Toronto wildlife officials note uptick in ‘zombie’ raccoons

Dog owners are being reminded that Canine Distemper is continuing to spread among wildlife, leaving raccoons and skunks wandering in a confused state. David Zura explains.

By David Zura

It may seem like something out of a horror movie, but what’s been nicknamed the ‘zombie’ virus is indeed a real thing among Toronto’s wildlife.

Toronto Animal Services confirms there has been an increase in service requests for sick and injured animals this spring, prompting a reminder to be on the lookout for Canine Distemper, a virus introduced by dogs to wildlife populations, particularly raccoons and skunks.

In a written statement a spokesperson for the City of Toronto says in part “Raccoons with distemper may approach people or curl up to sleep in open areas in close proximity to people. They typically act disoriented or lethargic, may appear blind and confused, wander aimlessly or become aggressive if cornered.” It goes on to note one of the symptoms is a mucus discharge around the eyes and nose, which may be accompanied by coughing, tremors, seizures or chewing fits.

“It is very, very sad for raccoons or any other animals to have to go through this,” Nathalie Karvonen with the Toronto Wildlife Centre tells CityNews. “And what makes it particularly sad is that we’re seeing it so much right now in the spring and that so many female raccoons have babies and babies are completely vulnerable.”

Karvonen says while the virus is extremely contagious, your dog is probably vaccinated if they’re receiving regular veterinary care. But if your dog isn’t vaccinated or you’re unsure, you may want to use extra caution.

“Let’s say, for example, a sick raccoon was bedded down in a particular area under a bush or something and the raccoon’s not there anymore. But now the dog goes to that same area and starts sniffing around, maybe chews on some grass …there are other ways that the dog could pick it up without being directly in contact with the animal,” she explains.

There is no treatment for Canine Distemper, other than vaccination. If you see a raccoon or skunk acting abnormally, you can call your local wildlife rehabilitator and they’ll help you determine if you should call municipal animal services which can provide humane euthanasia for that animal.

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