For the unvaccinated pet, distemper can be a death sentence. It starts off like an upper respiratory problem then progresses into neurological complications like uncontrollable seizures and eventually can lead to death.

It is a slow, painful process with no cure.

For these reasons, veterinarians insist our pets get the distemper vaccination. However, there is a short window when puppies are at risk of the disease even after their first vaccination shot. Because the vaccine requires boosters, puppies that have not completed the entire series of shots can contract the disease.

Older dogs can also get the disease if they miss an annual booster.

The good news is, most veterinarians don’t see cases of distemper in dogs and cats because most owners are good about keeping up on the vaccines.

Still, cases pop up now and then and many of them involve infected raccoons.

Cases of infected raccoons in the St. Louis region have been on the rise recently, according to the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline, a non-profit organization that helps deal with them when they are found.

Angel Wintrode, with the organization, says the increase is normal this time of year.

She also says, it is nowhere near as large of an outbreak as what occurred in 2012.

Still, Wintrode says hot spots are popping up in Chesterfield, Ladue, Creve Coeur, Brentwood, Kirkwood, Webster Groves, and Fenton.

Raccoons aren’t the only mammal that can carry the disease, skunks and coyotes also have been known to be carriers.

There are also several strains of distemper that affect different domestic animals. The feline strain will not affect dogs, and vice versa. However, the canine strain will affect ferrets. Humans cannot contract distemper of either strain.

According to Wintrode, you can assume a raccoon has distemper if it is wandering around and appears confused and stumbling, especially during the daytime hours.

If you see a raccoon or any wildlife that appears to be in distress, you can contact the Bi-State Wildlife Hotline at 1-855-WILS-HELP (1-855-945-3435).

The Missouri Department of Conservation typically does not remove wildlife suffering from distemper, instead preferring to allow nature to take its course.

Death from distemper can take several days