Sick Raccoons; Please Be Alert!

by Lisa Wolling, Executive Director

Many of you may have noticed that there seem to be a lot of sick raccoons around our area, and also unusual numbers of them dead on the side of local roadways. We appear to be in the midst of a disease outbreak of some type, so Friends of Texas Wildlife wanted to share some vital information.

For the last few months, the number of calls we have been receiving at our intake center regarding sick raccoons has been on the rise. The last few weeks, we’ve gotten as many as eight or nine calls per day regarding raccoons that appear to be sick or dying. Callers report that raccoons are either curled up “sleeping”, and basically non-responsive, or they may be seen stumbling, dragging their back legs, unable to climb, unafraid or unaware of people and/or dogs, out during the day, or seeming to act “drunk”. These symptoms can be indicative of rabies, although the incidence of rabies in raccoons in our area is EXTREMELY LOW; in fact, in the last 30 years there have only been one or two confirmed cases of rabies in a raccoon in Montgomery County. Although caution is always advised with any wild animal, it appears this disease outbreak is not due to rabies. It is believed, based on past outbreaks and symptoms, that the disease outbreak is likely due to canine distemper, although laboratory testing has not yet confirmed this. Friends has sent out the remains of five suspect raccoons for testing; however, due to the shutdown of the Federal government, testing is not yet complete. At the time of the writing of this article (mid-January), we have preliminary testing back on three raccoons. All were negative for rabies; one tested positive for canine distemper AND Bordetella. All further testing is on hold until the lab reopens.

This disease outbreak is really outside the scope of what a wildlife rehabilitation group can realistically help with. Unfortunately, once distemper affects the brain of a raccoon, the only option is to humanely euthanize the animal and safely dispose of the remains to help prevent the spread of the disease. Unfortunately, this is another situation which falls into the category of “it’s really not anyone’s job” to deal with this, but here is the best information we can provide at this time.

If you see a raccoon out during the day, this is not necessarily cause for alarm. Especially during colder months or times of inclement weather, healthy raccoons (or any normally nocturnal animal) may simply be out during the day looking for food. Juveniles or pregnant/nursing mothers may also forage during the day when competition for food is lower. Observe any raccoon seen out during daylight hours for a few moments; if it appears to be walking normally, shows normal fear or wariness of people, and can run away, that is normal behavior. Concerning behavior would include the following: staggering or stumbling; animals that appear oblivious to nearby noises or movement; erratic wandering or circling; discharge from eyes, nose, or mouth; wet and matted hair on face; repeated, high-pitched vocalization; self-mutilation; dragging of hind legs; animals unable to climb. If these signs are noticed, call one of the following agencies for assistance:

Friends of Texas Wildlife (10 – 2 daily, closed on Sundays) 281-259-0039

Montgomery County Animal Control 936-442-7738

Conroe Animal Control 936-522-3211 (if within Conroe City limits)

Game Warden dispatch 512-389-4848

Animal Control will generally respond to calls in the order they were received, so they may not be able to immediately respond to reports. If possible, try to trap the raccoon if necessary so it remains in the area and is still there when Animal Control responds. Since these animals are quite compromised, they can generally be easily coaxed into a trap or pet carrier, but never attempt to touch or handle any wild animal. A safe way to attempt capture is to place an animal carrier or crate in front of the raccoon with the door open and try to coax the animal to go inside with a broom, shovel, or rake. Once the animal goes inside, close the door to secure it and leave it in a safe location (shade) away from people and domestic pets, and advise Animal Control where the carrier is. Trapped animals that appear to be sick can also be brought to Animal Control. Unfortunately, as an unpaid, all-volunteer organization, Friends does not have any paid staff to pick animals up, so any captured animals would have to be brought to our intake center during normal business hours. Please DO NOT bring any animals to Friends of Texas Wildlife without calling first, to make sure we are open and can assist you. As these animals are most likely contagious, we need to follow careful protocols, especially as we generally have other animals on site. We will continue to assist as our finances allow, but we have very limited resources. Animal Control has also offered to help with disposal of the remains, which will be a huge help to us. If a sick raccoon or other animal is on private property, homeowners can also call pest control companies to remove them, but there will be a charge for this service. It is very important for sick animals to be removed from the area, and not to just “let nature takes it course”, as removing sick animals will help to stop the spread of whatever is going on, and also will reduce the risk to domestic pets (and potentially people, depending on what illness is causing this).

There are also a few other things the general public can do to help with this disease outbreak:

  • Please make sure all domestic pets are up to date on vaccines! Since this outbreak is still of undetermined cause, it is not known for sure what other animals are susceptible.
  • Many pet owners only give preventive Bordetella inoculations if their animal is going to be kenneled or boarded somewhere. However, since Bordetella was confirmed in at least one raccoon, that means this illness is “out there” in the environment. Preventive is always much less expensive than a sick pet, so thoughtfully consider giving your pet this preventive (either nasal spray or vaccine).
  • PLEASE DO NOT FEED WILDLIFE. Feeding wildlife draws more animals to one particular spot and can cause overcrowding. Too many animals in one area will facilitate the rapid spread of disease. Bird feeders are typically not an issue however.
  • Try to not feed pets outside. Leftover pet food will also attract wildlife. Any food bowls used outside should be cleaned daily with bleach and water to kill any germs.

Please remember that Friends of Texas Wildlife is not funded by any local, state, or federal agency and that we are wholly dependent on donations and fundraising to help care for thousands of animals we assist every year. As we move into spring and summer, our busiest time of the year, we could really use your support! Our single largest expense each year is the cost of the species-specific formulas we order to feed everything from orphaned baby squirrels through white-tailed deer fawns. This year, due to the strain on our finances, we have set up a special fundraiser to help raise the funds needed to purchase these formulas. If you can help, please go to Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/donate/314283875872715, or donate online at www.ftwl.org. Generally, our volunteer rehabilitators pay for formula out of their own pocket, but this year we hope to raise enough money to offset that expense.

To learn more about what we do and view pictures of many of the animals we assist, please visit our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/SavingTexasWildlife. Our educational visitor’s center is open the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., located at 29816 Dobbin Hufsmith Road, Magnolia, Texas, so the next open house date will be Saturday, February 9. Come on out and visit us, learn a little more about local wildlife, do some fun activities and a craft, and meet some of our non-releasable wildlife educational animals. We also host birthday parties, spring-break and summer camps, and educational presentations. For more information about events, birthday parties, camps, or educational presentations for scouts, schools, or other groups, please visit our website or email ftwl.education@gmail.com. There are many other ways you can help support our efforts, too. Details can be found at www.ftlw.org, and then click on “How to Help”.