Rabies: What You Need to Know

The season has warmed up, summer is upon us, and the opportunity for camping trips, picnics, and vacations. These may bring people in contact with the outdoors… and wild animals. While one should always keep in mind that this isn’t Disneyland and the animals are truly wild and unpredictable, it should also make you conscious of the dangers of rabies. Due to an aggressive prevention program, the cases of people contracting rabies from animals each year are quite small. However, one should keep in mind that the virus can cause death if untreated, and the treatment itself can be quite painful.

Two things are very important to keep in mind. The first is that all warm-blooded mammals can contract rabies, give it to others, and die from the untreated virus. The second is that animals with the rabies virus can look perfectly normal and healthy in the early stages of the disease. The animal does not have to look emaciated before it is dangerous; that only comes in the later stages of the disease.

Some years ago, I lived in an area where – for whatever reason – many raccoons were getting rabies. Once, driving into town during the middle of the day, I saw a raccoon in the middle of the highway trying to attack the cars as they passed. When there was a lull in the traffic, I dispatched him.

Instead of running away, like you would expect a raccoon to do, he charged.

Another time I walked out into my yard to change the water sprinkler and came face to face with a big male raccoon. Instead of running away, like you would expect him to do, he charged. Luckily, I was wearing my defensive handgun, and the problem was safely resolved. (Well, safely for me, at least.)

One clue that something might be wrong with a wild animal is when you see a normally nocturnal animal moving around in the daytime. Skunks, raccoons, foxes, bobcats, bats, and many others normally do their roaming at night, or just before and after dark. The second clue is that this animal does not seem to have any fear of humans; it may even approach you. It is clearly time to take evasive action.

Sadly, while most people have their dogs vaccinated, the same is not always true of domestic house cats. Many people don’t have their cats vaccinated. To make matters worse, they turn them loose and allow them to roam at will. Even well-fed domestic cats will hunt when outdoors, and rabid animals often look like easy prey to them. This is how the infection spreads to the cat. For this reason, it is always a good idea to be very wary of strange house cats in your vicinity – and to always vaccinate your own pets. It’s also very important to warn children to stay away from strange animals, wild and domestic.

The smart thing to do, for your sake and that of your family, is to educate yourselves about rabies. Several informative articles can be found online as well as at your local veterinarian’s office. I am not suggesting that every strange animal that comes near you needs to be destroyed. What I am saying is that we need to be informed and stay informed. Guarding against being bitten by a rabid animal is an important and critical part of any family defense plan.

A version of this article appeared in NRA FAMILY.

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