The city is seeing an increase in the number of service calls for sick and injured animals, mostly raccoons, and one reason behind it could be a virus which appears to make them act like a zombie.

According to Toronto Animal Services (TAS), between Jan. 1 and Apr. 30, it received 2,851 calls for picking up dead animals and 3,716 calls for sick and injured animals. That is up from 2,083 and 3,716 requests, respectively, in the same period in 2022.

TAS said 90 per cent of the calls were raccoon-related. The city also saw a surge of service requests in 2023 with 3,372 involving cadaver and 5,360 relating to sick and injured critters.

While there is no breakdown of what was causing raccoons to be sick or injured, Shane Gerard, a spokesperson for the city, said the canine distemper virus (CDV) is one of the reasons.

Gerrard noted that the CDV causes raccoons to act disoriented or lethargic, making them appear blind and confused, and could lead them to wander aimlessly or act aggressively if cornered.

In the U.S., some raccoons carrying the virus were observed staggering on their hind legs and bare their teeth.

In addition, “raccoons with distemper may approach people or curl up to sleep in open areas in close proximity to people,” Gerrard said. Other symptoms include a mucus discharge around the eyes and nose, which can be accompanied by coughing, tremors, or chewing fits.

In 2022, TAS declared a distemper outbreak among raccoons, prompting the city to add more staff to assist with the surge of service requests for picking up dead animals.

CDV does not pose a threat to human health, but Gerrard said unvaccinated dogs can get infected.

According to the Toronto Wildlife Centre (TWC), there is no cure for distemper. Dogs diagnosed in the very early stages may survive with supportive care but will likely have neurological issues for the rest of their lives, TWC said.

Residents are advised to call 311 if they notice a raccoon acting abnormally.

The city said that to keep pets safe, residents should never interact with wildlife, always keep their dogs on a leash or supervised in off-leash areas, and keep their vaccinations up to date.