Raccoons are one of the most common carriers of the rabies virus in North America. While rabies is relatively rare these days thanks to widespread vaccination of domestic pets, it’s still important to be able to recognize the signs of a potentially rabid raccoon. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the nervous system and brain, and it is almost always fatal once symptoms appear.

If you encounter a raccoon exhibiting any of the following behaviors, it could be carrying rabies and you should avoid contact and contact animal control immediately.

Abnormal Behavior

Raccoon dog

The earliest indication that a raccoon may have rabies is a dramatic change in its normal behavior patterns. Raccoons are nocturnal animals, so one that is awake and active during daylight hours could potentially be infected. A rabid raccoon may also appear agitated, confused, or unstable on its feet.

However, the biggest red flag for abnormal raccoon behavior is a complete lack of fear of humans or surroundings. Healthy raccoons are naturally wary of people and typically try to avoid interactions. A raccoon that seems un-naturally calm or even aggressive around humans is cause for concern.

Paralysis and Loss of Coordination

Raccoon dog

As the rabies virus attacks the raccoon’s nervous system and brain function, it will begin experiencing physical symptoms like paralysis and loss of muscle coordination. You may notice the animal dragging its legs, having trouble standing up, or falling over frequently.

The raccoon may also have a very uncoordinated appearance, bumping into objects, stumbling around in circles, or displaying other erratic movements. This loss of basic motor functions can indicate that the rabies has progressed to a late stage.

Hypersalivation and Inability to Swallow

Raccoon dog

One of the most commonly depicted signs of rabies in movies and TV is excessive drooling or foaming at the mouth. This symptom, called hypersalivation, occurs because the rabies virus attacks the raccoon’s ability to swallow saliva.

As a result, the infected animal will continually drool large amounts of saliva, leaving very wet patches on the ground. This frothy, rope-like saliva hanging from the raccoon’s mouth is a clear warning sign. The raccoon may also make repeated swallowing motions as it tries unsuccessfully to swallow.

Aggression and Erratic Behavior

Raccoon dog

While raccoons going about their normal lives may seem somewhat aggressive if they feel threatened, true unprovoked aggression and erratic behavior can indicate that the animal has rabies. A raccoon suffering from the late stages of a rabies infection may suddenly turn hostile, growling, snarling, or even trying to attack people, pets, or other animals for no apparent reason.

The animal may also alternate between this aggressive behavior and periods of lethargy where it simply lies still. However, the erratic actions of a rabid raccoon make it very unpredictable and dangerous if approached.

Raccoons Shouldn’t Be Approached Regardless

Raccoon dog

Even if a raccoon doesn’t necessarily look “rabid,” experts strongly advise against ever approaching raccoons in the wild or trying to interact with them. While the rabies virus makes a raccoon significantly more dangerous, healthy raccoons can still pose risks by scratching, biting, or carrying other parasites or diseases.

Furthermore, even if a raccoon appears friendly and un-threatened, approaching it can actually trigger defensive behavior. Raccoons are wild animals, and their actions can be very unpredictable—it’s always best to appreciate them from a safe distance.

If you spot a raccoon exhibiting any combination of the symptoms described above, the safest approach is to leave it alone, keep pets and children away, and contact animal control officers who can handle the situation properly. Don’t risk potential exposure to the deadly rabies virus.

Rabies Prevention

Raccoon dog

The best way to prevent the spread of rabies is to make sure all domestic pets such as dogs and cats are up to date on their rabies vaccinations. This creates immunity that protects your animals if they do have an encounter with a rabid raccoon.

You can also help by securing any potential food sources on your property, like covering trash cans and cleaning up spilled bird seed. Removing food attractants will discourage raccoons from frequenting residential areas.

Finally, it’s important to educate yourself and your family members, especially children, on the signs of rabies in raccoons and other wildlife. Learn to recognize abnormal behavior and symptoms. Quick action to avoid exposure and report sightings can help stop the spread of this dangerous virus.


Rabies is a terrifying and deadly disease, but taking proper precautions can minimize risks of exposure. While there are vaccines for humans that can prevent rabies after exposure, the only true cure is to avoid contact entirely with potentially rabid animals like raccoons. Stay aware, stay safe, and leave any suspicious raccoon sightings to the experts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *