From birds to butterflies to bunnies, summer is peak season for outdoor animal watching. And while certain wildlife may be welcome sights in your backyard, there's one common animal that experts want you to be particularly cautious around right now due to the serious threat they may pose.
However, it's not just aggressive behavior from this animal you have to watch out for—if this animal is acting friendly to you, it's time to call the authorities. Read on to find out how to best protect yourself against this potential danger this summer.
If a raccoon is acting particularly friendly to you, call authorities.
While fluffy adult raccoons and their bandit-masked babies may be adorable to humans, don't get too close if you see one in your yard.
After a rabid raccoon was discovered in Cape Cod, Massachusetts recently—the first instance of non-bat-related rabies in the town in eight years—authorities are recommending that people be extra cautious around the animals this summer. Brian Bjorklund, a wildlife rabies biologist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and coordinator of the Cape Cod&Southeast Massachusetts Rabies Task Force, told the Cape Cod Times that raccoons with rabies may act overly friendly toward humans. If you see a raccoon behaving this way, Bjorklund recommends calling animal control.
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Rabies outbreaks in raccoons have been reported in multiple states.
It's not Massachusetts alone that has seen an uptick in rabid raccoons as of late. In New York City, 10 raccoons have tested positive for rabies since Jan. 1, 2021; at least seven raccoons have tested positive for rabies in Maine this year; Florida identified at least 15 rabid raccoons between January and May; simultaneous rabies and canine distemper outbreaks were reported in Arlington, Virginia in March; and Pennsylvania reported 23 cases of rabies in raccoons between January and March. However, these are only the cases that have been reported, meaning there may be others that have not yet been identified by local health departments.
Besides excessive friendliness, there are other telltale signs of rabies in raccoons.
It's not just friendliness that may tip you off to a rabies diagnosis in a raccoon. According to The Humane Society of the United States, discharge from the animal's eyes or mouth, self-mutilation, wet or matted facial fur, multiple high-pitched cries, a staggering gait, erratic wandering, and obliviousness to nearby noise or movement are all signs of rabies, too.
Many other wild animals are susceptible to rabies, as well; a report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that, in 2018, bats were the animal most commonly infected with rabies in the U.S., followed by raccoons, skunks, and then foxes. Domestic animals, including cats and dogs, can also become infected with the disease via bites and scratches from rabid animals.
Once symptoms appear, rabies is almost always fatal to humans.
When in doubt, it's always your safest bet to leave wildlife alone, whether they appear sick or not. If you do come into contact with a potentially rabid animal—particularly if you have been bitten, scratched, or if their saliva or brain matter has come into contact with an open wound or mucus membrane—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend thoroughly washing any wounds with soap and water and making arrangements to see a medical professional as soon as possible.
While the best way of preventing rabies is avoiding close contact with wild animals altogether, the World Health Organization notes that rabies vaccines and medication may help keep the virus from attacking your central nervous system. "Once clinical symptoms appear, rabies is virtually 100 percent fatal," the health authority states.
If your pet has been bitten by a potentially rabid animal or may have a potentially rabid animal's saliva on them, The Humane Society recommends wearing gloves while handling them and taking them to the vet immediately.