News / Toronto

Raccoon distemper cases see 'dramatic increase' in Toronto

The virus attacks the central nervous system , often resulting in unusual behaviour. It is almost always fatal.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre says there’s been a ‘dramatic’ increase in raccoon distemper cases being reported in Toronto.

Torstar News Service file

The Toronto Wildlife Centre says there’s been a ‘dramatic’ increase in raccoon distemper cases being reported in Toronto.

The Toronto Wildlife Centre is urging residents to be on the lookout for raccoons behaving oddly, following an uptick in distemper cases.

“The disease has been raging through the population for a while, but we’ve seen a dramatic increase this fall,” said TWC director Nathalie Karvonen, noting the animal shelter has been receiving as many as 20 raccoon-related calls a day.

Canine distemper originates in dogs, but can be spread to other animals, including raccoons and skunks. The virus attacks the central nervous system , often resulting in unusual behaviour.

Karvonen said if a raccoon is out during the day and appears lethargic or unafraid of humans – such as the raccoon who joined a lineup at this year’s TIFF festival – it could be a sign of distemper.

“One of the things we ask people to do is find a stick or a broom handle and gently touch the animal. Any self-respecting raccoon, you wouldn’t even be able to get close enough, but a raccoon with distemper will just go ‘huh’ and lay there,” she said.

Raccoons with distemper can also exhibit signs of shaking or seizure.

Unfortunately, the disease is almost always fatal, meaning most afflicted raccoons will need to be euthanized.

“Unfortunately, once they have the disease, there’s not much we can do for them,” Karvonen said. “And we’d rather save our donation dollars for animals we can hopefully rehabilitate and release.”

If you suspect a raccoon in your area is suffering from distemper, Karvonen said the best thing to do is call Toronto Animal Services or the wildlife centre.

“We definitely want to rule out that they don’t have head trauma or there’s some other reason they’re acting that way,” she said. 

More on Metronews.ca