Dear AKC: I just brought home an eight-week-old American Eskimo Dog puppy. He's had his first shots but I'm concerned about where to walk him in my backyard as I have an abundance of wildlife including some baby foxes and raccoons. Are there any diseases that he might get from the wildlife that his vaccines aren't protecting him from? — Wildlife Woes in Wyoming
Dear WW: You are right to be concerned about the wildlife in your backyard for two reasons. First, they do carry diseases which can be transmitted to your puppy like distemper and rabies and second your puppy is not fully immunized at his young age. Canine Distemper Virus (CDV) is carried by a number of wildlife carnivorous species such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, otters, weasels, coyotes, wolves and even mink. In fact, CDV is fairly common among wildlife. It is spread through the secretions and excretions of infected animals usually in airborne particles that other animals, including dogs, can breathe in. The good news is that the virus doesn't survive very long once it is outside of the body. Rabies is similarly passed through secretions but usually as the result of a bite from a rabid host. All mammals are capable of carrying rabies, but it is mostly found in bats, skunks, raccoons and foxes.
At only eight-weeks-old your puppy has very little immunity to either disease. When canine puppies are born they get their first dose of immunity from their mother's milk. When a puppy gets his first suckle shortly after birth, antibodies from the mother's own vaccines are passed along.
Until the puppy is six-to-eight-weeks-old, when he gets his first vaccine, he relies only on what his mother gave him. Puppies between the ages of three to six months (12 to 26 weeks) are most susceptible to contracting distemper. And if they do, it is usually fatal in 80 percent of the cases. Those who do survive, face lifelong nervous system damage and possible seizures for the rest of their lives. So this is something you don't want your puppy to get.
Keep Wildlife at Bay
Since your backyard contains wildlife high on the disease hit list your puppy might be at risk for infection, if there is CDV or rabies lurking amongst the wildlife.
Here are some tips to keeping your puppy out of harm's way until his immunity is stronger:
Always walk your puppy on a leash. Don't let him sniff excrement or dead animals.
Set up a fenced-in area that is wildlife proof.
Do not leave pet food outside that might entice wildlife to venture towards your house. Don't feed the wildlife. You don't want them thinking your house is the local fast food hang out.
Place your garbage cans inside the garage. Raccoons are notorious for opening garbage lids and having a feast, possibly leaving infected garbage remnants around for curious puppies.
Be diligent about following up on your puppy's vaccine schedule. Until he is at least six months old and well on his way to full immunity I wouldn't let your puppy explore your backyard wildlife preserve.