Distemper in raccoons a threat


Longtime Island resident Pat Copeland had a scare from a raccoon recently.

“I went outside to check my Little Free Library, and when I turned to come back to the house, I saw a raccoon on the front porch,” she said. “It didn’t look healthy and I was concerned about it being sick.”

Then it ran to the back yard, and the Copelands found it by the swimming pool trying to drink. Pat Copeland’s husband, Anna Maria City Commissioner Doug Copeland, chased it out of the yard, but it returned shortly and they found it lying by the pool panting.

Pat Copeland, a former reporter for The Anna Maria Island Sun, was worried that the animal might have rabies.

“We called (Manatee County) Animal Services and nobody answered,” she said. “We called the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office and a deputy arrived and told us to call Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation.”

They talked with Wildlife co-owner Ed Straight, who said they hadn’t had a rabies report in a while, but he said it might be distemper. He said there have been several raccoons with distemper.

Distemper is an airborne pathogen, which means it can be transmitted through the air, and Straight said he didn’t want to endanger the other animals at his Bradenton Beach facility.

Connor Bystrom, veterinarian at Island Animal Clinic, said animals with distemper show similar symptoms as ones with rabies.

“They might be foaming at the mouth or show no fear,” he said of the normally nocturnal animals. “If you see them out in the daytime, they might be nursing mothers.”

An Animal Services employee eventually called back that night, but by that time, the raccoon had left the Copeland’s yard and climbed up a neighbor’s tree. Copeland got a surprise when she found out the department would not respond unless the animal was caged.

Straight said the county department is normally busy, and employees don’t want to come out if the animal is not going to be there. He warned about setting traps because one would have to check on them regularly or face trouble with the law if an animal dies inside a trap.

Bystrom said dog and cat owners should take steps to protect their pets from rabies or distemper.

Make sure you keep their vaccinations up to date,” he said. “Rabies and distemper are part of the basic vaccinations we give animals.”

If you spot a sick animal, call Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation at 941-778-6324, Manatee County Animal Services at 941-742-5933 or the Sheriff’s Office.