Dog owners on alert after raccoon with deadly virus found at popular Pinellas park

Raccoon found with canine distemper virus

PALM HARBOR, Fla. - A warning at a popular Pinellas County park has dog owners on alert.

The concern comes after a raccoon at John Chestnut Senior Park in Palm Harbor tests positive for canine distemper virus.

Half Maltese, half Yorkie, a little dynamo named Bunky is the fastest 4-legged friend at the dog park.

“He loves to run. He’s a hell of a runner,” said his owner Lou Sperico.

Sperico brings Bunky to Chestnut Park to use up some of that never-ending energy.

“You get to know a lot of people here. You probably know the dog’s name more than you do the people,” he said.

But now there is a warning posted on the gate as you enter the dog park. Many owners didn’t even notice it at first. But it reads:

"Puppies, older dogs, and those without vaccination should keep out for a while."

That’s because a raccoon tested positive for the often fatal virus, canine distemper.

Experts said canine distemper is highly contagious. And not something they see very often.

“Canine distemper can be deadly, definitely. And it can cause all sorts of symptoms. Typically see a lot of respiratory systems and the other area where it really gets serious is with neurological symptoms,” said veterinarian Michael Amsberry.

“You don’t think about it really and the sign kind of gives you an awakening,” said Sperico.

There is no cure for canine distemper and it can spread through the air.

Park officials removed the infected raccoon but they don’t know if others might have the virus too.

Here is the release from the Pinellas County parks department:

  • Raccoon located in John Chesnut Sr. Park tested positive for canine distemper virus; no reported exposure to visiting dogs
  • Puppies, senior dogs, unvaccinated dogs or dogs that may have compromised immune systems should avoid visiting the park until further notice
  • Keep pet vaccinations up to date to prevent the spread of diseases
  • Stay away from wildlife and contact a park ranger or call (727) 582-2100 if you encounter an animal that appears sick

As a precautionary measure, Pinellas County Animal Services is advising pet owners to refrain from bringing puppies, senior dogs, unvaccinated dogs or dogs that may have compromised immune systems to John Chesnut Sr. Park (2200 East Lake Road in Palm Harbor) until further notice. This recommendation is due to the discovery of a raccoon that tested positive for canine distemper virus.

Pinellas County Animal Services has received no reports of exposures to pets from the infected raccoon. The tested raccoon no longer poses a threat to park visitors and pets. Pet owners should continue to avoid the park until further tests on other raccoons are completed.  

Park visitors who encounter an animal that appears sick should immediately leave the area, contact a park ranger or call the Parks and Conservation Resources department at (727) 582-2100.

Animal Services reminds pet owners to keep vaccinations for their dogs and cats up to date to prevent the spread of diseases. Pet owners can get their pets vaccinated at their private veterinary clinic. Animal Services strongly encourages every pet owner to establish a relationship with a veterinarian. This relationship is essential for a pet’s health and longevity and is an important component of responsible pet ownership.

Canine distemper is a virus that affects a dog’s gastrointestinal, respiratory and central nervous systems, as well as eye membranes. The first signs of canine distemper include sneezing, coughing and thick mucus coming from the eyes and nose. Fever, lethargy, sudden vomiting and diarrhea, depression and/or loss of appetite are also symptoms of the virus. Pet owners are urged to seek immediate medical attention if their pets exhibit these symptoms. The virus spreads rapidly and must be aggressively treated as soon it is discovered.

Pinellas County Animal Services is located at 12450 Ulmerton Road in Largo. Regular hours of operation are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m., with the adoption center closing at 5:30 p.m. Saturday hours are 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. and services include adoptions. Rabies vaccinations are administered on Thursdays from 1 - 4 p.m. The facility is closed on all Pinellas County holidays. For information on how to adopt, donate or volunteer, join Pinellas County Animal Services on Facebook. To learn more about the shelter, visit www.pinellascounty.org/animalservices or call (727) 582-2600.

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