The City of Hamilton (Ontario) is experiencing an unusual spike in raccoon rabies cases this season – and despite what the media has implied, the end of times is not near.
The CBC this week reported that “this strain of rabies is like any other strain of the rabies virus: it's deadly.”
This strain of rabies, like all other strains of raccoon rabies, has a high mortality rate. But it is not more dangerous than other strains of the virus – and it certainly isn’t worthy of such hyperbolic reporting.
The article also does not mention that the vast majority of the raccoons being reported are found deceased by animal control on roadsides in a rural region outside of the city centre, well away from the bulk of the city’s 500,000 human residents. The spike has also resulted in an increase in funding for testing, which could balloon figures, particularly following a mild winter.
That said, there is an increase, and while the Ministry of Natural Resources prepares short and long-term strategies (likely including an increase in their successful aerial vaccine bait program), residents can easily protect themselves and their pets from contracting any zoonotic diseases.
- Never feed or approach wildlife. Non-human animals like raccoons and skunks can carry numerous zoonotic disease that are transferable to domestic animals and humans, such as some strains of the rabies virus. Feeding these furry neighbours increases their proximity tolerance – their comfort with being close to or around people. It can also draw them closer to your (and your neighbours’) yards, increasing the probability of conflict.
- Vaccinate your pets. Vaccinations for rabies and distemper are available at a relatively low cost from all veterinarians, and in Ontario, the rabies vaccine is legally mandatory.
- Always supervise your pets. Off leash dogs are at a greater risk of coming into contact or conflict with local wildlife. Keeping dogs on leash when on walks, and supervised in a yard can greatly reduce the chances of potential conflict. Cats should not leave your yard and can be fitted with an anti-jump bib or hang out in an enclosure to keep them safe.
- Don’t panic. Seeing a raccoon or skunk during the day, or having one give you a dirty look with their back up, isn’t a symptom of rabies – it’s likely a raccoon or skunk having a bad day.
By following these simple steps you can reduce or eliminate your chances of having negative conflict with raccoons or skunks. Please remember that if you do have wildlife on your property that you need removed to contact a reputable and humane wildlife removal agency (we strongly recommend AAA Gates’ Wildlife Control in the Hamilton/Toronto region). The City of Hamilton's Public Health page has local resources available,including what to do if you're bitten by an animal, reporting protocols, and contact information for animal control.
With education and time, this increase in rabies will pass – and we will continue to co-exist with urban wildlife throughout.