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WYLIE -- A potentially-deadly virus is spreading in animals across North Texas. Family pets may be at risk.

A few months ago, more than two dozen raccoons tested positive for distemper in Plano. Then, a few weeks ago, it spread to Arlington. Now cases are turning up in McKinney and Wylie, where several big cats at In-Sync Exotics also have distemper.

Lions and tigers at the sanctuary are vaccinated against feline distemper, but not canine distemper. So far, the virus has been confirmed in five tigers. Another 17 lions and tigers are showing symptoms.

They're coughing, they have runny noses, they don't want to eat, they get lethargic, said Vicky Keahey, the founder of In-Sync Exotics.

Canine distemper typically affects dogs, raccoons, and ferrets. In recent months, four raccoons have been seen on In-Sync property.

There's no direct treatment for distemper, so the big cats are being given antibiotics to ward off infection and vitamins to boost their immune systems. Giving them that medication is a difficult and time-consuming challenge.

I was nearly in tears, because they don't understand we're trying to help them, said Robin Gibson, a volunteer who's administering the meds. They just don't feel like eating, and that's the only way we can get the meds down them.

Keahey said she has been unable to sleep for fear of what lies ahead.

Am I going to come in the next morning and find one of them dead? Keahey said. I've been told there's only a 50-percent survival rate. So out of 22 cats, 11 of them are going to die?

The biggest threat of canine distemper to your pets involves dogs. Veterinarians say it's imperative to have yours dogs vaccinated, so they won't become part of the outbreak.

E-mail sstoler@wfaa.com

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