Have you ever seen a coyote acting strangely? Perhaps it’s trotting down the sidewalk in broad daylight, hissing instead of barking, or displaying unusual aggression. If so, you might have encountered a rabid coyote.

rabid coyote dripping with foam

Rabies in coyotes is extremely rare, especially in areas like Rhode Island where the raccoon-adapted strain of the virus is more common.

Coyotes are fascinating creatures that play a vital role in our ecosystem. However, like wild animals, they can pose a threat if infected with rabies.

This blog post is a comprehensive guide for anyone encountering a sick coyote. We’ll discuss the signs and symptoms of rabies in coyotes, offer safety tips for both yourself and your pets, and outline the best course of Action if you suspect a rabid animal.

Understanding Rabies in Coyotes

What is Rabies?

Rabies is a deadly viral disease affecting mammals’ central nervous system, including coyotes, dogs, cats, and humans. Rabies is a viral disease acquired from the bite or scratch of a rabid animal. The rabies virus attacks the brain, causing a progressive degeneration of nerve tissue. This degeneration leads to a variety of neurological symptoms, including:

  • Unusual behavior: Infected animals may display erratic or aggressive behavior that is uncharacteristic of their species.

  • Paralysis: As the virus progresses, it can cause muscle weakness and paralysis.

  • Seizures: Rabid animals may experience violent seizures.

  • Hydrophobia: This classic symptom of rabies is characterized by a fear of water. The painful muscle spasms in the throat make swallowing liquids difficult for infected animals.

The importance of the post-exposure vaccine series for preventing fatal cases of rabies cannot be overstated.

How Do Coyotes Contract Rabies?

Like most mammals, coyotes contract rabies through exposure to the saliva of an infected animal. The most common transmission method is a bite from a rabid animal, such as a fox, raccoon, skunk, or another coyote. Additionally, there is a significant risk of rabies transmission from bat rabies strains, which are highly transmissible to humans and other animals, even without a visible wound.

Less frequently, the virus can enter the body through open wounds or mucous membranes (eyes, nose, mouth) if infected saliva makes contact.

Signs & Symptoms of Rabid Coyotes

Rabies in coyotes can manifest in several ways, and the initial signs may be subtle. However, as the disease progresses, the symptoms become more severe and distinctive. Here’s a breakdown of the key signs to watch for, accompanied by visuals to aid in identification:

1. Behavioral Changes

Healthy coyotes are typically wary of humans. Coyotes are naturally shy animals. A sick coyote, however, may lose its natural fear and become unusually bold, approaching people or pets directly.

healthy vs. rabid coyote

2. Disorientation and Seizures

The rabies virus disrupts the nervous system, causing confusion and disorientation. Rabid coyotes may wander in circles, appear dazed, or experience tremors and seizures.

rabid coyote with an open gait and weird posture

3. Vocalization Changes

Unusual vocalizations in rabid animals often replace the characteristic howl of a coyote. They may emit constant growls, hisses, or high-pitched yelps.

4. Excessive Drooling and Difficulty Swallowing

Rabies causes paralysis in the throat and mouth muscles, leading to excessive drooling and difficulty swallowing, even water.

By familiarizing yourself with these signs and symptoms, you can increase your awareness of potential rabies exposure and take appropriate action. Food bowls put out for feral cats can attract coyotes and other animals, increasing the risk of rabies transmission.

Staying Safe Around A Rabid Coyote

Encountering a wild animal, especially a potentially rabid one, can be a frightening experience. However, by staying calm and following these safety tips, you can minimize the risk of harm to yourself and those around you.

  • Remain Calm and Do Not Approach: The first rule is to stay calm and avoid provoking the animal. Sudden movements or loud noises might trigger an attack. Instead, back away slowly and steadily, always keeping your eye on the coyote.

  • Create a Barrier: If possible, position yourself behind a sturdy object, such as a car or tree, to create a barrier between you and the coyote.

  • Make Loud Noises: Once you’ve established a safe distance, you can try to scare the coyote away by making loud noises. Yell, clap your hands, or bang on pots and pans. Air horns or whistles can also be effective deterrents.

  • Do Not Run. Running can trigger a coyote’s chase instinct, so resist the urge to flee. Maintain eye contact and continue to back away slowly.

  • Report the Encounter: If you encounter a sick coyote, immediately report the incident to your local animal control officer. This will allow them to locate and capture the animal to prevent further exposure. Additionally, it is important to report any coyote sightings to the relevant authorities to help monitor and manage coyote behavior in your area.

Pet’s Rabies Vaccination

Wake up, pet owners! Pets, particularly small dogs and cats, are vulnerable to attacks from rabid coyotes. Here’s how to keep your furry friends safe:

  • Vaccination is Key: Ensure you are current on your pet’s rabies vaccination. Animal owners must ensure their pets’ rabies vaccinations are current to comply with state law and protect both pets and people.

  • Leash Your Pets: When outdoors, always keep your pets on a leash, especially during dawn and dusk when coyotes are most active.

  • Secure Your Yard: Minimize attractants in your yard that might draw coyotes, such as leftover pet food or unsecured garbage cans. Consider fencing your yard to create a haven for your pets.

  • Supervise Outdoor Playtime: Never leave your pets unattended outdoors, especially at night. Supervise playtime and keep them close to your side. (It takes less than a minute; I’ve seen it too many times).

  • Purchase a Coyote Vest: A coyote vest is a specially designed protective garment for dogs to shield them from potential harm. (Look closely at Fido’s back)

coyote vest

When to Contact Animal Control

Contact animal control immediately if you encounter a coyote exhibiting rabies signs and symptoms. Here are some additional situations that warrant a call:

  • A coyote that is unusually bold and approaches humans or pets.

  • A coyote that appears sick or injured. If a coyote tested positive for rabies, it is crucial to contact animal control to prevent further spread.

  • A coyote that is displaying abnormal vocalizations.

By swiftly acting and reporting any suspicious coyote behavior, you can help protect your community from the dangers of rabies.

Acute Infectious Disease Epidemiology: Understanding Outbreaks

Acute infectious disease epidemiology focuses on studying and investigating rapidly spreading infectious diseases.

These diseases typically have a short incubation period, meaning symptoms appear quickly after exposure and can cause significant illness or death.

Epidemiologists use various tools to track and understand these outbreaks, including:

  • Case finding and reporting: Identifying and documenting confirmed or suspected disease cases.

  • Contact tracing: Identifying individuals who may have been exposed to the infected person and monitoring them for symptoms.

  • Outbreak investigation: Analyzing data to determine the outbreak’s source, how it is spreading, and who is most at risk.

By implementing these strategies, acute infectious disease epidemiology plays a vital role in controlling outbreaks, preventing further transmission, and protecting public health.

Conclusion – Coyote as Rabid Animal

Coyotes are valuable ecosystem members and vital in predator-prey dynamics and rodent control. However, encountering a rabid coyote can be dangerous.

By understanding the signs and symptoms of rabies, following safety precautions, and practicing responsible wildlife management, we can minimize the risk of conflict and ensure the safety of ourselves, our pets, and our communities.

coyote packs with rabies diagnosis

Call to Action (with local animal control officer)

  • Share This Information: Rabies is a serious public health concern. Help spread awareness by sharing this blog post with your friends, family, and neighbors. The more people are informed about the dangers of rabies and how to stay safe, the better prepared we’ll be to coexist responsibly with coyotes.

  • Learn More About Coyotes: Many resources are available online and through local wildlife organizations that provide valuable information about coyote behavior and habitat management. Educating yourself about coyotes can help alleviate fear and promote peaceful coexistence.

  • Report Rabid Coyotes: If you encounter a coyote exhibiting signs of rabies, don’t hesitate to contact animal control immediately. Prompt action can prevent the spread of the disease and protect your community.

We can ensure a safe and balanced relationship with these fascinating wild animals by staying informed and taking responsible actions.

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