Raccoons are found throughout many parts of the United States and Canada. These mischievous and intelligent mammals are very adaptable and have learned to thrive in urban and suburban areas in addition to their natural forest habitats. While raccoons often appear tame, they are still wild animals that can potentially carry diseases like rabies. Let’s take a closer look at raccoons and rabies.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly viral disease that attacks the nervous system of mammals, including humans. It is typically transmitted through the bite of an infected animal, as the rabies virus is present in saliva. Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal if left untreated. However, rabies is preventable if proper treatment is received soon after exposure.

Raccoon dog

How Common is Rabies in Raccoons?

Among wild animals, raccoons are one of the most frequently reported rabies carriers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that raccoons account for around 35% of rabies cases diagnosed in wildlife each year. Some states like Florida and Pennsylvania have very high rates of raccoon rabies.

Raccoon dog

However, it’s important to note that not every raccoon has rabies. In fact, only a small percentage are actually infected at any given time. But because rabies is so serious, it’s wise to avoid contact with raccoons and other wild animals whenever possible.

Signs of Rabies in Raccoons

Recognizing the signs of rabies in raccoons can help you identify potentially infected animals and avoid them. Raccoons with rabies may exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Aggression/Unable to Be Scared Away
  • Impaired Movement/Paralysis
  • Excessive Drooling/Foaming at the Mouth
  • Disorientation/Stumbling
  • Self-Mutilation
  • Appearing Tame/Friendly

Raccoon dog

A raccoon displaying these neurological symptoms may have the “dumb” form of rabies, which causes the animal to become lethargic and have a calm demeanor rather than act aggressively. But don’t be fooled – an infected raccoon can quickly become violent without warning.

Protecting Against Raccoon Rabies

The best way to protect yourself and your family from raccoon rabies is through avoidance and vaccination:

Avoid Contact with Raccoons Never intentionally approach, touch, or try to move a raccoon, especially if it is behaving strangely or appears sick. Teach children to never pick up or play with raccoons or other wild animals.

Raccoon-Proof Your Home Seal off entry points to your home, garages, sheds, etc. to keep raccoons and other wildlife from moving in. Secure trash cans and remove any sources of food that could attract raccoons.

Raccoon dogs

Get Vaccinated Make sure your pets are up-to-date on their rabies vaccinations, as required by law in most areas. Unvaccinated pets exposed to rabid raccoons may need to be quarantined or even euthanized. Humans who are at higher risk of potential exposure, like veterinarians and wildlife workers, should also get the pre-exposure rabies vaccine.

What if I’m Exposed?

If you are bitten, scratched, or exposed to the saliva of a raccoon, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water. Then contact your doctor or local health department right away to report the incident and determine if you need post-exposure rabies treatment. This series of vaccinations, given over two weeks, is extremely effective at preventing rabies when administered promptly after exposure.

Raccoon dog

Rabies is seriously dangerous, but it’s also preventable when you take proper precautions. By educating yourself about raccoon rabies, avoiding direct contact with raccoons, and acting quickly if exposed, you can stay safe and protect both yourself and your loved ones.

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