A lot of people in our area are upset and concerned after a local coyote was spotted, appearing disoriented. While it’s always very important to exercise caution around an animal that seems to be sick, confused, or fearless, please be aware that the risk of rabies from coyotes is extremely small in the United States!
While any strain of rabies can infect any mammal, certain strains of the virus are much more common in specific hosts. One strain, canine variant rabies, was once fairly common in the United States and tended to infect domestic dogs, as well as wolves and coyotes. People still tend to associate wild dogs with rabies because of the cultural legacy left behind by Cujo and Old Yeller, but— thanks to mandatory rabies vaccines for pets— canine variant rabies was fully eradicated from the United States by the early 2000s. Rabies is now extremely rare in both wild and domestic dogs in our country.
Statistically, there are more rabies cases reported in cats, cattle, deer, and groundhogs than in coyotes. When coyotes do catch rabies, they usually die fairly quickly and without any harm to humans.
So what’s wrong with our local coyote? Without examining him, it’s impossible to say for sure. He may have a concussion, and might feel better in a day or two. He may have canine distemper virus, which tends to infect the central nervous system and look similar to rabies. He may have a parasitic infection in his brain from eating raccoons or being exposed to their feces. He may have been poisoned, intentionally or accidentally. There are many possibilities that don’t involve rabies.
With that said, please be careful if you see any animal acting strange, and please call your local game wardens or 911 if the animal is posing an immediate risk to human safety.