If you’ve ever had a run-in with a raccoon acting strangely, you may have wondered if the animal was rabid. Raccoons are one of the main carriers of the rabies virus in the United States, so this is an understandable concern. In this blog post, we’ll explore what rabies is, how raccoons can contract and spread it, the symptoms to look for, and what you should do if you encounter a potentially rabid raccoon.

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a viral disease that affects the nervous system of mammals, including humans. It is transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually via a bite or scratch. Once the virus enters the body, it travels through the nerves to the brain where it causes swelling and other damage. Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear if left untreated.

Raccoon dog

How Do Raccoons Get Rabies?

Raccoons typically contract rabies through contact with other rabid wildlife like skunks, foxes, or bats. They can catch it from fighting with an infected animal or becoming bit or scratched. Raccoons are particularly susceptible because they are common, have huge populations, and frequently interact with other rabies vector species.

Raccoon dog

Once a raccoon is infected, it can spread the virus through its saliva. A rabid raccoon will have the rabies virus particles in the fluids of its mouth, which can transmit the disease through bites or scratches. Raccoons don’t need to be foaming at the mouth to be rabid and spreading virus particles.

Symptoms of Rabies in Raccoons

Some of the clearest signs that a raccoon may have rabies include:

  • Acting aggressively or abnormally unafraid of humans/pets
  • Appearing sickly, lethargic, stumbling, or having trouble walking
  • Appearing partially paralyzed or have a droopy limb

Raccoon dog

  • Excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth
  • Making strange rasping, howling or choking noises
  • Acting confused or disoriented
  • Self-mutilating behaviors like biting or clawing at themselves

Essentially, any raccoon exhibiting neurological problems or extremely aggressive behavior should be considered potentially rabid. As the viral infection progresses, symptoms will worsen until the animal becomes comatose and dies within 7-10 days.

What to Do If You Encounter a Potentially Rabid Raccoon

If you see a raccoon displaying any of the symptoms above, it’s critical that you avoid contact with the animal and keep pets away. Rabid raccoons can be very unpredictable and aggressive. Do not attempt to trap, scare away, or harm the raccoon yourself.

Instead, you should immediately contact animal control or your local wildlife authorities to have the raccoon safely removed and tested for rabies. Never touch a raccoon you suspect has rabies, even if it appears dead. The virus can still be transmitted through contact with saliva from an infected carcass.

Raccoon dog

If you are bitten or scratched by a raccoon, immediately wash the wound thoroughly with soap and water and seek medical care right away, even if the raccoon appeared healthy. Explaining the potential rabies exposure will allow doctors to evaluate if rabies vaccines or other treatments are needed.

Prevention is Key

Raccoon dog

While no one wants to encounter a rabid raccoon, there are steps you can take to prevent conflicts:

  • Never feed or try to tame raccoons – this encourages them to lose fear of humans.
  • Don’t leave pet food or trash bags outside that could attract raccoons.
  • Cover up any openings larger than 4 inches to prevent raccoons from entering your home.
  • Keep pets up-to-date on rabies vaccinations to protect them.

By understanding rabies in raccoons and exercising caution, we can appreciate these intelligent mammals from a safe distance. Avoiding raccoons acting strange goes a long way in preventing unnecessary exposures. When potentially rabid wildlife is spotted, letting the experts handle it is always the wise approach.

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