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Deadly Diseases: Why canine distemper isn't just a problem for dogs.

Are the same viruses that can make our pets very sick a problem for wildlife?

The short answer is YES!

We are helping our conservation partners investigate these diseases, but the answer isn’t as simple as taking your pets to the vet for their annual vaccinations.

If you’re a cat or dog owner, you most likely take your pet to the vet every year for booster vaccinations. It’s what responsible owners generally do –make sure they take measures to protect their animals from preventable disease to help them live long and happy lives. But viruses like canine distemper are not just an issue for our beloved family pets. They can have much wider implications for conservation and the survival of some of the world’s most endangered carnivores.

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is what’s called a multi-host pathogen, meaning that the same virus can infect lots of different animals. Over 90 species have been identified as being susceptible so far, ranging from long tailed marmots to American black bears.

In 1985, black-footed ferrets went extinct in the wild, following a CDV outbreak in the last remaining group. In 1994, CDV was responsible for the death of a third of the Serengeti’s lions. More recently, Asiatic lion in the Gir Forest in India have also suffered losses. CDV is a major threat to African painted dogs. Over the years, several packs have been completely lost due to outbreaks of the disease. In the spring of 2000, infection with CDV caused the death of 10,000 Endangered Caspian seals. Then in 2003, the first case of CDV was identified in an Amur tiger in the Russian Far East. More cases followed in 2010. And then in 2015, a case was reported in a Critically Endangered Amur leopard.

The real problem with a disease like CDV comes when animals are already endangered, as it’s at times like this that an outbreak of disease can quickly impact population numbers and cause species to be lost from the landscape forever.

While we know how to prevent distemper in our pets and rarely have to worry about it, most of us give little thought to its impact on wildlife. Wildlife Vets International has been supporting investigation into CDV for many years. It’s only through understanding the problem that we can hope to protect vulnerable species.

We need more people to understand what is happening to our natural world. Please encourage friends and family to follow our social media, sign up to our newsletter and spread the word about the complex challenges wildlife vets are facing.