I had a bit of a scare the other day. My dad told me that my step-brother’s dog is in quarantine because he might have contracted rabies from a raccoon. The raccoon was wandering around their yard during the day and got into a fight with the dog. The scary part was when my dad said that, since raccoons are nocturnal, only rabid ones come out during the day. Wait, what? We have a raccoon who comes to the back porch during the day! She doesn’t seem rabid, but a trip to Google was definitely in order.
The information I found wasn’t exactly reassuring. I didn’t find anything that specifically said a raccoon who comes out before dark must be rabid, but I did find a lot of sites that said you can’t really tell just by looking. When an animal contracts rabies, they don’t immediately turn into snarling, foaming, vicious monsters. Some do get nasty and aggressive, but just as many act all cute and shy. And, of course, rabies can be contracted and transmitted by any mammal. The most common carriers in the average residential area are raccoons, bats, and skunks. I had heard that opossums couldn’t get rabies, but I have since learned that they are just highly resistant to it. If your dog gets into a tussle with a possum, according to my friends at animal control, they should be fine.
To summarize what I’ve found:
- Leave wild animals alone. Even if they’re not rabid, they’re still wild, and you never know when they might decide to chew your face off. Don’t try to pet them, and don’t let your pets out to play with them.
- Rabid animals don’t necessarily foam at the mouth, but rabies does cause excess saliva. Beware of an animal who seems oddly drool-y.
- Rabies can cause almost any kind of odd behavior. This includes being clumsy, overly friendly, or the classic raging wild animal.
- Rabies is transmitted through saliva, not blood, which is why animal bites are such cause for concern.
- There have been a lot of advances in the vaccination process. Instead of the month-long, super-painful set of injections, these days if you are bitten by a suspect animal, you will need five shots over the course of a month and they are (supposedly) no more painful than a normal vaccination.
- If you do get bitten, immediately wash the bite with soap and water. It can be possible to wash out the saliva before you get infected, but you still need to get the shots just in case. Untreated rabies is always deadly, and by the time you show symptoms, it may be too late for treatment.
- Rabies is some scary shit.
The temptation to pet the really cute raccoon can be pretty strong, but, even if they seem all cute and tame, it’s a bad idea. Actually, especially if they seem all cute and tame. According to the CDC, roughly 45% of the known cases of rabies in the U.S. are infected raccoons. As a result, I plan to continue my policy of not petting “our” raccoon and keeping the dogs away from her. And I will also be keeping Animal Control on speed dial, just in case.
Some helpful sites:
105 replies on “How to Tell if Your Raccoon Has Rabies”
We had a rabies scare this past winter when my 7 year old was scratched by a stray cat. There is a feral cat colony living in the woods behind my house. The cats that animal control catches continually test positive for rabies. My daughter knows that going near stray animals is a serious offense, so when the cat scratched her she thought she could hide the evidence by licking the blood of f her arms. Yeah, more gray hairs and an immediate trip to the ER. What really boggled my mind was people’s nonchalant reactions to the situation. I heard more than once “What’s the big deal? It’s just a few little scratches.” Um, hello?? Rabies is FATAL! To make matters worse, I had to jump through about a dozen flaming hoops to actually get the vaccine she needed.
Well this is incredibly appropriate timing for me! I was just bit by a dog on Friday, and ended up in the ER. I had to get the rabies shot since I didn’t know the dog and the owner took off immediately after the incident, before I could ask if his dog was vaccinated. You’re right about the 5 shots, they’re just like any other vaccine. But I also had to get some sort of shot (I think the ER nurse called it globulin?) into every single open wound, and I had about 15 of them. This was the most painful thing I’ve ever experienced. Fortunately it’s only necessary once; you don’t have to repeat it with the subsequent vaccinations.
I totally read this headline as “how to tell your raccoon has babies” and I was very confused there for a sec.
But yes, rabies is very very scary. There was one recently documented case of an unvaccinated person surviving (with a buttload of antivirals and ICU care) but it’s extremely rare.