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For the record, many of the diseases that raccoons can carry can be passed on to humans just as much as they can be passed on to other animals. They are zoonotic diseases.
Rabies is a disease that can lie seemingly dormant in the body for a long time before any symptoms start to show. It’s also a disease that is almost always fatal once symptoms start to show. It usually takes just a couple of days before you realize something is amiss, but in some animals it can take weeks and months for anything to happen.
If the raccoon was bitten by an rabies infected raccoon three weeks ago, it could be infected today, despite being cute-looking, furry, adorable, and generally friendly. Animals don’t need to be rabid in order to have rabies. In fact, the silent, undetected, dormant and early stages of the virus are deadly.
If your pet cat or dog was to come into contact with a raccoon, there’s a good chance they’ll have some sort of interaction. There will likely be some noise - barking from the dog, perhaps, and a low growling noise from the raccoon. If they get too close, the raccoon won’t hesitate to snap and lash out. Again, they are more dangerous than they appear.
It’s not just a physical wound that you’ll need to worry about if your pet comes into contact with a wild animal, such as a raccoon. If the raccoon has recently eaten, it’ll have licked its lips, paws and claws. If one of those recently-licked claws were to slash into your pets skin, the saliva from the infected wound would still pass over to your pet. It's the saliva that is especially dangerous - that's where the virus lives. Once that saliva has a chance to get into your body, or the body of your pet, usually by way of scratches and bites, it has a chance to develop into full blown rabies.
Homeowners should vaccinate their pets - cats and dogs - to ensure rabies doesn't have a chance to spread from wild animals to domesticated pets. Despite this, many don’t. What this means is that the rest of the dogs in the neighborhood potentially become dangerous too, and cats. If the wild raccoon you encountered (the theoretical one who is infected with rabies but hasn’t developed symptoms yet) also encounters another wild animal — a dog in the house down the street, for example — that wild animal could be infected with rabies. Once again, the cycle begins. The countdown starts to symptoms showing. If that dog hasn’t been vaccinated against rabies either, it too could pass the disease on through infected saliva, and could even pass it on to humans. It could be days, weeks, months before the symptoms are obvious, and by that point, it’s too late. Multiple infections could quite easily have occurred, and is a classic example of how zoonotic diseases easily become a pandemic.
How will you know if you have the early symptoms of rabies? Well, you won’t. It’ll feel a little bit like you are run-down at first, with headaches, lethargy, muscle aches and joint pain, etc. From there, it starts to feel as if you are suffering from a common cold, or maybe the flu. That’s what you’ll think at first too. You won’t know that the dog you came into contact with a few days ago was infected with rabies, or that raccoon that you fed the week before, or your own pet. The wound you received when the raccoon lashed out at you was minor, so you didn't even think about getting it checked out at the hospital. When you start feeling like you have the flu a few days later, you won’t put 2 and 2 together to get 4. You won't even bother putting 2 and 2 together at all. It will be when symptoms get much worse, or regular cold and flu medications don’t work to combat the disease, that you seek medical assistance. By the time you are diagnosed with the rabies virus, it’ll be too late.
Rabies is a disease that requires treatment BEFORE symptoms show, so if you wait until you feel like you have the flu, it’s too late. If you encounter any wild animal, no matter how minor the interaction was, you should get yourself checked out, and you should also ensure that your pets and raccoons, as well as other wild animals, don’t come into direct contact.
For more information, you may want to click on one of these guides that I wrote:
How much does raccoon removal cost? - get the lowdown on prices.
How to get rid of raccoons - my main raccoon removal info guide.
Example raccoon trapping photographs - get do-it-yourself ideas.
Raccoon job blog - learn from great examples of raccoon jobs I've done.
raccoons in the attic