RIVERSIDE — "Zombie raccoons" that clumsily walk on two legs and show their teeth are staggering around suburban Chicago and authorities are warning locals to hide their pets.
A spike in raccoons testing positive for distemper in Riverside is to blame for the bizarre sightings of contaminated animals that the disease causes to appear "zombie-like," according to WGN news.
While zombie raccoons don't eat brains, distemper is highly contagious.
"If you're feeding wildlife and that raccoon ate out of your bowl of cat food for your stray cats and your puppy goes over, the saliva can also be contagious," west Chicago veterinarian Dr. Christa Baumgartner told WGN.
Airborne transmission of distemper, which is also carried by wolves and skunks, most commonly affects dogs, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. The AMA reports that "Distemper is often fatal, and dogs that survive usually have permanent, irreparable nervous system damage."
Symptoms of the illness include watery eyes, sneezing, lethargy and seizures. It cannot be contracted by humans.
Riverside police chief Tom Weitzel told the Chicago Tribune that anyone who encounters a "zombie" raccoon should call the police to deal with it.
"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," he told WGN. "Our policy allows us to put down animals that are suffering or pose a threat to public safety."