Rangers at Pinnacles National Park in California are warning dog owners to beware after a gray fox there tested positive for canine distemper, a highly contagious and serious disease.
The advisory comes after workers and visitors at the park began discovering sick and dead gray foxes on trails in recent days, park rangers said in a news release on Thursday.
Domesticated dogs can spread the disease, as can wildlife such as foxes, coyotes, raccoons, skunks and badgers, according to park rangers.
“Canine distemper outbreaks occur periodically in wildlife and can have significant impacts on an affected population,” park rangers said. “It is difficult to predict how long this outbreak will last, or how many animals will be impacted.”
Humans aren’t known to come down with the disease, rangers said.
“People who are considering bringing a pet to Pinnacles should be informed about risks to their pets from wildlife diseases, and to make sure pets are healthy and up to date on vaccines in order to reduce the risk of spreading diseases to park wildlife,” rangers said.
Park rangers said in the news release that visitors’ pets aren’t allowed on trails in the park to limit the impact they have on area wildlife. But dogs are allowed in developed areas, including roads, campgrounds and picnic areas. Dogs still must be on a leash.
Pinnacles is east of Soledad, between Highway 101 and Highway 25.
“Canine Distemper usually causes animals to become lethargic or disoriented, but an animal that feels threatened or cornered may act aggressively,” rangers warned. “If you see an animal that appears to be dead, sick, or behaving strangely, do not approach it. Instead, note details and location, and report it to park staff as soon as possible.”
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are most often “infected through airborne exposure (through sneezing or coughing) to the virus from an infected dog or wild animal. The virus can also be transmitted by shared food and water bowls and equipment. Infected dogs can shed the virus for months, and mother dogs can pass the virus through the placenta to their puppies.”
There is no cure for the disease.
In wild animals, distemper “closely resembles rabies,” according to the association.
The canine distemper vaccination is considered one of the most important for pets, along with the rabies, canine adenovirus and parvovirus vaccines, according to the American Kennel Club, which describes the disease as “highly contagious and potentially lethal.”