Raccoon Distemper and Cats and Dogs


Recently a map of all the reported raccoon distemper cases was posted in Santa Cruz, California.  Full map with dots from 2015, Red dots are last 2 months.  This has caused confusion and fear mostly due to the variety of disease names, virus names, and vaccine names. Let me help clear this up so that you know which vaccines your cat and dog should be up-to-date on.

Let’s start with dogs.  Raccoon can contract canine distemper.  This is a paramyxovirus which causes the disease called distemper in both raccoons and dogs.  This is the “D” in the DHPP vaccine. The vaccine is a very effective one and is given every 3 years after adulthood and, if your animal isn’t immunocompromised,  could last longer.  Either titer or test every 3 years.  Cats and humans are not susceptible.

Now on to cats. Raccoons can also contract the disease called feline distemper.  This is a parvovirus type.  The disease in cats is usually called panleukopenia, but can also be called feline distemper, cat plague, cat fever, feline agranulocytosis, and feline infectious enteritis.  This is the “P” in FVRCP vaccine.  This vaccine is also very effective and is given every 3 years after adulthood.  Humans are not susceptible.

This is where it gets a little confusing. The class of viruses called parvovirus causes both feline distemper and canine parvo diseases.  They are so closely related that the cat type can affect the dog and vice versa.  Dogs get vaccinated against parvo (the “P” in DHPP) and cats get vaccinated against distemper (the “P” for panleukopenia in FVRCP).  This keeps them both protected against the parvovirus types.

Bottom line:  To protect against the types that the raccoon may be infected with, dogs need to be vaccinated against parvo and distemper (DHPP).  Cats need to be vaccinated against distemper (FVRCP).

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