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Cases of raccoons with distemper on the rise in Cambridge

Pet owners are encouraged to keep pets inside or on-leash
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Responding to daylight sightings of racoons suspected to be suffering from distemper, the rare Charitable Research Reserve is advising individuals keep an eye out for racoons and to protect their pets by keeping them indoors or on a leash, particularly if they are walking nature trails with their dogs.

“This spring we have noticed a large number of raccoons that have been hit by cars on Blair Road,” says Michelle MacMillan, educator at rare. “We’ve also encountered a few raccoons that were out during the day, had injuries, seemed lethargic, were not shy of people, and kept wandering into the road. Based on this behaviour it’s likely that distemper is going around the local raccoon population.”

Bill Dowd, CEO of Skedaddle Humane Wildlife Control, a large Canadian wildlife control company with franchise locations across Canada and the United States, agrees that the incidence of distemper is increasing.

“We have seen a definite increase,” says Dowd. “Most likely it’s due to raccoon numbers increasing in every city in North America.”

Distemper is a viral disease that affects several mammals. Humans are unaffected by distemper, but raccoons, dogs and cats are susceptible, as well as foxes and coyotes. Raccoons with distemper engage in unusual behaviour, walking around in daylight, moving slowly, and stumbling when walking. Other symptoms include pus discharge from the eyes and confusion. Animals with distemper will often not be afraid of humans, and they can attack if cornered.

While the increase in distemper is a concern, the risk to household pets is easily minimized. “Have your pets vaccinated against distemper and stay up on their boosters,” says Dowd. “Check with your veterinarian.”

It is also important to avoid potentially affected wildlife, meaning that dogs should be kept on a leash, particularly when walking on nature trails, or anywhere else where wildlife might be encountered.

On the rare Charitable Research Reserve, dogs are not allowed on the Osprey Tower Trail, the River Trail, the Woodland Trail, the Alvar Trail and the Butterfly Interactive Loop. However, dogs are welcome on the ECO Centre Trail, the Grand Allée Trail, the Maple Lane Trail and the Deer Run Trail, so long as dogs remain on their leash. “This is done to protect local wildlife from unleashed dogs,” says rare Communications Officer James Bow, “And to protect dogs from local wildlife. With these simple precautions, everyone can enjoy our natural areas without worry.”

As an urban land trust and environmental institute, the rare Charitable Research Reserve protects over 1,200 acres of environmentally sensitive lands throughout Waterloo Region and Wellington County while engaging with the community to help build support for understanding and protecting these lands. The reserve maintains over 14 kilometres of trails and runs research and education programs to build an appreciation of these lands to everyone’s health and well-being in the minds of surrounding community and the generations to follow. More information about rare can be found at