How Does Canine Distemper Affect Coyotes and Foxes?

Distemper is one of the most common diseases affecting canines and some wildlife species including coyotes and foxes.

How Does Canine Distemper Affect Coyotes and Foxes?

Hunting predators such as coyote, fox and bobcat with success requires you to have good woodsmanship skills. Trial and error is part of the process, of course.

Among the diseases wildlife and pets can contract, distemper is one of the most common among canines including coyotes, wolves, foxes and dogs.

Toss in rabies and mange, and canines battle a trio of nasty diseases. Black bears can get these three, too, with a case of canine distemper identified in 2013 in a Pennsylvania bruin. Other non-canid animals including skunks and raccoons can get these diseases, which is what California officials are seeing now. 

The diseases run in cycles, as is Mother Nature's way of handling things. The California wildlife agency is seeing a surge in the number of canine distemper cases. California Department of Fish and Wildlife officials warned the public about the possibility of wild animals with distemper passing the disease along to unvaccinated, domesticated pets.

Pet owners who feed outdoors and leave bowls with food may attract opportunistic wild animals. Whether you're in California or Maine, Florida or Idaho, or any other state, coyotes, raccoons, opossums, foxes and bears will take advantage of pet food and bird seed if given the opportunity. No big surprise there, of course.

The risk is the wild animals can transmit the distemper virus after eating the food aand contacting the bowl or water dish. 

CDFW Senior Wildlife Veterinarian Deana Clifford said canine distemper is the most common disease state wildlife officials see as the cause of death in California’s carnivores. Distemper may temporarily reduce populations, similar to how EHD knocks back whitetail deer populations in late summer. Again, Mother Nature at work. 

How is Distemper Transmitted?

Distemper is a viral disease, with CDFW saying it's transmitted most easily by:

— inhalation of infected respiratory droplets, or  

— direct contact with saliva, nasal discharge and tears.

Feces and urine may transmit the virus but it does not survive long in the environment. It is more common in adult animals in winter and among juvenile animals in spring and summer.

Distemper can cause respiratory, neurologic and gastrointestinal illness. Clinical signs may vary depending on the strain of the virus, the environment, the host species and the age of the infected animal. Signs include (but are not limited to) depression, fever, labored breathing, diarrhea, anorexia, incoordination, moving in small circles, yellow to clear discharge from the nose and eyes, and crusting on the nose, eyes, mouth or footpads. There is no treatment for sick animals except supportive care. Infected animals may survive the illness.

As with viruses, asymptomatic transmission is possible. Animals with the virus may not show clinical signs but can still spread the virus for up to 90 days.

Opportunistic wildlife can spread diseases by feeding at food or water bowls of domesticated pets. (Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife)
Opportunistic wildlife can spread diseases by feeding at food or water bowls of domesticated pets. (Photo: California Department of Fish and Wildlife)
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