Raccoon Rabies Vs Distemper In Raccoons: How To Spot The Symptoms

Understanding the Canine Distemper Virus in Raccoons

In recent years, wildlife professionals and homeowners across Ontario have noted a significant increase in wildlife diseases, particularly among raccoon populations. One such disease, canine distemper, has been frequently mistaken for rabies due to its severe and often fatal symptoms. This article aims to shed light on canine distemper, its impact on raccoons and other wildlife, and the steps we can take to mitigate its spread.

Raccoon Rabies Vs Distemper In Raccoons
Raccoon Rabies Vs Distemper In Raccoons

Canine Distemper vs. Rabies: The Key Differences

In the glow of moonlight, raccoons scurry through the urban jungle, embodying the spirit of adaptability and curiosity. However, when these nocturnal adventurers exhibit odd behaviours, it’s crucial to discern whether an infected raccoon suffers from rabies or if it’s ensnared by the grip of canine distemper—two ailments with stark differences. A rabid raccoon may show aggression, disorientation, and even foam at the mouth, instilling rightful wariness in observers, while canine distemper outbreaks cause them to stumble, exhibit seizures, and portray wide-eyed bewilderment that can mislead concerned onlookers. Both diseases are extremely contagious, but understanding their distinctions helps us treat raccoons with the humane thing in mind and prevent potential heartbreaks in our furry companions. Knowledge is the beacon that guides us through the shadows of misunderstanding, towards compassionate coexistence with our masked neighbours. Both the canine distemper virus and rabies are viral diseases known for their fatal outcomes, but they affect animals differently.

One of the most visible distinctions in affected raccoons is their behaviour; a raccoon with rabies may display aggression, whereas one with distemper might seem disoriented and less fearful of humans, often appearing blind or confused.

Steer clear of any raccoon showing abnormal behaviour or symptoms, it’s always better to be safe than sorry.

Understanding Rabies in Raccoons

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system of mammals, leading to death if untreated. Raccoons are among North America’s most common wild carriers of the rabies virus. The disease is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually via bites or scratches.

Symptoms of Rabies in Raccoons:

  • Aggression: A sick raccoon may display unusually aggressive behaviour, such as attacking without provocation.
  • Disorientation: Raccoons may appear confused, they may wander aimlessly, walk in circles or exhibit difficulty walking or moving around.
  • Excessive Salivation: One of the hallmark signs of rabies is excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth.
  • Nocturnal Activity: Although raccoons are naturally nocturnal, those with rabies may be seen wandering aimlessly during the day. But keep in mind, not all raccoons seen during the daylight hours are sick. Sometimes, just as a human being can be awake at 2:00 am, a healthy raccoon can be awake at 2:00 pm – it doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to be rabid.

Preventing Rabies Transmission:

  • Vaccination: Pets should be vaccinated against rabies to prevent transmission.
  • Avoid Contact: Avoiding any contact with raccoons. To deter them from coming on your property, here are a few simple things people can do – secure your garbage cans, do not leave pet food outside, pick up fallen fruit on the ground and sweep up any spilled bird seed you may have.

Understanding Distemper in Raccoons

Canine distemper (canine morbillivirus), although primarily a disease of dogs, can also severely affect raccoons. This viral disease impacts the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of infected animals.

Symptoms of Distemper in Raccoons:

  • Coughing and Sneezing: Respiratory symptoms such as coughing and sneezing are common in the early stages, also watery eyes and a mucus discharge.
  • Discharge: Nasal and eye discharges that may start clear but become thick, yellow, or green.
  • Neurological Signs: Advanced stages of distemper can lead to seizures, tremors, and paralysis.
  • Lethargy: Infected raccoons often exhibit a significant decrease in activity and may appear tame or unafraid of humans.

Preventing Distemper Spread:

  • Vaccinate Pets: Keeping dogs vaccinated against distemper helps prevent the spread to wildlife.
  • Minimize Contact: Reducing interactions between pets and wildlife is key to preventing the transmission of distemper.
Emergency Wildlife Removal Services in Brampton
Emergency Wildlife Removal

The Rising Concern of Canine Distemper in Ontario

The prevalence of the distemper virus has seen a notable increase in Ontario’s raccoon populations. While rabies cases have also risen, the instances of distemper are significantly higher, posing a substantial threat to wildlife communities. Animal control reports indicate a steady influx of distemper infected animals, particularly during the colder months, underscoring the need for vigilant monitoring and intervention.

What Animals Can Have Or Spread Rabies and Distemper?


  • Dogs: Often the most common source of rabies transmission to humans due to their close contact with humans.
  • Cats: Can become infected through fights with other cats or wild animals and can transmit the virus to humans.
  • Bats: Can transmit rabies to humans and pets; often, bites are not noticed due to the small size of their teeth.
  • Raccoons: One of the most common wild carriers in North America, capable of transmitting rabies to pets and humans.
  • Skunks: Known to carry rabies and can transmit the virus through their saliva when they bite.
  • Foxes & Coyotes: Can carry rabies and pose a risk to humans and domestic animals if they come into close contact.


  • Domestic Dogs: The primary victims of canine distemper, which affects their gastrointestinal, respiratory, and central nervous systems.
  • Coyotes & Foxes: Can get distemper and pose a risk to domestic animals if they come into close contact.
  • Ferrets: Highly susceptible to distemper, which is often fatal in this species.
  • Wild Canids: Such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes can contract and spread canine distemper.
  • Raccoons: Can suffer from distemper, exhibiting symptoms such as disorientation and aggressive behaviour.
  • Skunks: Can also be affected by distemper, showing symptoms like circling, head tilt, and seizures.
  • Large Felids: Like lions and tigers in captivity have been known to contract distemper from domestic dogs or other wild canid species.

Both diseases are preventable through vaccination (for those animals for which a vaccine is available), and controlling these diseases is crucial to protect both animal and human health.

Are Coyotes Dangerous in Brampton, Ontario?
Are There Coyotes in Brampton, Ontario?

Distemper Transmission and Impact on Wildlife

The canine distemper virus is highly contagious, spreading through aerosol droplets and direct contact with infected bodily fluids or feces. Originally transmitted from domestic dogs to wildlife, the virus now circulates predominantly among wild animals, with raccoons being notably the wildlife species most affected. This disease not only causes immense suffering and mortality among individual animals but also has the potential to disrupt entire ecosystems by affecting various species.

What Is Feline Distemper?

Unlike raccoon distemper, feline distemper (feline panleukopenia) specifically affects cats, characterized by severe symptoms such as vomiting, diarrhea, fever, and lethargy, due to its attack on rapidly dividing cells like those in the intestinal tract and bone marrow. This highly contagious virus differs in its resilience, surviving in environments for years, and its prevention relies heavily on vaccination. Feline distemper is not spread by raccoons directly but through contact with infected cats’ bodily fluids or contaminated objects, highlighting the importance of vaccination and hygiene in its management.

Strategies for Prevention and Control

Vaccination of Domestic Pets

Raccoons can pose a silent but deadly threat to our beloved pets. With incidences of rabid raccoons, the danger of diseases like canine distemper and rabies looms larger than ever, threatening not just the well-being of our canine companions and feline friends, but their very lives. Pre-emptive vaccinations serve as critical armour in this invisible war, arming your pets against these highly contagious viruses. Yet, if your pets do skirmish with these masked bandits, prompt medical attention is paramount. Regular health check-ups, coupled with our vigilance, can ensure that the twinkle in the eyes of our animals isn’t dimmed by preventable diseases. As custodians of their safety, it’s up to us to shield our dogs and cats from the shadows that lurk in our backyards. Ensuring that dogs are vaccinated against distemper symptoms is a critical step in preventing the spread of this distemper virus to wildlife populations. There is a chance your dog may survive if it’s caught early, but permanent neurological damage is very likely. Vaccination not only protects pets but also serves as a barrier to transmission, safeguarding vulnerable wildlife species.

Responsible Wildlife Interaction

In the shadows of our urban jungles, interactions with wildlife are not just possible; they’re inevitable. When you stumble upon the uncanny gaze of a raccoon—a fascinating yet wild inhabitant—bear in mind the delicate balance between our curiosity and their well-being. If the critter before you is struggling with difficulty walking or shows other alarming symptoms, it may tug at your compassionate strings, compelling you to consider the humane thing to do. Remember, protecting public health is paramount; sick raccoons may endanger not just fellow humans but beloved pets as well, potentially carrying a virus. Witnessing these signs is your cue to contact animal control. They are trained to safely manage rabid ones, ensuring that any necessary measures, including having the animal humanely euthanized, are carried out with respect for the creature’s dignity. Keep a respectful distance; your vigilance could preserve the delicate equilibrium between our lives, those of our pets, and the other wild animals that share our spaces. Homeowners should also seek professional wildlife removal services if a sick raccoon is found on their property, followed by contacting local authorities for proper handling.

Public Education and Awareness

Increasing public awareness about canine distemper, its symptoms, and the importance of vaccination can play a significant role in controlling its spread. Educational initiatives can empower communities to take proactive measures in monitoring and reporting wildlife health issues.


Canine distemper in raccoons presents a complex challenge to wildlife health and conservation in Ontario. By understanding the disease, its transmission, and the critical steps needed for prevention, we can collectively work towards safeguarding our wildlife populations. Cooperation between pet owners, wildlife professionals, and the public is essential in mitigating the impact of this devastating disease.

Call to Action

We encourage pet owners to vaccinate their dogs against distemper and urge the public to report any sick and injured raccoons displaying symptoms of the disease to local authorities as humane euthanasia is probably required. Together, we can make a difference in the health and well-being of Ontario’s wildlife.

CONTACT Wildlife Control
CONTACT Wildlife Control