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Police Warn Pet Owners About ‘Zombie Raccoons’ With Distemper Disease

By Tiffany Meier

Police are warning pet owners of “zombie raccoons” in the Chicago-area that have tested positive for distemper, a deadly dog disease with no known cure.

The infected animals walk on their hind legs, stagger around, and bare their teeth, hence why they’re called “zombie raccoons,” police said, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Distemper is “a contagious and serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems of puppies and dogs,” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association.

The association added that the disease “is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage.” However, it’s easy to prevent through the distemper vaccine, which is among the core group of vaccines a dog gets as part of routine care, according to the American Kennel Club.

It can also affect wildlife, where the infected animals have similar symptoms to rabies.

The American Veterinary Medical Association added that “canine distemper outbreaks in local raccoon populations can signal increased risk for pet dogs in the area.”

Riverside Police Department Chief Tom Weitzel told the Chicago Tribune, “We’ve had a number of cases concerning raccoons with distemper in our jurisdiction. If you see a sick raccoon that may be a threat to public safety, call the police.”

He added: “It seems every year around this time we get a rise in calls about raccoons acting oddly and we respond to calls about raccoons that may be a danger to the public. Our policy allows us to put down animals that are suffering or pose a threat to public safety.”

So far, there have been three raccoons that tested positive for distemper, Weitzel said. All three were put down.

However, a fourth one was spotted by a resident near the Des Plaines River in Riverside.

Missy Wojtowicz told Fox 32 News that there was a raccoon in her backyard that seemed to be in a daze and even toppled into her pool. Her husband pulled the raccoon out around 5 a.m., however, Wojtowicz said. “I came out hours later and he was still there. He was kind of rolling around. I wasn’t sure if he was injured. It looked like he couldn’t get up. When I had seen him, he had fallen in the pool again,” she said.

She added that she found a neighbor to help pull the “zombie raccoon” out of the pool a second time.

“It seemed like it was really just unsure of where it was at and then as it looked at you, it really looked like it was just looking right through you. There wasn’t any kind of fear or any kind of reaction whatsoever,” Wojtowicz’s neighbor, Sean Cimino, told Fox 32 News.

Meanwhile, a Cook County Animal & Rabies Control spokesperson, Natalie Derevyanny, told Fox 32 News everyone in the county should be wary of the disease.

“Really people throughout the county should be on alert. What we’re asking people to do is making sure that they are with their animals, when they’re on walks, that their animals are leashed,” she said.

Police said to keep a close eye on pets, even in fenced-in yards, adding that while the disease isn’t contagious to humans, anyone that sees a “zombie raccoon” should report it.