Rabies is a highly dangerous virus that’s carried by raccoons and which can be transmitted to humans and pet dogs. The rabies virus attacks the infected animal’s brain, causing distressing symptoms, and ultimately being fatal unless treated promptly.
In this article, we give you all the information that you need to tell if a raccoon has rabies and explain what you should do if you discover a potentially infected animal.
Rabies in Ontario
The most common rabies carriers in Canada are raccoons, with 50 confirmed cases in southwestern Ontario in 2018.
Raccoons are classed as rabies vector species (RVS). That is, raccoons are known to carry rabies, and they have a specific variant of the disease named after them.
An infected raccoon can carry the virus for many months without showing any signs of the disease, even though contact with the animal’s saliva could result in another mammal, including a human, contracting and developing rabies.
How to tell if a raccoon has rabies
There are two forms of rabies in mammals:
- Dumb form
- Furious form
It should be noted that some raccoons may show signs of both forms of the virus.
A raccoon that has the dumb form of rabies may show the following symptoms:
- Depression and hiding away
- Loss of the species’ natural fear around humans
- Partial paralysis of the face, drooling, head drooping, jaw sagging
- Making strange sounds
- Hind limb paralysis that spreads to the rest of the body
Raccoons suffering from the furious form of rabies may display the following symptoms:
- Extreme agitation and aggression
- Biting or gnawing at their limbs and walking in circles
- Attacking animals or inanimate objects
- Becoming alternatively depressed and agitated
Raccoons are primarily nocturnal, especially in a rural environment. So, if you see a thin, weak raccoon that has dirty, rough fur, is active during the daytime and shows any of the symptoms outlined above, it may have rabies.
Another pretty good indicator that the raccoon may have rabies is excessive foaming at the mouth.
What to do if you see a rabid raccoon
If you see a raccoon that you think may have rabies, under no circumstances touch the animal.
- Once the disease takes hold, an infected animal will usually die within a few days. However, animal carcasses can still contain the dangerous rabies virus, even if the body is frozen, so don’t touch the body, and keep your pets well away too.
- Keep your distance from raccoons that are acting strangely or could be rabid.
- Do not, kill, trap, or attempt to relocate the raccoon. In Ontario, it’s illegal to move wild creatures more than one kilometer, and you could be putting yourself in danger, as well as breaking the law.
If you have been in direct contact with a raccoon that you suspect has rabies, immediately report the incident to your doctor, local emergency department, or health unit. If one of your pets has been exposed to the raccoon, call your vet right away.
Sightings of potentially rabid raccoons should be reported to the Rabies Information Line at the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF) on 1-888-574-6656.
Ontario vaccine bait program
In southern Ontario, the MNRF is actively distributing baits that are laced with rabies vaccine in rural and forested areas in an attempt to control the spread of the virus among raccoons, foxes, and skunks. Accidental exposure to the baits is not dangerous to pets or humans, but it’s advisable to consult a doctor or vet as a precaution.
Rabies is a highly dangerous virus that can be passed to domestic animals, pets, and humans on contact with the saliva of an infected raccoon.
If you’re concerned about the health of a raccoon that you’ve seen on your property, do not approach or attempt to trap the animal. Instead, call your local raccoon removal Hamilton specialist right away. Their experts are trained to deal with problem raccoons, humanely, safely, and legally.