The Urban Guide to Zombie Raccoons: Why Humane Animal Control is the Answer

May 21, 2024

Wildlife officials across North America are receiving reports of strange behavior in raccoons—daytime sightings, aimless wandering, standing upright, sleeping in open spaces, and staring vacantly into the distance—should we be worried? Quite the opposite.

If you’re out walking your dog in the morning and suddenly come across a raccoon standing upright on the sidewalk, its face twisted into a snarl–you’ve encountered your first ‘zombie’ raccoon. No, they aren't undead and they're not coming for you—but they could put your dog in danger.

Understanding the cause of their unusual behavior can improve raccoon control outcomes in urban areas.

What’s Causing the ‘Zombie’ Raccoons?

‘Zombie raccoons’ are animals infected with the canine distemper virus (CDV). They have been reported to have glowing or cloudy eyes, lose control of their bodies, stand on their hind legs, stagger around in daylight, approach pets and humans, and exhibit aggressive behavior. CDV is highly contagious and often fatal in unvaccinated dogs and ferrets.

While large-scale CDV outbreaks in raccoon populations are rare, city officials across the United States and Canada have advised against approaching raccoons that exhibit unnatural behavior–even if the animals seem calm.

Even though you can’t be infected, CDV is persistent—surviving for a few hours to a few weeks—and can spread via surfaces. Raccoon removal is best left to professionals who know how to handle our favorite dumpster diver. If you see a raccoon showing symptoms of CDV, you should avoid contact with the animal and get your dog away—quickly.

Infected or not, our woodland friends deserve to be removed in a safe, ethical manner, and here are three points to consider:

1. Don’t attempt to approach a sick or injured animal

Raccoons are not always aggressive to humans—but they can be if you corner them or they perceive you as a threat. Female raccoons may attack to protect themselves or their young, so don’t get between them and the kits.

If you see a ‘zombie raccoon’, do not attempt to approach or trap the animal. You can’t be infected by CDV, but raccoons also carry rabies—which is vaccine-preventable but almost always fatal after symptoms appear. If the animal is in your backyard or attic, keep children and pets away from the area and call a professional immediately.

2. Do-it-yourself methods work, but temporarily

Raccoons are attracted to food waste, so securing trash can lids cuts off access to their source of food. If your area has a large raccoon population, you can block off any entry points to your property with homemade repellents such as ammonia-soaked rags.

Sealing off access to attics, basements, crawl spaces, and sheds can keep raccoons out for a while, but persistent females have been known to attempt to chew their way to their babies. Raccoons are intelligent, dextrous, and quite persistent, so don't be surprised if they break through basic defenses.

3. Know your local raccoon removal regulations

Even if you do possess the skills to catch a raccoon, it’s important to know your state regulations about trapping and relocating wildlife. For example, the State of Missouri only allows the use of foot-enclosing traps and cage-type traps during certain months of the year and Florida has made it illegal to transport wild-trapped raccoons across state lines without a permit from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). 

Trapped animals can become extremely aggressive and relocating an infected raccoon without proper authorization places other communities at risk. 

Why Humane Raccoon Removal Works

Safe, ethical, and humane raccoon trapping and relocation involve understanding their behaviors, habitat, diet, mating habits, and parental instincts. Wire live traps are considered the safest way to catch wild raccoons because body-gripping traps can injure the animal if they're set up improperly. 

Consult with a local raccoon removal specialist about the most humane way to trap and relocate raccoons, especially if they seem sick, injured, or stuck in a wall or dumpster. 

We love raccoons and we love to hate them. Some, like Minnesota’s MPR Raccoon, briefly enjoyed social media stardom while others like Rebecca, the woodland resident pardoned by President Calvin Coolidge, enjoyed a brief stay at The White House. 

They’re endearing enough to be cast as gritty superheroes in a cinematic multiverse, yet annoying enough to be called trash bandits and chased away when they’re rummaging through garbage. Healthy or sick, these beautiful creatures need our help.

So the next time you encounter a ‘zombie raccoon’, you’re doing yourself, your pets, and the community a favor by alerting the authorities.

This content is provided in partnership with USA Raccoon Removal and is intended for informational purposes only. The views, opinions, and advice expressed in this article are solely those of USA Raccoon Removal and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of any other individual, organization, or entity.

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