As communities in Illinois warn about an uptick in calls for "zombie raccoons," animal experts in Wisconsin said they are not new to the area.
The Wisconsin Humane Society's Wildlife Rehabilitation Center said it sees 100 or more cases in Milwaukee County each year.
The "zombie raccoon" phrase refers to raccoons with canine distemper virus, described as highly contagious and potentially deadly to dogs.
Raccoons carrying the virus may growl, show their teeth and have a greenish color in their eyes. Wisconsin Humane Society Wildlife Director Scott Diehl said the raccoons look more aggressive than they actually are.
"There's no real aggression. "They're not angry or anything. They're not threatening anything. It's purely involuntary reaction to the virus in their brain," said Diehl.
Diehl explained raccoons with the canine distemper virus may seem to wander aimlessly and experience lethargy.
Unvaccinated dogs or dogs with weakened immune systems are at risk of catching the virus, according to Dr. Kari Severson at the Wisconsin Veterinary Center in Waukesha.
"Typically, it's the respiratory secretions, so from coughing and sneezing, though technically any bodily fluid can carry the virus," said Severson.
"It can cause mild signs for some patients and in other animals, and it can cause more severe signs. We can see a runny nose, runny eyes, fever, coughing, and then as a virus spreads in the body they can develop more severe signs such as bad ocular disease as well as neurological disease, things like difficulty walking and seizures. If the disease spreads to that point it’s oftentimes fatal for those animals," Severson said.
"There's no real aggression. "They're not angry or anything. They're not threatening anything. It's purely involuntary reaction to the virus in their brain." — Scott Diehl, Wisconsin Humane Society wildlife director
Animal experts advised vaccinations and avoiding exposure will help keep your dog safe. They say to keep your pets away from wildlife and if you have an unvaccinated dog stay away from areas where lots of dogs congregate.
Diehl also suggested bringing food and water bowls indoors because raccoons could use them and potentially transmit the virus.
If you see a sick raccoon, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator.