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Posted on Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 3:30 p.m.

Skunk with distemper raises warnings for pet owners in Ann Arbor's Water Hill neighborhood

By Paula Gardner

Ann Arbor’s ‘Water Hill’ neighborhood is being warned to make sure dogs are vaccinated following the capture of a critically ill skunk over Labor Day weekend.

The skunk was spotted on Spring Street near Cherry, “circling and circling, wandering back and forth across the street, falling over and tremoring,” according to a neighborhood email.


Skunks don't often get distemper, according to Washtenaw County wildlife experts.

From the Grand Rapids Press

Wildlife rescue specialists from the Humane Society of Huron Valley captured the skunk, which is believed to have suffered from distemper. It was euthanized.

However, the capture is a reminder for residents with dogs that they should keep their vaccinations current, said Tanya Hilgendorf, executive director of the humane society.

The disease is highly contagious, Hilgendorf said, “and it causes acute illness and death.”

It can be passed through both direct contact and through contaminated things — such as fecal matter — left in the environment.

The condition affects the respiratory tract, Hilgendorf said, then advances through other systems in the body. By the time neurological signs are present — such as disorientation or showing no fear of humans — the disease is advanced.

While common among wild animals in Michigan, “there is no treatment for wildlife with distemper,” Hilgendorf added.

The skunk’s condition may have raised fears that it suffered from rabies, a situation that Hilgendorf said was unlikely.

The county’s humane society will pick up hundreds of animals suffering from distemper in a typical year, Hilgendorf said. That compares with an average of 100 cases of rabies found across the state during that timeframe.

Meanwhile, cats would not be affected by the same strain of the disease, Hilgendorf said.



Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 1:32 p.m.

We need a coyote in the Water Hill neighborhood to help us get rid of all the ground hogs, rabbits, skunks, etc.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 1:04 p.m.

Just because a skunk is out during the day does not mean it necessarily is sick. Many skunks, raccoons, possums, get used to a constant food source (like Knights garbage) and will be out during the day just for that.

Jack Gladney

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:19 p.m.

Keep your distempered skunk away from my dog or I will end your skunk.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 10:48 p.m.

I assume this is tongue in cheek? Just who is the object of this threat? God?


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 1:24 a.m.

Distemper is also airborne. Indoor and outdoor cats should get their distemper shots also, even if not affected by the same strain as the skunk.

Lorrie Shaw

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 10:19 p.m.

All the more reason to make sure that pets ate up to date on core vaccinations. You just never know.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 8:31 p.m.

I really could care less about risk to pets. How about to humans. Why doesn't this article address the risk to kids and people???? Can it be spread from the skunk to humans or from someone's pet to humans?


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 9:34 p.m.

Thank you -- what's so nice about that link is not only the information provided, but the really awesome passive-aggressiveness of it, which I truly appreciate. It saves me from personally saying, just Google it!.....


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 9:12 p.m.

<a href="" rel='nofollow'></a>


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 8:40 p.m.

Distemper can not be caught by humans. That is why the article does not address it. It is very dangerous to dogs. Dogs can pass it on to other dogs as well. But they can not pass it on to you or your kids. Sick animals, though, are always a concern, especially if you get bitten or scratched by them. You won't get distemper, but you should get yourself in to see your doctor if that occurs.


Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 8:29 p.m.

I used to live in that neighborhood -- and there are hundreds if not thousands of skunks that live within that 4-block area --- they have been showing sick behavior like this since at least 2000, and I would call and complain to all the correct sources and nobody ever did anything. One day I was walking my dog in the middle of the afternoon, and literally five of them aligned like bowling pins were walking across the street, somewhat wobbly, looking disoriented. Of course, at the time I was more concerned with my dog getting in the middle of that mess than the sick skunks, but clearly there has been a huge problem there for over a decade that nobody has done anything about. For this entire time, if you walk your dog out there, you can see skunks in the middle of the day in the garbage, under bushes and hiding around the garbage outside Knight's. During the mornings, they are there at the bakery across the street, just milling around long after the sun has already come up. I am glad this is finally being addressed.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 10:51 p.m.

Is the problem that they exist? That they are breaking curfew? There are animals outside, you know, and hopefully there always will be.


Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 5:18 p.m.

&quot;I would call and complain to all the correct sources and nobody ever did anything&quot; What do you expect them to do? Animals, just like humans, get sick. The Michigan DNR isn't going to go around and kill all the skunks just because they make you uncomfortable. Honestly, sometimes people amaze me with their ignorance.

Vivienne Armentrout

Thu, Sep 8, 2011 : 7:19 p.m.

It's good to know that the Humane Society has someone to help. I called a week or so ago and the person who answered the phone seemed clueless. She referred me to someone who only operates in Canton. In my case, the skunk was caught in a trap so I can't be sure that it was ill. But it seemed to me that our response network for wild animal problems is woefully thin. Happily, Critter Control made it out well ahead of their promised time. We had a skunk on our property a couple of years ago that trapped me in my house (it was trying to get in the door). I was told that distemper is often the cause of skunks behaving like that in the daytime.

Guinea Pig in a Tophat

Fri, Sep 9, 2011 : 12:04 p.m.

For hurt/sick wildlife animals, I've found the Michigan Friends of Wildlife to be a wonderful resource: <a href="" rel='nofollow'></a> . Being trapped by a skunk is a little comical but also scary! They're cute but if they're acting like crazy stinkers I'd want to stay far away.