SEATTLE -- A disease is coursing through the area's robust urban raccoon population and animal experts say your dog could be at risk.

King County Animal Control officials announced Friday morning they suspected distemper, a highly contagious disease that affects several species, is to blame for a large increase in sick raccoons.

Friday afternoon, tests conducted at the Washington State University Veterinarian Lab confirmed canine distemper is the cause. As the name implies, the disease can affect dogs, along with several other creatures, and raccoons can transmit it very easily.

If an infected raccoon gets into dog's water or food dish, it can expose the dog to the distemper, says PAWS Wildlife Veterinarian John Huckabee. We're seeing a big increase in the number of raccoons with distemper being brought to us this Spring.

Pet owners are urged to keep their dog bowls inside and make sure their dogs are up to date on their distemper shots. They also warn residents against capturing and relocating raccoons on their own. They say that could just help spread distemper to healthy populations. Owners are also advised to secure pet doors so raccoons don't enter homes.

Canine distemper does not affect people but trying to catch a raccoon can be very dangerous, they can bite and scratch when cornered.

King County wildlife officials had received reports of sick raccoons in Bellevue, Redmond and Renton. Last week King County animal control officers helped catch a suspected infected raccoon in Issaquah and they picked up 3 dead raccoons in east King County.

Infected animals may exhibit symptoms such as runny eyes, staggering trembling, foaming at the mouth or snapping.

Canine distemper isn t transmittable to humans but is highly contagious among dogs, ferrets, and certain wild animals such as raccoons, coyotes, skunks, weasels and harbor seals. Cats aren t affected by canine distemper.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife offers tips on how to deal with raccoons on their Web site.

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