Raccoons in Louisiana infected with rabies-like disease that could affect dogs, wildlife officials warn

An increasing number of raccoons in parts of Louisiana are said to have a serious and contagious rabies-like disease known as canine distemper, which can affect dogs, officials with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries (LDWF) said in an online warning this week.

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The LDWF said the affected raccoons are “primarily from Lafayette to the Florida Parishes in southeast Louisiana” and noted other wild animals — such as foxes, coyotes and skunks — can also be infected with the disease, which spreads “among susceptible animals through direct contact with body fluids or droppings from an infected animal.”

Canine distemper, although not the same as rabies, presents similar symptoms such as “discharge from the nose and eyes, a rough coat of hair, seizures, coughing, emaciated appearance and unusual behavior such as disorientation or wandering aimlessly,” according to the wildlife department.

While the disease does not affect humans, unvaccinated dogs can be infected — and there is no cure, according to the American Veterinary Medical Foundation. For this reason, the LDWF is encouraging dog owners to ensure their pet is vaccinated.

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“LDWF advises that children and pets be kept away from sick raccoons and other wildlife. Even though the animal may appear calm, they can become aggressive if approached too closely,” it added, recommending residents feed their pets inside and secure garbage cans.