ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Two raccoons in Pinellas County have tested positive for a contagious virus that attacks the gastrointestinal, respiratory and nervous systems of dogs.

Canine distemper can be fatal. And, it may cause permanent nervous system damage in surviving dogs.

At this point, no local pets appear to have been exposed to the infected raccoons. But, as a precaution, Pinellas County Animal Services is urging pet owners not to bring puppies, older dogs, unvaccinated dogs or dogs with compromised immune systems to Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg, where the raccoons were found.

In wildlife, symptoms of distemper can be similar to rabies. If you encounter a wild animal that appears sick, you should immediately back away and call a park ranger or the Parks and Conservation Resources department at 727-582-2100.

If a dog gets canine distemper, the first signs will usually include sneezing, coughing and a thick mucus coming from the canine's eyes and nose. From there, the dog may develop a fever or become lethargic and begin vomiting or stop eating. If your dog develops any of these symptoms, immediately go to a veterinarian.

This is also a good time to make sure your dog's vaccines are up-to-date.

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