POINT PLEASANT BEACH —Several raccoons were found to have canine distemper in three Ocean County towns.

Point Pleasant Beach's animal control officer, known as "Muskrat Jack," reported an "epidemic" of canine distemper in raccoons after he picked up and euthanized five raccoons in Point Pleasant Beach last week with the affliction, according to Point Pleasant Beach police.

The animal control officer told police cases had been reported in Point Pleasant Borough and Bay Head.

CaninedDistemper attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal and nervous systems of dogs but is also common in raccoons, wolves, foxes, coyotes and skunks, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

It is highly contagious and is spread airborne by sneezing or coughing. Those affected by the illness show symptoms similar to rabies including fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. As the virus attacks the nervous system, infected dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation, according to the AVMA.

The AVMA said all dogs are at risk of contracting this disease but puppies younger than four months old are especially at risk as well as any dog who hasn't been vaccinated.

"Muskrat Jack" asked anyone who encounters a raccoon exhibiting this behavior, to call police at 732-892-0500 immediately. He also suggested making sure that your pets are up to date on all their vaccinations.

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