Distemper tantrum: Virus has Gerritsen Beach’s Raccoons acting kooky, experts suspect

Brooklyn Daily
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

They’re going wild!

Gerritsen Beach’s raccoons have been acting crazy lately — shaking, walking aimlessly, and just falling over — but no one knows for sure why. The pesky rodents aren’t new to the peninsular nabe but their odd behavior is, said one Hyman Court resident who spotted a masked mammal in her backyard last month.

“Usually there are regular raccoons just running around. It was the first time I’ve seen them act like that. The way he was acting he just looked very sick — he was walking over and licking liquid off the floor, and then he stood up and tipped over backwards,” said Kelly McGowan, adding that it did not appear aggressive or rabid. “He was curled up in a ball and then I don’t know if he was dead or sleeping.”

Dozens of residents have reported kooky encounters like McGowan’s on social media in recent weeks, leading locals to believe the animals have been chowing down on rat poison left out by contractors fixing homes through the city’s Build It Back hurricane-recovery program.

But experts say the raccoons are exhibiting symptoms of distemper, a virus affecting the stomach, respiratory, and nervous systems. It is impossible to know without testing, but the condition does not sound like poisoning or rabies, according to a veterinarian at the Animal Clinic of Marine Park.

“Rabies is much more violent. Distemper is not really — just difficult time walking, seizures. It could be distemper, hard to say without examining it,” said Dr. Martin Kopel. “Rat poisoning would cause bleeding.”

And other authorities on the matter agree poison is probably out of the question — the other viral disease, which is not threatening to humans or vaccinated pets — seems more likely, said the owner of Kingsway Exterminating in Marine Park.

An exterminator agreed, saying that the critters are not showing the main symptom of poisoning — death.

“I doubt very much that it is caused by rat poison, because then you would just see dead raccoons,” said Charles Kourbage. “It is definitely a possibility that it could be distemper.”

Distemper is not dangerous to humans, but it can infect unvaccinated pets, experts said.

The city has not received any reports of rabid or poisoned raccoons in the neighborhood, a spokesman from the Health Department said.

“There are no reports of raccoons testing positive for rabies in Gerritsen Beach. The Health Department has been vaccinating raccoons for rabies since 2014, and only one raccoon has tested positive for rabies in 2016,” he said. “It is unlikely that a raccoon would have consumed bait that was intended for and targeting rats. We have no reports of raccoons being poisoned near construction sites.”

Resident with concerns regarding sick or injured raccoons should call 311. For more information on rabies and raccoon prevention, visit the Health Department’s website.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: