Canine distemper seen in foxes, state says; dogs should be vaccinated for protection

  • A gray fox. Courtesy—Vermont Fish and Wildlife

Published: 12/2/2016 3:31:54 PM

State officials are warning people to get their pet dogs vaccinated against canine distemper following numerous reports of gray foxes displaying symptoms of the disease in the Upper Connecticut River Valley and southern New Hampshire.

Canine distemper is caused by a natural virus spread by close animal contact. It is usually fatal and cannot be cured, but it can be prevented through vaccinations.

Distemper vaccines are often given to dogs as part of a series known as DAPP for the diseases it covers (distemper, parovirus, para-influenza and adeno). They are not required in New Hampshire.

Canine distemper is not contagious to people.

Canine distemper can spread to dogs and ferrets, but is not contagious to cats, which get an unrelated disease with a similar name, feline distemper. 

In the wild, canine distemper has been reported in foxes, coyotes, skunks, raccoons, mink, weasel, fisher and otter.

Wildlife with canine distemper can appear unusually tame, confused and perform high-risk daytime activity such as walking down or standing near busy streets. These symptoms occur late in the infection, when the animal is very sick, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game Department.

Concerns about distemper in New Hampshire foxes have been circulating for several weeks. Police in the town of Hudson, alongside Nashua on the Massachusetts border, warned people in mid-November about reports of sick foxes, and distemper was thought to be the cause at the time. 

NH Fish and Game Department furbearer biologist Patrick Tate said the rate at which the virus is spread among wildlife depends upon the density of animals, meaning that a growth in fox population could lead to the virus being more easily transmitted by increased numbers of individuals interacting.

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