Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Why we discourage feeding raccoons

Reason Number 17:

Because your vet may have to euthanize one for rabies testing.

Here is the story: A client has been feeding some feral cats in her neighborhood. Always the opportunist, a young raccoon, probably a summer baby, had been visiting, too. Yesterday, while she was feeding them, the 'coon jumped up at her and bit her hand, rather severely.

I got involved when the client's husband called the office yesterday, from the hospital ER where his wife was undergoing a series of most painful treatments and injections. "If I catch the raccoon, can you have it tested for rabies?" he asked. After warning him to be very careful, I assured him I would take on this task.

Today, he showed up with the raccoon in a live trap.
It was obvious that this raccoon was sick. To start, it was exhibiting some very odd behavior. It had been showing up in the daytime, and instead of running from a person, it attacked her. This is never a good sign. But, once trapped in the cage, it was not hissing and spitting and trying to get out, it was huddled in one corner, looking very dejected and lethargic.

I worked a snare in through the cage bars and looped it over the raccoon's head and around its neck, so that another person could hold it still while I injected it with a heavy sedative. It didn't even respond to the needle prick or the burning sensation of the injection. After that took effect, I donned a heavy leather glove, reached into the cage and restrained the 'coon while I administered the final injection. It was all over very quickly, and with much less risk than I was anticipating. I got the funniest compliment from the two staff members who watched me work. "Doc," they said, "All we can say is, You have some balls!" I reminded them that I actually had ovaries, but thanked them for the sentiment.

Rabies testing, whether for a raccoon, a dog, or a cat, involves analyzing brain tissue for certain microscopic changes. I will spare you the rest of the details, but let's just say what I had to do next is not in my Top 10 list of things I love about my job.

I feel certain that this raccoon had Canine Distemper Virus, not rabies. Distemper is a viral disease that affects the nervous system and often mimics rabies, which fortunately is extremely rare in our area. Still, you should NOT feed wild raccoons or encourage them to hang around, you should NOT make a pet of a young raccoon, and you should most definitely NEVER, EVER get near a raccoon who acts sick.

My client learned a painful lesson, and in the process, put her husband, me, and two of my staff members at risk for coming in contact with a rabies suspect. No matter how sorry you feel for the raccoons, please don't put yourself, your family, or your favorite veterinarian in this situation.

My health insurance company thanks you.


KGMom said...

Excellent caution.
In one of my former jobs, I was in our state Dpt of Health, and one of the areas I supervised was our state health lab where they did the rabies testing. I enjoyed visiting the lab, and I could go everywhere there, except where they tested for rabies. Only those employees who had undergone the immunizations could enter that room.
Many people did not understand that to test for rabies, you have to kill the animal. After all, you can't analyze brain tissue deep in the brain without . . .
The lab would regularly receive shipments of animal heads for testing. Used to freak some people out--it just fascinated me.

donaldthebirder said...

This is another reason why people should not feed stray or feral cats . I have seen and had to put down sick coons and cats around my neighborhood a couple times.

Sara said...

I might have said MOXIE, lots of moxie to complete this daunting and sad task. Sorry the job fell to you.

MLO said...

Is it my imagination or has there been a resurgence in rabies in and around urban areas lately?

I know when I lived in one agricultural area, the vet there was also the county health vet and had to have rabies immunization - as did her entire staff.

Susan Gets Native said...

Moxie AND balls, Kath.
You have Moxalls! Or is it Balloxies?

Poor baby coon. I always keep my head lights on when I come home at night, because we have coons who have a taste for Zick dough. Thankfully, they are NOT tame and run away when they see me.

Kathy said...

I'm sorry you, your staff, the lady and her family had to go through such a terrible experience. I feel badly for the poor sick raccoon also. I'm glad you were brave enough to take care of the situation in the best way possible. I have never, and would never feed raccoons, but I have a friend who loved to have several families come to her house to be fed. I tried to tell her the dangers of rabies and other diseases, as well as them hurting her cats, but never got her to change her mind. As far as I know, they have never had any bad experiences in feeding them so far. If the food dish is empty, and the back door is open, some of them actually came inside the house to look for food. They are fun to watch, but the dangers don't make it worth the risk.