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PLANO We have a warning for North Texas pet owners: A distemper outbreak is spreading across Dallas and Plano, and it could kill your pets if they are not vaccinated.

The epidemic is leaving scores of raccoons sick, dying or dead.

Distemper is an infectious viral disease. Symptoms include partial paralysis, seizures, fever, and vomiting.

In Plano, animal services officers picked up 49 raccoons in the last three weeks. All of them were either dead or very sick from distemper. When raccoons contract the disease, they usually die within two weeks.

At first, Dana Rumbauskas didn't see the raccoon when she let her Great Dane out into her backyard. The dog chased the raccoon, which then climbed up a power pole and didn't budge. That's when she grabbed her cell phone and shot a photo.

It took several hours for Oncor workers and 911 Wildlife to get the raccoon down. Once captured, it showed the signs of distemper.

That makes me nervous that it's out here," Rumbaskas said. "If our dog wasn't vaccinated, they could start spreading it around. So it is something that's nerve wracking."

911 Wildlife, a City of Dallas contractor, has been finding sick, dying or dead raccoons in broad daylight. They are usually creatures of the night.

"We're having an epidemic right now," said Bonnie Bradshaw, who owns the business. "We've had over a hundred raccoons since the middle of December that we've picked up."

Plano issued warnings on its animal shelter Facebook page and the city's website, urging pet owners to:

  • vaccinate their dogs and cats
  • keep pets away from wildlife
  • avoid leaving food outdoors

"Anything that attracts the wildlife is going to increase the chances that your pets are going to be exposed to any diseases they may be carrying," said Jamie Cantrell, Plano Animal Services manager. Cantrell said North Texans should be especially wary of raccoons that appear to be tame.

"We've actually had people tell us, 'He was so sweet and being friendly to me,'" said Cantrell. "And that's really not the case. It's just the disease has basically done brain damage, and it has changed its personality. It's still able to bite. They still could hurt someone."

People can t contract distemper, but the virus can easily spread to dogs and cats that are not vaccinated.

The distemper virus can survive six months in open air. Animal experts say it could literally wipe out the local raccoon population.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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