Raccoons and Brain Worms

Wild animals are beautiful, majestic, important, sentient, and, sometimes, really freaking gross. So let’s talk about one of the most horrifying examples of what can happen when you don’t give wild animals the space and respect they deserve: brain worms!

70-90% of raccoons carry a roundworm in their guts called Baylisascaris procyonis, but that’s a mouthful, so most rehabbers and vets just call it “Baylis,” “raccoon roundworm,” or, “that brain worm none of us want.” Baylis is completely harmless in raccoons, but when humans ingest the eggs of this parasite, it actually migrates out of the digestive system and infects other parts of our bodies, including our brains.

A brain full of roundworms is every bit as bad as it sounds. It can cause paralysis, mental deterioration, pain, and death. Even the most prompt and aggressive treatments for Baylis usually leave sufferers with long-term disabilities.

This isn’t a reason to hate, fear, or harm raccoons. All living organisms, including humans and our pets, are capable of hosting and spreading diseases, and your odds of getting sick from simply living near a raccoon are near zero. However, you’re at risk for Baylis (and many other diseases!) if you hunt, trap, or handle raccoons, if you bring a raccoon into your home as a pet, or if you feed raccoons and encourage them to unnaturally overpopulate an area and use your yard as a latrine (communal toilet).

Everyone would like to think that they’re too hygiene-savvy for this to happen to themselves, but case reports show that it’s easier to accidentally ingest raccoon poo than you might think. One particularly tragic case of Baylis involved a toddler who contracted the parasite after handling pelts that his father— a hunter— had left in the garage. Almost any pet owner is also at risk for at least occasionally coming into contact with poop without immediately washing their hands.

Baylisascaris procyonis is one of many reasons that you’ll never see us handling raccoons bare-handed. Close contact with wild animals always involves some amount of risk, and we feel we have a responsibility to stay safe and to promote public awareness of the dangers of handling wild animals.

Again, please don’t harm raccoons simply for being raccoons. Your poop is full of yucky germs, too! But do respect that raccoons and other native animals can cause disease if you don’t exercise healthy caution and respect toward them and their habitats.

10 Cool Facts About Armadillos

We ❤️ armadillos, especially our current nine-banded armadillo patient, Myron! Here are some especially cool and weird facts about these especially cool and weird animals.

  1. Armadillos have some of the largest penises, in proportion to their body size, of any mammal. Their penises are about 30-60% of their total body length. That’s the equivalent of an average human man being endowed with 20-40 inches.
  2. Despite their appearance, armadillos aren’t closely related to pangolins, aardvarks, or opossums. Their closest living relatives are anteaters and sloths.
  3. Armadillos can hold their breath for an average of 6 minutes. This is an adaptation to enable them to survive being underground in muddy and flooded burrows.
  4. Nine-banded armadillos first came to the U.S. around 1900, using their breath-holding skills to cross the Rio Grande. They have thrived here due to climate change and the loss of large predators.
  5. Armadillos have two methods of swimming: they can inhale and float or exhale and walk along a river bottom.
  6. An armadillo can eat up to 40,000 fire ants in one feeding, making them excellent neighbors to have around.
  7. An armadillo always gives birth to exactly four identical young. After an egg is fertilized, the female stores it until an ideal time for it to begin growing. The egg then splits into four embryos, which develop into well-developed young before birth.
  8. Armadillos have a naturally low body temperature of just 93 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to most other mammals, which have an average body temperatures of about 101 degrees.
  9. The Aztec word for an armadillo literally translates to “turtle rabbit,” while the English and Spanish term means “little armored one.”
  10. You are still hung up on #1.

Relocating Wildlife Spreads Disease

Please, please stop relocating wildlife. Arya’s mother’s story is one of many that we hope will convince people to stop moving wild animals around.

Arya came to us a couple of weeks ago after her mother had been “humanely relocated” after ending up in someone’s attic. Within two days of admission, she began to develop seizures and difficulty swallowing. These are symptoms of central nervous system infections, usually either rabies or canine distemper. Arya must have been exposed to one of these viruses through her mother.

Distemper— the most common and likely cause— is extremely contagious. It is spread through any exposure to an animal’s pee, poop, or respiratory secretions, or can be spread to predators via their prey. We can nearly guarantee that, when Arya’s mother was relocated, she introduced distemper to a new area. She was suffering and sick while also confused and grief-stricken from suddenly losing her baby.

Skunks, foxes, and raccoons who did something as simple as sniffing her pee became infected. They spread it to their own young. If Arya’s mother was “lucky,” her distemper made her easy prey for a coyote, who then caught the infection and passed it to a mate and pups. If she was particularly unlucky, she died a very slow and painful death, and was then scavenged by a variety of animals, all of which became infected.

In other words, the people who relocated Arya’s mother made her Patient Zero for a wildlife epidemic. If she had simply been humanely excluded from the attic, she would have stayed in the same area where she was originally found. Given that she was in a populated suburban area, someone might have even noticed that she was sick and arranged for her and Arya to be humanely euthanized so they wouldn’t have suffered or spread the illness to other animals.

We did the only correct thing for Arya and made sure she had a comfortable journey to the Rainbow Bridge, and she will be tested for rabies as a precaution. We also take many steps to quarantine our patients so we feel confident that she could not have passed her disease to any other animals in our care. Still, we wish this had never happened and we feel heartbroken knowing that dozens of other animals are suffering a much worse fate because of someone choosing to relocate a sick raccoon.

Please choose humane exclusion and eviction. Relocating wildlife spreads disease, creates orphans, and leaves animals traumatized, hungry, and confused. Let’s all do better for our wild neighbors.

Don’t Kill Coyotes to Protect Cats

Coyotes are frequently killed out of a cruel and misguided attempt to protect pet cats. This is unfair not only to the mother and father coyotes, but also to their pups who get left behind. How can any cat owner say they care about animals if they would sentence puppies to such a horrible, scary death?

While cats aren’t a natural part of a coyote’s diet, any mother or father will accept the meals they can find. We can’t expect to put easy meals in a coyote’s home without the coyote accepting the offer. Coyotes are driven by the instinct to feed themselves and their families and don’t have any way to know that your cat is off-limits.

It is a pet owner’s job to properly contain their pets. Free-roaming outdoor cats are at a high risk of suffering premature deaths from factors like cars, dogs, disease, and fights with other cats. Even if you take it upon yourself to kill every coyote you see, other coyotes will simply claim the empty territory, putting you in a never-ending and futile cycle of violence against wildlife.

Please don’t harm predators for doing what comes naturally to them. It hurts the adults you kill and the babies they leave behind, and it does no good in protecting your pets. If you want your cats to be safe, keep them indoors or in a predator-proof outdoor enclosure.

Not Every Dead Animal is “The Mom!”

Be careful not to kidnap baby animals, even if there’s a dead adult nearby.

When an animal is truly an orphan, that’s almost always a good reason to bring it to a rehabilitator. But please be careful to make sure that you aren’t kidnapping babies who still have a parent caring for them! Many baby animals are taken from the wild because an adult was found dead nearby. Often, the adult isn’t the mother or the animal would do fine raised by a single dad!

For some species, like rabbits or squirrels, dozens of adults can frequent the same yard, so a dead adult is likely to be unrelated to the babies you’ve found, even if it’s on the same property. A rehabilitator can help you determine whether the babies you’ve found appear well-fed 12-24 hours after the adult is found. If you’re able, you can also check the adult’s body for lactating teats to determine if it was a mother at all.

Other animals sometimes thrive when a widower raises his young alone. Most birds raise their children together, and a father will continue caring for his young after losing his mate. Finding a dead bird doesn’t mean that babies nearby are orphaned. Again, rehabilitators can often help you determine whether the little ones are orphaned (or if they’re even the same species as the adult).

Foxes and coyotes raise their young cooperatively as well, but dads, of course, can’t make milk. After about 6-10 weeks of age (depending on how fit the babies were to begin with and how well they’re eating solid food), most fox and coyote youngsters can be raised by a single dad. Keep an eye out to see if they still have an adult caring for them before taking the little ones.

Some species do raise their young alone and tend to dominate one territory. If you’ve found a lactating female deceased very close to the known den of a skunk, raccoon, or groundhog, that’s always a reason to bring the babies in for help. Opossum joeys found on a dead mother also always need help.

When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to touch base with a rehabilitator for advice, but please don’t rush to take babies from the wild simply because you’ve found a dead adult. We try to keep wild babies with their families whenever possible.

5 Signs a Baby Bunny Needs Help

Baby cottontail rabbits are frequent victims of kidnapping. A mother cottontail only visits her young twice a day, once at dawn and once at dusk, so baby rabbits are often mistaken for being orphaned when they’re actually just fine.

Like all animals, a baby cottontail rabbit’s best chance of survival is always with its natural parents, and they are best left alone. Some exceptions occur when:

  1. The bunny has been caught by a cat. Even if there are no visible puncture wounds, cat bites are essentially always fatal to wild rabbits unless they are treated immediately with appropriate antibiotics. Any rabbit that has been in a cat’s mouth needs a rehabilitator.
  2. The babies are clearly weak or starving. It may sound hard to identify, since rabbits are naturally helpless at birth, but you’ll know it when you see it! Weak, starving baby rabbits may look shriveled or have disproportionately large heads. They will feel cold to the touch. (It is okay to carefully touch the bunny to see if it feels cold.)
  3. The best had been destroyed and the mother hasn’t returned. You can normally return bunnies to their nest even after it has been disturbed by a lawn mower, but if you do this and the mother still hasn’t come back, it may be time to get a rehabilitator. You can gently place string in a tic-tac-toe pattern over the kits to see if it is still in place after 12 hours. Note, though, that some mother rabbits have actually been recorded feeding their young without a trace!
  4. The bunny has been injured by a lawnmower. Lawnmowers and weed eaters are a major cause of death for baby bunnies. Even if the injury looks superficial, most cuts by lawn equipment need medical care. It is best to call a rehabilitator just in case.
  5. The bunny is smaller than a baseball and out of its nest. Baby rabbits are independent starting when they’re somewhere between the size of a baseball and a softball. If you see a very small baby bunny that is in a place that is clearly not in a nest— especially a sidewalk or road— please reach out for help.

About that guy who yeeted the bobcat…

Have you see that viral video of a bobcat attacking a woman, then getting grabbed and thrown by her husband? Some people found it hilarious. Others found it terrifying. A few called it fake, correctly observing that bobcat attacks on humans are extremely rare.

The video is unfortunately real, but we need to emphasize that it is not a reason to fear bobcats. Bobcat attacks on humans are extremely rare because they are very elusive, shy creatures who prefer to avoid the sights, sounds, and smells of humans. There has never been a single fatal bobcat attack on a human in all of recorded history, but thousands of people per year die from attacks by domestic cats and dogs. The reason the video is so shocking is precisely because it is so extremely rare.

The bobcat in the video was clearly unwell. We noticed in the video that the bobcat was loudly vocalizing while approaching, which is not something a bobcat ever does while stalking its prey. (Why scare away your dinner?) The vocalizations also sounded highly unusual to us and were more consistent with an animal in pain than one looking for a meal.

The sheriff’s office local told the couple in the video confirmed that a rabid bobcat had been killed nearby, and it was almost certainly the same individual.

This is very, very usual, since rabies is actually surprisingly uncommon in bobcats. The animals most commonly infected with rabies in the U.S. include bats, skunks, raccoons, foxes, and domestic cats. Rabies is actually confirmed in bobcats even less often than it’s confirmed in cattle and groundhogs!

The bottom line: yeah, that video was a trip! But there’s no reason to live in fear of bobcats or to harm them. You’re astronomically more likely to get struck by lightning than to ever experience an attack by a bobcat.

Found an “Orphan” Turtle?

Baby turtles found alone don’t need help.

Please don’t “rescue” baby turtles of any kind unless they’re noticeably injured!

There is no such thing as an orphan turtle. Unlike mammals, birds, and a couple of reptiles, turtles do not care for their young at all. A mother turtle lays her eggs and never sees them again.

Well-meaning people who “rescue” turtles from the wild aren’t doing them any favors: without UV lighting, spacious habitats, and an extremely carefully balanced diet, turtles brought into captivity don’t survive. A young turtle is more likely to die in captivity than in the natural world where it belongs.

However, if you spot a baby turtle trying to cross a road, please help it cross in the direction it’s going! You can also give wild turtles a hand by keeping your pets indoors or leashed when you know there are young turtles around.

Five Signs a Fawn Needs Help

It’s baby season, so we’ll be focusing our posts over the next few days on identifying babies that are truly orphaned and in need of help! Some of the most common kidnapping victims are fawns. Their mothers leave them alone for long periods of time, so well-meaning people often mistake them for orphans. It’s usually best to leave a fawn exactly where you found it. Some signs to that you do need to call a wildlife rehabilitator are:

  1. The fawn is crying. A fawn will make a loud, desperate “myaaa” sound when extremely hungry. Fawns don’t usually vocalize because their noises can attract predators, so crying is a sign that something is amiss and that the baby is desperate for its mother.
  2. The fawn has curled ears. When a fawn becomes dehydrated, its ears curl at the tips. Some healthy fawns have naturally curled ears, so it’s not a good idea to use this sign alone as a reason to take a fawn into care. Instead, look for this symptom along with other red flags.
  3. You see flies, fly eggs, or maggots. Flies are drawn not just to dead animals, but also sick or weak ones. An orphaned fawn may be surrounded by flies or have eggs in its fur. (These look like grains of rice.) When the eggs hatch, this is a medical emergency and needs very urgent attention.
  4. The fawn has is visibly injured. While minor scrapes and bumps often heal fine on their own, serious injuries like gashes, bites, and broken bones warrant medical attention. Please take an injured fawn to a rehabilitator as quickly as possible.
  5. You have seen no sign of the mother for more than 48 hours. In the absence of other signs of danger, it is safe to leave a fawn up to 48 hours to wait for its mother to return. We have seen many cases of mothers who left their young for long periods of time but ultimately returned. However, after 48 hours, it’s usually best to “call it” and assume that the mother isn’t coming back.

Please remember that rehabilitation is not a DIY job! If you do find a fawn who needs help, it is critical to get in touch with a licensed rehabilitator as quickly as possible so the fawn can receive proper care. If you’re here in Tennessee, our friends at Walden’s Puddle in middle Tennessee and Little Ponderosa in East Tennessee are currently able to accept fawns.

Beaver or Groundhog?

Some of the easy differences to spot between beavers and groundhogs.

Beavers and groundhogs get mixed up often! It’s led to a few funny interactions. Once, we showed up to save a “beaver with something wrong with its tail,” only to find that the only thing wrong with her was that she was a groundhog— not meant to have a flat tail! Another time, a caller spaced on the word (something everybody does, ourselves included) and told us she’d found a “land beaver.” We like the term!

You’re not alone if you have trouble reeling these critters apart. In many ways, they’re very similar. Both are large, brown, herbivorous rodents that eat plants and are keystone species within our ecosystem. Once you know what to look for, it shouldn’t be too difficult!

Take a look at this chart for guidance on identifying the differences between beavers and groundhogs. We’re happy to help if you have a photo you’d like help identifying!