“Help! I found a rabid raccoon!”
This is one of the most frequent— and panicked— calls we receive in wildlife rehabilitation. If it happens to you, here’s what to do:
-First, stay calm. The animal probably isn’t actually rabid. Raccoons can be awake in the daytime for any number of reasons. If it looks healthy, it’s probably fine. If you see neurological symptoms like staggering, circling, and vocalizing, that’s a much more serious concern, but these symptoms are usually caused by head trauma or distemper, not rabies.
-With that being said, don’t touch or trap the raccoon, and keep your kids and pets inside. Handling a sick raccoon, even with bite-resistant gloves, isn’t a good idea unless you’re an experienced expert who has had proper pre-exposure immunization.
You may need to call the following numbers:
-Your county health department. County health departments help to track and identify rabies and can work with the state, city, and national government to make sure the animal is captured and tested, especially if a human or pet was exposed.
-Your local municipal animal control. In most cases, they are responsible for capturing and euthanizing a wild animal suspected of having rabies, although this can vary by jurisdiction.
-If there is an emergency (like a clearly sick raccoon approaching people in a crowded public space) it may be appropriate to call 911. In some cases, particularly if animal control can’t respond, police can arrange to address the situation immediately when the animal is posing a serious threat to public safety.
-In some cases, a wildlife rehabilitator who is licensed to handle rabies vector species can help to trap or capture a sick animal and transport it for euthanasia and rabies testing. However, many avoid doing this because distemper viruses are highly contagious and it can be risky to allow our cages, traps, gloves, and carriers to be contaminated. If you’re able to find a rehabber who can help, please be kind and patient, and consider making a donation!