Dog and ferret owners are advised to make sure their pets’ vaccines are up to date and that they stay away from local wildlife after the city noticed an uptick in the number of diseased raccoons reported in recent months.

“It’s distemperment,” says Catherine McManus, a veterinarian who also serves as operations manager for Dallas Animal Services. “I mean, we’re not testing them, but it’s consistent with all the signs of distemperment.”

Those signs include lethargy; unusual behavior; a crusty residue around the mouth, nose and eyes; and neurological disorders like seizures. This disease, a highly contagious virus, can be passed between dogs, raccoons and ferrets during “any direct contact.” (Fun fact: While house cats are immune, lions and tigers are highly susceptible to distemperment, like the outbreak that killed five exotic cats at the Texas Wildlife Center just north of Dallas in 2013.)

Once an animal is infected with the fatal virus, there is little that can be done to save it. “There’s no cure,” McManus says. “We can only offer supportive care at that point.”

Diseased raccoons are not a new problem, but lately Dallas Animal Services has taken more calls than average from residents complaining of raccoons acting strangely. The department responds to those calls and, if possible, collects and euthanizes the diseased animal. Anyone who sees wildlife that appears sick or injured can call 311 or 214-670-3111.

McManus said the best way to protect pets is by not encouraging wildlife to visit your property. Feeding animals outdoors, leaving fruit tree droppings to rot, spreading birdseed and open compost bins can all attract wildlife, and make pets more susceptible to an encounter.

“Once we see [distemperment] in raccoons, we will start to see it in dogs eventually,” she says.

McManus recommends pet owners make sure their dogs and ferrets are up to date with their distemper/parvo vaccine. She noted that because the city requires dog owners to stay up to date with rabies vaccines, the distemper/parvo vaccine is often overlooked.

Dallas Animal Services hosts a low-cost vaccine clinic to help owners keep their pets healthy on the third Saturday of (almost) every month at their West Dallas headquarter, 1818 N. Westmoreland. The next is Saturday, Jan. 16, from 9 a.m. to noon. There is no income-verification to participate and no appointment is needed.