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Wildlife and rabies

The animals in Canada most often proven rabid are wild animals (such as skunks, foxes, and raccoons), bats, cattle, and stray cats and dogs.

Squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, mice or other small rodents, rabbits and hares are only rarely found to be infected with rabies because it is believed they are likely to be killed by the larger animal (such as a raccoon or a fox) that could have potentially transmitted rabies to them.

No cases of transmission of bat strains of rabies from these small animals to humans have been found. Post-exposure prophylaxsis (PEP) should be considered only if the animal's behaviour was highly unusual. For example, a bite from a squirrel while someone is feeding it would not be considered unusual behaviour and PEP is not needed based on this information alone.

Larger rodents, such as groundhogs, woodchucks, and beavers, could carry rabies, although this is rare in Canada. Bites, scratches, or saliva contact from these larger animals require an assessment of the circumstances of the human contact to determine the need for PEP.

In Canada, the animals likely to have rabies include skunks, foxes, raccoons, bats, cattle, and stray cats and dogs.

A rabid animal could become unusually aggressive and attack a person for no reason. Alternatively, it could become uncharacteristically quiet. The general public should never handle wild or stray animals.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately and contact the local health unit.

Recurrence of raccoon strain rabies

There are several different strains (types) of rabies, including raccoon, fox, and bat strains. In late 2015, several cases of raccoons with raccoon strain rabies were found in the Hamilton area.

These are the first cases of raccoon strain rabies since 2005, and this serves as a reminder that raccoon strain rabies is an ongoing concern that people need to be aware of and take precautions to protect themselves from.

As a result of these cases, the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry proceeded with additional oral rabies vaccine baiting, targeting foxes, raccoons, and skunks.

Raccoon rabies situation in Simcoe Muskoka

The overall risk remains low to the general public but there are measures you can take to minimize your risk:

  • Report any biting, scratching, or saliva contact with a raccoon to the health unit.
  • Contact a trained wildlife removal operator, a licenced pest control operator, or local animal control services for help with removal of a raccoon on your property.
  • Avoid contact with any baby or adult wild animal. Leave them alone in their natural environment.
  • Vaccinate your pets.
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