Raccoon on lawn
Photo by Depositphotos
Rabies and distemper are the two things that come to mind first when a raccoon is acting strangely. Rabies is a big concern because it can also be transmitted to people. Distemper is also a viral infection, caused by canine distemper virus, and is transmissible to dogs and some wildlife species, but is not zoonotic. Raccoons are very susceptible to distemper and infections and outbreaks are common. If raccoon rabies is present in the area, we need to err on the side of caution and treat an abnormal raccoon as potentially rabid until proven otherwise. If raccoon rabies isn’t in the area, an abnormal raccoon is generally assumed to have distemper (but remember that rabid raccoons can hitch rides on vehicles, so we can’t rule out rabies completely without testing).
But there is one other possible cause for a raccoon to be acting somewhat drunk… alcohol.
A story from last fall (yes, I’m a bit slow) in the in the Washington Post describes a rabies scare in West Virginia, where the raccoons were ultimately determined to have been intoxicated by alcohol. No, they hadn’t raided a liquor store – it turns out they’d been eating fermented crab apples.
Surprisingly (and good to hear), they weren’t euthanized right away because of their abnormal behaviour. Just like we do for any other drunken mammalian species, the raccoons were held until they sobered up, and were then sent on their way. A picture of one of the young offenders was released by the Milton (W. Va) Police Department. It’s much cuter than the typical mug shot.
Drunk or not, it’s still a good idea to stay away from raccoons, especially in southern Ontario.
(Editor's Note: Crabapples are native to North America and Asia. However, it's not just crabapples that cause raccoons and others to become drunk. All fruit has naturally occurring yeast on the skin. Yeast ferments the sugar in the juice. Any fruit can ferment (become alcohol) as long as there is yeast or bacteria in the environment and they are located in an environment without oxygen, such as inside a piece of fruit.
Below are videos of raccoons that are drunk, rabid, and have distemper, so you can see the difference - plus a drunk squirrel, so we remember lots of animals like to eat fermented fruit, which is easily found on the ground.
A Drunk Raccoon
A Rabid Raccoon
Raccoon with Distemper
Squirrel Drunk on Fermented Pumpkins