Health Article

PET HEALTH - Rabies 101

Rabies is a serious concern and a very dangerous disease but it’s important to maintain perspective.

By Amanda Ellis
PET HEALTH - Rabies 101

Rabies has been on the minds of more animal owners and public health officials in the past few months than at any time in the last decade. With over 50 confirmed cases in Hamilton, four in Haldimand and now one in Niagara, animal services agencies have been in overdrive to keep up with calls of sick raccoons.

While rabies is a serious concern and a very dangerous disease, it’s important to maintain perspective. Here at the Welland SPCA, we serve the municipalities of Welland, Port Colborne, Pelham, Wainfleet, West Lincoln, Lincoln, and Haldimand County. From December to mid-March, our office has responded to 225 sick raccoon calls, out of which only five have tested positive for rabies. The Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry has been undertaking an aggressive ground and aerial vaccination drop program since the first cases were confirmed. The negative tested animals most likely suffer from distemper virus which can be transmitted to canines but is not dangerous to humans. Distemper is vaccine preventable in dogs and is part of the standard vaccine schedule. Outward signs are very similar between the two diseases so it’s common for the public to assume an animal is rabid when it is not. In either case, the animal is suffering and should be humanely euthanized by trained professionals. There are no cures for these diseases.


What can you do to protect your pets?

Make sure to keep your pets current on their rabies vaccination. It’s not just a good idea; it’s the law in Ontario. For outdoor dogs, don’t leave food out for longer than needed so as to avoid attracting wildlife.


What should I do if I see a raccoon or skunk acting strangely?

Call your local animal control or humane society immediately. Sick or injured animals are considered a priority call but response times can still vary depending on call volume and distance. If possible and safe to do so, keep an eye on the animal so that you can direct animal control when they arrive.


What should I do if a sick animal attacked me / my dog?

If there is direct contact between you, your pet and a sick wild animal, it’s important that animal control is made aware of this.


What if I find a dead raccoon / skunk / fox on my property? 

If you have found a dead rabies vector species (RVS) such as a fox, skunk or raccoon on your property, contact the Ministry of Natural Resources rabies surveillance hotline at 1.888.574.6656 for further direction.


How do I know if a raccoon is sick?

The most common signs of illness in skunks and raccoons we see are disorientation, no fear of humans or dogs, green or yellow discharge from the eyes, foaming saliva around the mouth, convulsions or biting or chewing at their own limbs.

It’s important to note that although raccoons are typically nocturnal, there may be a reason for them to be out during the day. These could include having their dens disturbed, looking for food or relocating young. For this reason, being out during the day is not, by itself, sufficient reason to assume the raccoon is sick. Other signs should be present before animal control is involved. HWS


The Welland and District Regional Spay Neuter Clinic is located at 700 East Main Street in Welland. For more information. please call 289.820.9651 or visit



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