Deadly disease, distemper, plagues neighborhood raccoons


DO NOT feed the wildlife. This will be a reoccurring theme throughout this blog post.

Wildlife experts have removed more than 100 raccoons, dead from distemper, in Lake Highlands and East Dallas areas, according to DFW Wildlife and 911 Wildlife founder Bonnie Bradshaw.

Lake Highlands — all zips — and the White Rock/East Dallas area, 75218, have been hit especially hard with this epidemic. Her outfit also has picked up infected raccoons in two Far North Dallas zip codes, 75240 and 75248. The problem became evident in mid-December, Bradshaw notes.

This is the worst outbreak of distemper, an infectious airborne virus, Bradshaw, a certified master naturalist, has seen. It cannot infect humans, but it can infect dogs that have not been properly vaccinated, she says. “It is very important right now if you live in Dallas to ensure your pets are vaccinated,” she says.

The most likely way for the raccoons to acquire and spread distemper is by gathering, so it is important to not leave pet food or birdseed out overnight. They find food and congregate around it, and that is how they are spreading the disease.

And if you see a raccoon, or any wildlife for that matter, do not — I repeat DO NOT — feed it.

“The main factor is people feeding raccoons directly or inadvertently,” Bradshaw says.

So, I mentioned to our expert the little area, you know, behind the Super Target at Skillman-Abrams? People like to leave cat food for the neighborhood’s feral cats. Sometimes I drive through that lot and see dozens of cats feeding on a half-dozen or more plastic feline-food-filled bowls.

THIS IS VERY BAD, according to Bradshaw.

“It is incredibly irresponsible. We call these folks feeders and breeders,” she says. They want to feed the cats, but they are not doing anything to stop the overpopulation, she says. “They are not helping but only contributing to the problem.”

Some symptoms of distemper in raccoons:

They might seem tame—because the illness affects their neurological system, the animals might just sit in the yard and stare at you or allow you to approach them. (This might tempt one to feed them. They are, after all, sooo cute. But DO NOT feed them.)

They might have seizures or make funny faces.

They might appear injured, but they actually are experiencing paralysis in hind legs.

I originally was interviewing Bradshaw for a more extensive wildlife Q&A in the March Lakewood/East Dallas Advocate magazine. Keep an eye out for that. She shares some extremely fascinating information.

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  • Tedbarker

    Have any reports been made about squirrels or Opossum?  For “concerned” I would suggest the local Game and Wildlife Wardens or Dallas Animal Control for advise and possible follow-up to warn residents.

    Our apartments back onto Sunset Bay / Winfrey Point.  We have several large dumpsters and a very healthy Opposum/Raccoon population.   Residents let their dogs hunt both, a dangerous practice, to say the least (for the dog).

    Thanks to the Advocate for shining a light.

  • That’s a good question @0d7e8cf66db5f9eb0f5d28e56852b84a:disqus   I know it’s not against the law or anything. I think, generally, the folks who feed them are good animal-loving people with the best intentions, so it in most cases it is probably a matter of making them aware of the problems. (Of course there are also irrational, stubborn types, and with them I guess you just hope they are few and far between :))

  • concerned

    What do you do when you know someone feeds them?