What To Do If You Found Sick or Injured Rabies-Vector Species
About Rabies-Vector Species
If you have found an orphaned, sick or injured raccoon, woodchuck, skunk (Caution: can spray), or bat, DO NOT touch this animal with your bare hands. All of these species are considered to be rabies vector species, which means that they are the most common wildlife species in Massachusetts that transmit rabies to other animals or people. Rabies is a viral disease that is usually spread through the affected animal’s saliva and enters another animal or person through a break in the skin or contact with the eyes, nose or mouth. From there, it spreads to the nervous system and, in almost 100% of cases, leads to eventual death. If you find an injured or sick raccoon, woodchuck, skunk, or bat, you should call one of the following numbers for assistance:
- Your local Massachusetts Animal Control Officers
- A wildlife rehabilitator near you
- Other professionals
Circumstances that are NOT safe include sick or injured juvenile or adult raccoons, woodchucks, skunks or bats that:
- are still alert to your presence
- can readily move around
- and/or are located in an area that is unsafe for rescue, e.g. in the middle of the road.
While the rabies virus is usually spread through a scratch or bite wound, any bare-handed contact that you have with a rabies-vector species is considered potential exposure. The only way to test if an animal has rabies is through testing of brain tissue. Therefore, if you have any bare-handed contact or are scratched or bitten by a rabies-vector species, that wild animal will have to be euthanized for rabies testing.
What to do – if it is safe to do so
If none of the above resources are available, and the animal is in need of immediate assistance, you may attempt rescue ONLY if it is safe to do so.
Wear thick leather gloves and have a heavy towel in hand. A thick pair of work gloves, a thick jacket, and other personal protection can prevent injury. Do not ever use bare hands when helping mammals. Please be careful not to get bitten, licked, or scratched by the animal as well.
Prepare a container
Have a sturdy box or animal carrier ready to contain the animal. Garbage cans, recycling bins, and plastic containers will work in a pinch, depending on the size of the animal. Make sure that you have a lid that will fit securely to the top of the box.
Capturing the animal
Approach the animal from behind, drop the towel over the animal, including the head, quickly gather the animal in the towel, then immediately place it into the container. Cover and seal the box to ensure that the animal cannot escape from the container.
For further assistance on where and how to transport, please refer to the "Who to Call for Help" section on this page.
During transport, keep the animal in the box or crate, keep the car quiet (radio off). DO NOT keep the animal for any length of time, e.g. overnight. Place the animal in the container in the back seat of your vehicle, not in the car trunk, and monitor during transport to make sure it is not escaping! PLEASE NOTE! Tufts Wildlife Clinic is not able to rehabilitate rabies-vector species but will humanely euthanize these animals if they are brought to us. For further information on rabies, visit the Mass Health & Human Services Department’s Rabies Information page.