms of diarrhea. It is not typically fatal, but it can make your dog or cat very sick. Your veterinarian can test and medicate for the disease. I would recommend having your dog and cat feces checked twice a year. If your dog or cat becomes symptomatic with diarrhea or any stool changes, see your veterinarian immediately.

Raccoons also can carry roundworms in their feces, which is commonly called “raccoon disease” because of its prevalence in the raccoon population. Raccoons spread the parasite when they live in or around areas where people and pets live.

Roundworm eggs are passed in the feces of infected raccoons. Raccoons defecate in communal sites called latrines, which are often found at bases of trees or on flat surfaces, such as logs, tree stumps, rocks, decks and rooftops. As more raccoons move into our area, the number of their latrines will increase.

Raccoons are the optimal carriers of roundworm, since they do not become ill from the parasite. Any contact with the feces, or with soil that has been used by an infected raccoon, may lead to a systemic infection that can make your in a dog or cat ill. Signs of illness include fatigue, blindness, and in coordination, which can also be symptoms of many other diseases.

It is possible that an infected pet could shed eggs that could possible infect its owner. Because cats frequently scratch at dirt after urinating or defecating onto it, a cat may pick up roundworm eggs on its paws and ingest the eggs while self-grooming. It is a good idea to have your dog and cat’s feces tested by your veterinarian twice a year or whenever your cat or dog has gastrointestinal symptoms.

These masked bandits are so very cute, but they are still wild animals. If you see a raccoon and it does not run away, it acts aggressively, is having erratic movements, is moving in an unstable way and/or is wobbly, or even acting very friendly, move away from it. Restrain your dog. Call county Animal Services. These abnormal behaviors may be symptoms of rabies, distemper, leptospirosis, or other diseases or injuries.

Do not let these masked bandits rob your pets of their good health.

Dr. Bonnie Franklin is a veterinarian who grew up in Santa Barbara and owns Your Pals Pet Hospital in Goleta. She earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from a joint program of Washington State University and Oregon State University, a master’s degree in wildlife biology from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and does consulting work with the U.S. Forest Service. Click here to contact her. The opinions expressed are her own.

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