Thursday, June 13, 2024

Deadly Virus Causes Racoons to Act Like ‘Zombies’ In Canada

Officials are advising Toronto residents to avoid raccoons, whether they look healthy, sick, or injured, due to a ‘zombie’ virus outbreak that is spreading rampantly throughout the species.

The ‘zombie’ virus, also known as canine distemper virus (CDV) is a viral disease that affects mammals, including dogs, skunks, foxes, and raccoons.

Once an animal becomes infected, the virus will travel through the respiratory tract, spinal cord, and brain. This will cause them to move slowly or stumble as they walk. They may also appear ‘drunk’ or confused. As the disease progresses, they will also lose their inherent fear of humans, and become aggressive, standing up on their hind legs and baring teeth.

zombie virus
Raccoons infected with the ‘zombie’ virus will appear dazed, confused, and will be less likely to be afraid of humans

Infected raccoons may also have nose discharge, eye discharge, chewing fits, unkempt fur, or seizures. Some may also curl up to sleep in an open space, which is the opposite of their usual behavior.

While raccoons are mostly nocturnal animals, those infected with the virus will be out and about during the day.

Authorities are urging people not to approach these animals as they may become even more aggressive if cornered. The virus can also spread to other animals, including domesticated dogs, which is why it’s best to call the humane society if you stumble upon one on the street.

According to Nathalie Karvonen, the executive director of the Toronto Wildlife Centre, the ‘zombie’ virus has been raging for many years in the Toronto area and was originally spread by pets.

zombie racoon
Infected raccoons may become aggressive, standing up on their hind legs and bearing teeth if cornered

While pets such as dogs are typically vaccinated against the virus, there are none for wildlife such as raccoons as the virus cannot be transmitted to humans.

In 2024, Toronto Animal Services (TAS) received more than 3,600 calls about sick and injured racoons, a huge increase from 2022, when they only received 719 calls.

Jasmine Herzog-Evans, the manager of TAS, said that the animals will only continue to congregate as the weather becomes warmer, which will make it easier for the virus to spread.

Since the virus affects their movement, it may also lead to more instances of raccoons being hit by vehicles.

This year, from March to April, there has been nearly 2,100 service requests for cadaver pickups, which is a huge jump from last year, when they only received 600.

While the ‘zombie’ virus does not humans, infected racoons may also harbor the rabies virus, which is why it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you get scratched by an animal. Timing is also important as the treatment is also effective if started immediately after the exposure.

How to Tell If a Racoon Has the ‘Zombie Virus’ or Rabies

rabid raccoons
Rabid raccoons are more likely to become aggressive compared to those infected by the ‘zombie’ virus

A racoon infected with the canine distemper virus is more likely to be disoriented, ‘confused’, and less scared of humans.

Those infected with rabies, on the other hand, may act more aggressively toward humans. Another obvious sign is foaming at the mouth as the virus commonly causes excessive salivation. The animal may also have unsteady or wobbly movements.

Brooke Carter
Brooke Carter
Freelance writer who loves dogs and anything related to Japanese culture.
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