Orange Park residents warned of diseased raccoons

Police believe raccoons have distemper

By Elizabeth Campbell - Reporter

ORANGE PARK, Fla. - Orange Park residents are being warned about raccoons infected with a viral disease.

Police believe the animals have what's called distemper, which they can catch from other raccoons or dogs and cats.

Paul Nichols took photos of a raccoon that appeared to be in distress. He found the raccoon Friday in the cul-de-sac of his neighborhood, near the intersection of Park and Kingsley avenues. 

"The raccoon didn't really move that much. It did lay over on its side and went through some convulsions. I noticed a little bit of saliva on the side of his mouth," Nichols told News4Jax on Wednesday. "Nothing really remarkable, but the raccoon wouldn't move." 

Nichols called animal control and the officer who responded believed that the raccoon had distemper. 

The town said that the Orange Park Police Department received multiple calls last week about raccoons with similar systems. The town of Orange Park asked people to call the Police Department at 904-264-5555 if they see a raccoon with unusual behavior or appears to be unhealthy.  

Forever Vets Animal Hospital said distemper is a disease that raccoons can pass to and from each other, as well as cats and dogs. It's transmitted through airborne droplets, direct contact with body fluids, saliva or raccoon droppings. Fleas and other insects, especially flies, may also be able to transmit it.

Dr. Shashi Galipalli, with Forever Vets Animal Hospital, said distemper in raccoons usually shows as an upper respiratory infection, with the animal having a runny nose and watery eyes that develop into conjunctivitis. As time wears on, Galipalli said, the raccoon can develop pneumonia. 

In the final stage of the disease, Galipalli said, the raccoon may begin to wander aimlessly in a circle, appear disoriented and unaware of its surroundings, suffer paralysis, or exhibit other bizarre behavior as a result of brain damage. 

"My hope is that this distemper runs its course," Nichols said. "And that everything returns to normal. We've got a great town here. It's a bird sanctuary. There's lots of birds and lots of other animals."

Nichols hopes he doesn't have to see another sick raccoon, saying, as an animal lover, it was difficult for him to watch. 

Raccoons are like bears and many other wild animals. They like to get into your trash. The first step people can take to keep them away from their homes is to make sure there isn't any loose trash outside trash cans and make sure the garbage can lid is secure, so trash won't fall out if it tips over.

To protect dogs and cats, Forever Vets Animal Hospital advised owners:

  • Do not let them roam free.
  • Keep them away from trash.
  • Make sure pets are up to date on vaccines for distemper.
  • If pets seem to have any symptoms of distemper, take them to a vet.
  • Feed pets indoors and do not feed raccoons.

According to the animal hospital, humans are not at risk for distemper, as the disease cannot be passed on to people and presents no danger to humans. 

The town of Orange Park also posted more raccoon safety tips on Facebook:

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