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Distemper Virus Is on the Rise. How to Protect Pets and Wildlife.



Photo of two raccoons eating dog food in a yard
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Fresno and other Valley communities situated near rivers have abundant wildlife.

Distemper can cause respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal illness.
It’s common to see foxes, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, rats, skunks, coyotes, snakes, and more.
Thus pet owners are reminded to be vigilant about keeping their animals from coming into contact with wildlife.

Distemper Virus on the Rise in California

Right now, California authorities are warning pet owners of an unusually high number of canine distemper virus cases in wildlife populations statewide.

Photo of a San Joaquin kit fox

An endangered San Joaquin kit fox walks across a homeowner’s yard in Bakersfield. (CSUS ESRP/Tory Westall)

The Department of Fish and Wildlife said this week that unvaccinated domestic dogs can contract the disease through contact with food or water bowls that infected wildlife use.
Canine distemper virus can infect a wide range of carnivores but gray foxes, raccoons, and skunks are the most commonly affected species.
Fish and Wildlife officials note that just as wild animals can spread distemper to domestic dogs, an unvaccinated pet dog can spread the virus to wildlife.
Distemper can cause respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal illness.
“Keeping dogs up to date on vaccinations not only protects pets, it protects wildlife,” said CDFW Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford. “Wild animals can spread distemper to domestic dogs, but unvaccinated domestic dogs can also spread the disease to wild animals.”

Tips for Protecting Your Pets and Wildlife

The Central California SPCA provides the following tips:

  • Pick up food and water before dark.
  • Once your pet is inside for the night, lock all pet doors.


  • Replace plastic trashcans with metal ones and secure the top.  Secure trashcans to a fence.
  • If you catch an animal in the midst of a raid, do not attempt to pick up or corner the animal. Use bright lights or loud noises to frighten the visitor away.
  • Close the areas around decks, hot tubs, spas, sheds, porches, foundations, and stairways.

Fish and Wildlife also recommends:

  • Put away bird feeders at night to avoid attracting rodents and other prey.
  • Pick up fallen fruit and cover compost piles.

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email