Raccoons infected with rabies may show symptoms of the disease in behavioral changes. Once the lethal virus enters the animal's body through exposure to the saliva of an infected animal, it attacks the nervous system, moving to the brain, salivary glands and other areas, and eventually affects cognitive, motor, and other functions. Several weeks or months after exposure, all but 10 percent of raccoons infected with the rabies virus exhibit behavioral signs associated with the disease.
Signs of Rabies
Signs of rabies last for about a week in raccoons before the animals die, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An early sign of rabies in raccoons may be simply acting in a way that is contrary to normal behavior. These abnormal behaviors may include being especially unguarded or "dumb" (far more friendly or tame than is normal), or acting especially aggressive with dogs, cats, humans and even livestock or other large animals. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health Rabies website, another early sign of rabies in raccoons is appearing ill or acting disoriented, which can include coming much closer to a campsite, house, humans, or other animals than is normal and walking unsteadily or circling, moving very slowly, or without apparent purpose.
According to a 2006 study on raccoons and rabies appearing in the Journal of Wildlife Diseases, as the rabies infection progresses, raccoons may make unusual noises and vocalizations, which can include high-pitched peeping, screeching, chattering, and other sounds they do not normally make. They may also hiss or growl more than normal, acting hostile, aggressive or defensive even if unprovoked. This rabies-induced raging behavior may extend to attacking inanimate objects and other animals. While the animal is in an active stage of the illness, they may bite and spread rabies to other mammals.
When raccoons with rabies are close to death, their hind legs may become paralyzed, and the animals may have trouble moving or walk with an exaggerated, jerky gait. Producing an excess of saliva and possibly experiencing paralysis in their throats, raccoons may also appear to drool and froth at the mouth. Because the virus is transmitted through saliva, it may pass from a sick animal to a healthy one through exposure via a bite or simply through mucous membranes, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At this time, it is especially important to avoid raccoons in this condition, and to prevent pets from coming into contact with them.
A former newspaper columnist and college writing instructor, Cameron Banks is the award-winning author of numerous non-fiction books for adults and young people, web and print feature articles, and essays. Banks attended Northwestern University and lives with her family in southern California.