Serving Larchmont Village, Hancock Park, and the Greater Wilshire neighborhoods of Los Angeles since 2011.

Distemper Outbreak in LA County – Make Sure Your Dog’s Vaccines are Up to Date

Is your dog up to date on her distemper vaccine?


Our vet’s office alerted us this week to a letter it received on Wednesday from Dr. Karen Ehnert, LA County’s Director of Animal Health, about an uptick in distemper in the local wildlife population, and the advice to make sure our dogs’ vaccines are up to date.

According to Ehnert’s March 10 letter:


“Throughout Los Angeles County, local animal control agencies have reported an increased amount of wildlife suspected of having distemper. From April 2020 to February 2021, these agencies reported 154 raccoons, 2 coyotes, 9 foxes, and 3 skunks with clinical signs consistent with distemper to Veterinary Public Health (VPH). Of these, there were 108 raccoons, 2 coyotes, 9 foxes, and 3 skunks reported to have possible neurologic signs. To date, 9 raccoons and 3 foxes have been necropsied or tested and confirmed to have distemper.”


According to Ehnert, distemper symptoms are similar to those of rabies, but the animals tested so far have all been negative for that disease.


“Distemper is a viral infection that can infect dogs, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and large cats such as lions and tigers. The virus does not cause disease in cats nor humans. In LA County, raccoons are the local reservoir species for distemper. Dogs can become infected with the distemper virus from direct contact with a sick animal or being near an infected animal when it is coughing or sneezing. The virus can also be transmitted through shared food and water bowls, or other objects that were contaminated by an infected animal. Puppies and unvaccinated dogs are at highest risk for infection with distemper.

Common clinical signs of distemper in dogs include discharge from the eyes and/or nose, fever, coughing, lethargy, disorientation, tremors, and seizures. The clinical signs are similar in raccoons and other wildlife. Currently there is no treatment for distemper so preventing the disease in dogs is crucial.”


This map, from the Health Department’s distemper website, shows where the recent cases have been found…



…and here’s how the numbers of suspected cases have grown in recent months:



To help protect pets, the LA County Department of Public Health is advising dog owners and veterinarians to:


  • Vaccinate dogs and puppies for distemper.  Puppies should receive a series of 3 or more distemper vaccines between the ages of 2 and 4 months.  The vaccine should be boostered a year later, then every three years for life.
  • Keep puppies at home and away from unfamiliar dogs until they have completed the vaccination series.  Use caution when socializing dogs or in areas where dogs congregate such dog parks, doggy day care and boarding facilities.
  • Keep dogs away from wildlife.
  • Keep pet food and water indoors, away from wildlife.  Pet food and water left outdoors attracts wildlife which can spread distemper to dogs.
  • Report all cases of distemper or neurologic wildlife in LA County to Veterinary Public Health using this reporting form.


For more information about distemper, see You can also speak to the Health Department’s Veterinarian-on-Call at (213) 288-7060 (M-F , 8 a.m.-5 p.m.), or e-mail [email protected].


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Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller
Elizabeth Fuller was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN but has lived in LA since 1991 - with deep roots in both the Sycamore Square and West Adams Heights-Sugar Hill neighborhoods. She spent 10 years with the Greater Wilshire Neighborhood Council, volunteers at Wilshire Crest Elementary School, and has been writing for the Buzz since 2015.

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