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Signs of Rabies

By Chris Williams on September 27, 2011.

Q. We have a raccoon that occasionally visits our property and we’re worried that it might have rabies. Is there any way to tell if an animal is rabid?

A. The answer is sometimes…maybe. The symptoms of rabies are extremely variable. The first clue is an animal that is acting differently than you would expect it to: often a wild animal that is acting unusually tame, or a tame animal acting wild. Some animals, though, exhibit “furious” rabies, meaning that they will attack anything that moves. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, and dogs are most likely to show this aggressive form of rabies. Other animals exhibit what is called “dumb” rabies. They may appear to be unusually friendly, or may stumble or appear disoriented.

Infected animals may make strange noises like chattering or screaming. Animals may stop eating or drinking. Bats may be found on the ground, unable to fly. Rabies often involves some degree of paralysis in animals. Paralysis of throat muscles can cause an animal to drool, whine, or choke.

It’s often said that if nocturnal animals are active during the day when you don’t expect to see them, you should suspect rabies. However, there are certain qualifiers. Female raccoons, for example, may be active during the day when they are feeding young. Likewise, shabby looking animals may be, but are not necessarily, rabid. A nursing female may look unkempt because the young pull at her fur as they nurse.

racoonBecause symptoms are so variable and because other conditions cause similar symptoms, you can’t tell if an animal has rabies unless it is killed and the brain tissue tested. Distemper, toxoplasmosis, and poisoning from lead, mercury, or antifreeze can also cause an animal to exhibit some of these same symptoms.

You didn’t say whether the raccoon is actually exhibiting symptoms that have caused your concern. If you suspect an animal might be rabid, keep your distance and contact your local authorities, animal control or the health department. If you are just uncomfortable with having the raccoon around, call a trapper or a pest control company, like Colonial, that handles nuisance wildlife. We’ve been removing raccoons and other animals from our customers’ property for more than 25 years. Our technicians have special training and certification and are licensed for humane nuisance wildlife removal and exclusion.

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