By Don Ford

MARIN COUNTY (KPIX 5) — A potential threat to Bay Area pets is spreading among wild animals, leading local veterinarians to tell dog owners it is good time to double-check vaccination records.

With a rising number of distemper cases being reported in the Bay Area, a lot of pet owners are now becoming more concerned about the safety of their animals.

Distemper is a virus that attacks a dog’s lungs, intestines and, eventually, their brains. Director of shelter medicine at the Marin Humane Society Dr. Belinda Evans said distemper is often fatal.

“Some dogs cam survive it with supportive care. Some dogs can have milder forms of it, but the worrisome thing is that they can progress to neurological symptoms and then can be fatal,” said Dr. Evans.

The virus is spread through direct contact, dogs will lick each other and share the same water bowls.

“It’s highly contagious, so, that’s concerning,” Dr. Evans warned.

For the moment, the rising cases are mostly in the East Bay. Humans are immune but, dogs aren’t the only animals to get distemper, explained Wild Care Director of Communications Alison Hermance.

“Wild animals also get distemper and it can be a really bad thing when a major distemper epidemic hits the wild population,” said Hermance.

Raccoons, skunks and possums are often hit hardest. It is unclear what triggers the virus to suddenly expand.

“It does go in a cyclical nature, and you’ll have a peak in the number of distemper cases about every seven years,” said Hermance.

Dr. Evans told KPIX 5 there is a very good vaccine and she urges every pet owner to have their dogs vaccinated. A brief moment of discomfort could save a loving dog’s life.

While cats can get distemper too, it is much less common among felines.