Dog owners in Isla Vista and throughout Santa Barbara County may want to keep their canines on a short leash and away from prowling raccoons.

Canine distemper is a highly infectious virus that the Santa Barbara County Public Health Dept. warns is rampant in the area’s raccoon population. Jan Glick, director of the county’s Animal Services, said the presently robust raccoon population is not unusual for the county.

“It’s always been large,” Glick said. “We have a pretty ideal environment here for them, and we have a lot of urban raccoons.”

The virus is not transmittable to humans, but because dogs infected with canine distemper have a 50 percent mortality rate, the Health Dept. encourages dog owners throughout the area to ensure their pets receive proper vaccinations. Glick said pet owners can use this opportunity to vaccinate their pets against other illnesses as well.

“It’s on the advice of the veterinarian, but generally rabies vaccinations last adult dogs and cats for three years,” she said. “Other vaccinations should be updated annually.”

Raccoons carrying canine distemper suffer from respiratory infections that manifest in runny eyes and noses. They may also appear disoriented and walk around during the day. Residents who spy raccoons displaying these symptoms should notify the local animal control agency. Dogs infected with the virus also display respiratory ailments, but the illness escalates into fever and vomiting.