Canine distemper outbreak reported in Warwick, Jamestown


WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Environmental Management (DEM) is reminding pet owners to make sure their dogs are vaccinated for the canine distemper virus (CDV) amid an outbreak in two communities.

The DEM issued the warning Friday after the Warwick and Jamestown Police Departments reported a high number of wild animals being infected with the virus. Both agencies said they’ve taken calls over the past two months from residents saying they’d seen “sickly-looking raccoons and skunks.”

The Warwick animal shelter is in one of the cities flagged about the virus, and they say it’s very important to pay attention to your dog and recognize symptoms.

“Lethargic, they may have upper respiratory symptoms with that. If your dog is not acting right, appetite, dogs loves to eat, and they are usually bouncy, so if your dog particularly a puppy is really mopey, doesn’t want to eat, vomiting, diarrhea,” said Warwick Animal Shelter Director Ann Corvin.

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, the virus attacks dogs’ respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems. Other symptoms include an emaciated appearance, disorientation, lethargy, and aimless wandering.

The DEM said officers euthanized several animals that were exhibiting symptoms familiar with CDV such as shaking, walking in circles, and loss of awareness of people approaching them. Those raccoons and skunks were tested and later confirmed to have contracted the virus.

While the disease is not transmissible to humans, it’s often fatal to dogs.

The DEM says CDV has historically been rare in Rhode Island because of the state’s strictly enforced regulations protecting animals from imported diseases. However, officials have noticed an increase in cases among dogs arriving from southern states, where the virus is more common.

“There are a lot of rescue groups now that are shipping dogs up from where they have a high euthanasia rate. A lot of people are bringing dogs up to save their lives and may with that bring viruses. It may be why it’s popping up here in Rhode Island,” added Corvin.

Because the distemper vaccination is not required by law like the rabies vaccination, the DEM says it’s likely that many pet dogs in Rhode Island are not vaccinated against CDV.

Dogs most often become infected through airborne exposure like sneezing or coughing or after coming into contact with droppings from an infected animal, according to the DEM. It can also be transmitted through shared food and water bowls.

“I think people really need to keep in mind when you have a place such as a dog park, the likelihood of there being viruses in that is pretty high, so really important any dogs going into that situation are fully vaccinated,” said Corvin.

“Canine distemper is a devastating disease for dogs and wildlife,” State Veterinarian Scott Marshall, DVM, said. “Dog owners can protect their pets and minimize risk to wildlife by ensuring their dogs are properly vaccinated against distemper and not bringing pets into public that aren’t fully immunized.”

Corvin says if you see anything out of the ordinary with your four-legged loved one, get to the vet immediately.

Tips from the American Veterinary Medical Association on preventing CDV:

  • Vaccination is crucial in preventing canine distemper.
  • Avoid gaps in the immunization schedule and make sure distemper vaccinations are up to date.
  • Avoid contact with infected animals and wildlife. Keep pet food dishes inside.
  • Use caution when socializing puppies or unvaccinated dogs at parks, puppy classes, obedience classes, doggy daycare, and other places where dogs can congregate.
  • Pet ferrets should be vaccinated against canine distemper using a USDA-approved ferret vaccine.

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