Archived News


May 15, 2008

University of California, Davis
May 15, 2008

Canine distemper, one of the most serious viral diseases affecting dogs, appears to have caused the deaths in recent months of a large number of skunks, foxes and raccoons in Northern California, report veterinary scientists at the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.

Since mid-February, 83 skunks, 13 foxes and 12 raccoons were reported to have died of unexplained causes in Shasta County.

"Early molecular tests were negative for canine distemper and rabies, which are both contagious viruses that can infect many species of domestic and wild carnivorous animals," said Mourad Gabriel, a comparative pathology graduate student in the laboratory of veterinary professor Janet Foley. "Postmortem exams, however, revealed typical changes associated with canine distemper infection."


Canine distemper is a potentially fatal disease primarily causing inflammation in the nervous and respiratory systems. While the virus does not pose a threat to human health, dog owners are urged to protect the health of their animals by having them vaccinated against distemper and keeping them away from wild animals, which might be carrying the disease. Unfortunately, the outbreak is continuing with ongoing reports of deaths, including animals from more distant locations.

Gabriel, Foley and veterinary pathology professor Linda Munson have been investigating the unexplained wildlife deaths in collaboration with the California Department of Fish and Game. Munson performed the postmortem exams that identified canine distemper as the cause.

"The animals we examined had tissue damage that is characteristic of canine distemper viral infection," Munson said. "We confirmed the presence of the distemper virus in the tissues and now plan to isolate it in laboratory cultures."

She added that more of the animals that died during the recent outbreak will also be examined.


"The Fish and Game office in Redding has been diligent in collecting fresh samples for us in order to more thoroughly investigate this die-off," said Gabriel, noting that anyone who finds dead or dying wildlife should refrain from touching the carcasses and, instead, report the finding to the local animal control agency or California Department of Fish and Game.

This news release was originally distributed by UC Davis News Service.