Friday, January 11, 2013

#FurbabyFridays Presents Raccoons: Cute and Cuddly or Typhoid Marys?


Welcome to Not Enough Time in the Day. It's Friday so that means it's time for my weekly segment covering a variety of topics that come up in my day to day workings as a veterinarian. That's right. Not only am I an author, newlywed, publisher and editor for Sassy Vixen Publishing, I'm a doctor of veterinary medicine. I started my career in 1993 in Michigan just one week after graduating from the Michigan State College of Veterinary Medicine and haven't looked back. I had wanted to be a veterinarian since I was 6 years old and here I am forty years later looking at retirement. Life is good!

I decided to add this weekly feature to this blog because I wanted to share the information I've gathered over the years with more than just my personal clients. Each day there are people who come to our clinic without even the basic knowledge of what goes into owning a pet. Usually they end up researching online any symptoms they see in their pets before taking them where they should be in the first place...to a VETERINARIAN! 

Sure, the Internet can be a vast wealth of information. Unfortunately, there's just enough misinformation (if not more) posted than sound factual advice. I could write an entire SERIES of posts on that subject alone, but instead, I'll choose my battles one at a time. This battle was brought to the top of the list today because of one of my clients. Just recently they had to euthanize their beloved dog of 8 years because she was dying of liver failure. It was too advanced and she wasn't responding to therapy. In her case, it appeared she had a mass in her liver, but her blood work raised additional flags. Was it all due to the cancer, or were there other factors here?

You see, this client and his little dog lived next to a vermin infested house owned by a former member of the local city council. No one lived in this house other than these pests, but they not only destroyed and weakened the structural support of parts of the house, their urine and feces literally flowed into my client's yard, contaminating it with parasites and potentially fatal disease organisms that are also contagious to humans. (This is called zoonosis.) These wild animals would also lunge at my client, his wife and their dog if they would try to access their own backyard.  This all began in 2005 and continues to be a problem to this very day. I'll get to that in a moment.

What could possibly cause such damage and potentially affect the health and well-being of my client and his pet? Raccoons. These furballs are definitely not the cute and cuddly tame pets portrayed on some movies and television programs. First of all, these are wild animals. To take them out of their natural habitat to domesticate them is just asking for trouble. 

In this case, the neighbor's property was literally INFESTED with these nasty buggers. They destroyed the attic with their urine and feces, turning it into what is referred to as a raccoon latrine. They even found ways to cross over from this property to that of my client, attempting to attack anyone that came close to their "claimed" territory. When my client complained, the owner of the property ignored him. She even ignored the calls and citations from Animal Vector Control to clean up the property because of the risk to human health. When my client complained to the city council, they sided with the negligent homeowner and refused to send in anyone to do anything. Even letters from me and my office outlining the dangers of these animals to the dog's health and that of my client went ignored.  One of the smart-ass animal control officers even stated that raccoons "were on the endangered list" and there was little he could do about them.  

Really? Endangered? What kind of idiots did this buffoon take us for? If this is what we can expect from people paid to take care of the animal dangers in the local cities, then we are all doomed.  

Okay...I'll get back to the topic now. ;)

At every turn, my client was stopped from complaining. He's gone to the local papers, news stations, more council meetings than he could count, and still he was ignored. Other neighbors are afraid of the negligent former city council member who owns that house and many have moved away. My client can't sell his house with the raccoon and disease infested home next to his.  Last summer, one of the walls of the patio collapsed onto my client's property. The structure was so undermined and filled with urine and feces, the wall couldn't stand any longer. Unfortunately, the crew the property owner hired to "clean up" the mess and rebuild the wall, just dumped all of the raccoon feces into my clients yard. Hundreds of pounds of it. That's right. Hundreds of POUNDS of it.

So what's wrong with that? Can't you just pick up the poop and be done with it?

It's not that easy. Raccoon feces can contain a variety of parasites and disease organisms including but not limited to fleas, ticks, toxoplasmosis, giardia, coccidia, distemper, leptospirosis, and the very deadly round worm called Baylisascaris. Like many intestinal parasites, the eggs of this worm are fairly hardy can can infect humans and other animals through ingestion or inhalation of the infective eggs. The worms can lay thousands of eggs in a very short period of time. It takes 2-3 weeks for these eggs to be infective, so prompt clean up is a must as is keeping residential and play areas free of raccoons. All access points under decks, into attics, gardens and sandboxes need to be monitored and blocked off/covered if at all possible.  If a human is infected with this parasite, the larval stages can migrate throughout the body causing damage through many organs, even the brain. You will find articles all over the web talking about this and just as many naysayers complaining that it's very rare so why worry about it. Yeah, don't worry about it until your child goes blind from the larvae migrating into his/her eyes.  I'd rather err on the side of caution thank you very much!



Not only is the feces of concern, but the urine as well. Leptospirosis is a bacteria that can be spread through urine and feces of infected animals including wildlife and dogs. So far we haven't documented a case of it in cats. For those of you who have traveled to Hawaii may have seen signs near waterfalls and other waterways indicating leptospirosis had been found in the areas and to take precautions. If infected and not treated, people and animals  could end up with kidney failure, liver failure, meningitis and/or respiratory distress. 

The vaccinations we had for dogs had only two of the strains of leptospirosis in it for years. Within the last four years, they've developed a vaccine with 5 strains in it and at this point it's thought to be cross protective against some of the other species in the wild. Each region of the world has different strains, even in just the United States there are a variety of strains. It used to be difficult to test an animal if they had been vaccinated against leptospirosis and know for sure the positive result wasn't due to the vaccine. Now we have much more sensitive and specific tests.

Okay, so raccoons can potentially spread parasites and diseases to pets and humans. Are they really all that dangerous besides that? They really are cute with the way they use their hands to wash their food. 

Yeah, real cute until you're rushing yourself, your child or your animal into an emergency hospital. I said it at the beginning of this post and I'll say it again. RACCOONS ARE WILD ANIMALS!!! They needed to be treated as such and shown respect by staying as far from them as possible. Don't leave food out for the stray cats. Don't leave bird feeders out at night. Lock or close off your pet doors at night so they don't have access to your house to get more food. Secure your trash cans.  Keep your pets vaccinated for rabies, leptospirosis, and distemper. Have routine exams with your veterinarian to include fecal tests and dewormings.


The CDC has a nice article on how to prevent and control the transmission of the Baylisascaris from raccoons. The advice is good for the other parasites and diseases these rodents can carry as well.  Here's a video of a woman and her dog who had a run in with several raccoons this summer while out jogging at night. The most important thing to take away from their experience is to make sure you protect yourself and your pets from these dangers by making sure you give them a wide berth and follow the CDC recommendations for "raccoon-proofing" your home and it's surroundings.


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