HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – Highland Heights Police are warning pet owners that their dogs may be at risk after sick raccoons were reported in the city.
Authorities suspect the raccoons had a virus called canine distemper which causes symptoms similar to those of rabies and can spread to dogs. They encouraged pet owners to make sure vaccinations are current.
Karen Rosewater called police February 5 to report a raccoon acting strangely across the street from her Eastlawn Drive home.
“It would wobble and just kind of fall over and try to wobble again, so I knew something was wrong,” Rosewater said.
Highland Heights Police received 11 reports of raccoons acting strangely since November, mostly in neighborhoods near Wilson Mills Road and Brainard Road.
On February 12, employees in a Brainard Road doctor’s office reported a raccoon was blocking patients from entering the building.
“I was worried for people, I didn't know what it would do if it's got rabies,” Rosewater said.
Highland Heights Police said two of the raccoons were sent for testing by the United State Department of Agriculture and the tests were negative.
Police said because of symptoms including wandering and an emaciated appearance, it is likely the raccoons instead had canine distemper.
“It can cause neurological abnormalities, so it can cause seizures. It can cause ataxia, which is when the animal's acting like they're a little bit drunk, when they're weak, wobbly in the back end, lethargy,” said Hillcrest Animal Hospital veterinarian Dr. Jennifer Johnston.
The virus, which has no cure, can infect dogs and can be fatal. It’s spread through airborne exposure, through secretion and by ingesting contaminated material.
“It's a significant concern, because some of these animals do ok with it and get minimal cases or mild cases, and some animals can pass away from it,” Johnston said.
She said the best way to prevent a pet from contracting the virus is through vaccination.
“We have a vaccine that's really, really highly effective,” Johnston said.
The disease does not affect humans.
Anyone who encounters a raccoon that is behaving strangely or is outside during the day is advised to stay away from it and call a local animal control officer.