toronto raccoon

A 'zombie' virus is running rampant among Toronto raccoons

City staff are warning Toronto residents against approaching or feeding raccoons  — whether they look sick, injured, or completely healthy — thanks to a "zombie" virus that's spreading rampantly throughout the wildlife species. 

Canine distemper virus (CDV) is a viral disease that affects a wide variety of mammal families, including domestic and wild species of dogs, foxes, skunks, and raccoons. 

The virus infects an animal's respiratory tract, gastrointestinal tract, spinal cord, and brain. When infected raccoons may move slowly and stumble as they walk, lose fear of humans, appear blind and confused, and may wander aimlessly. 

Sick raccoons may also have eye and nose discharge, unkempt fur, experience seizures, coughing, or chewing fits, and may curl up to sleep in an open area. 

Raccoons with distemper generally act disoriented or lethargic but can become aggressive in cornered. Although canine distemper does not pose a threat to human health, dogs that have not been vaccinated for distemper can become infected if they come in contact with a sick raccoon. 

According to Ontario Wildlife Removal, the visual signs of distemper versus rabies in raccoons is that a raccoon infected with rabies may act more aggressively, while a raccoon infected with distemper be more disoriented and less afraid of humans.

In April, Toronto Animal Services (TAS) revealed that the number of calls for sick and injured raccoons has already spiked in 2024, with a staggering 3,600 calls so far this year compared with just 719 between January and April 2022. 

Last year, Toronto Public Health (TPH) issued a warning to the public, advising residents to steer clear of raccoons and all other wild animals, citing a "significant increase in the number of sick and injured raccoons and in the number of reported cases of people bitten and/or scratched by raccoons." 

"We remind everyone to avoid contact with raccoons and other wild animals to minimize exposure to rabies," said Dr. Eileen de Villa, Medical Officer of Health, in 2023.

"Treatment is very uncomfortable and avoidable. If necessary, it's most effective if started promptly after the exposure," added de Villa, warning that "the rabies vaccine is extremely effective but must be administered before symptoms appear."

TPH noted that many of these cases are preventable and cautioned that many reports are often the result of voluntary actions, including feeding or petting raccoons. 

If you spot a raccoon, TPH advises you to stay away and not risk physical contact. Animals that appear to be sick or are behaving strangely should be reported to 311. 

Lead photo by

Christopher J Barger/Shutterstock

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