Raccoon bite

Sometime around midnight last night, the girls started making a racket out in the yard, like they were fighting each other. I couldn't imagine why that might be - there weren't any bones in the yard, the one thing that they rarely get in an argument over - but thought maybe one caught a vole and the other tried to steal it. I ran out into the muddy yard, around the side of the house, yelling "Hey! Leave it! Come!" and who knows what else, clapping my hands, frantic for them to stop. The growling and barking sounds of a fight stopped abruptly and they both came quickly toward me, tails down.

I thought I smelled a skunk, but when I got my nose close to their fur, I didn't. (I think, after two successive skunkings in the space of a month in the fall of '06 my nose and brain are conditioned to smell skunk in such situations!) Relieved, I brought them in the house.
They both appeared somewhat guilty. But I noticed that Maia especially kept looking at me, at the door, at me, and moving around in a way that usually signals she wants to go out because there's a critter out there. Meadow seemed undecided, which was odd.

I waited about ten minutes, hoping Maia would calm down, but she continued pacing. I realized I wasn't going to get any sleep unless I investigated and chased away whatever was out there. I grabbed my flashlight and turned on all the outdoor lights. I let the girls out and followed close behind. Maia determinedly went round the side of the house.

Meadow actually hung back, behind me. Now that was really odd!

As I rounded the corner, a little nervous about what the beam of my flashlight might reveal, I noticed that Maia rushed to the far corner of the fence. I shined my light there, at ground level, still thinking maybe a skunk or fox was on the other side of the fence. Nothing.

Then I realized Maia was looking up.

There, on the upper railing of the fence, was a raccoon. Carefully balanced on the rounded, horizontal pole, it was spitting down at Maia.

"Maia - leave it!"

The raccoon looked at me, it's eyes reflecting the light of my flashlight. It didn't seem very big.

Maia came toward me, looking over her shoulder. Meadow was already close to me. I herded them both back toward the door. I was surprised how willing they were to obey, given the enticement on the fence.

It was then, back in the house, that I realized Meadow's nose was bloody.

No wonder she didn't want to get close to that raccoon again! Nice to know she learns. The bloody nose also explained the racket I had heard. Meadow does not take such an insult as a biting lying down - I'm sure she was doing her utmost to give as good as she got. Maia, undoubtedly, was acting as back-up.

Meadow seemed to have two small punctures in the black tip of her nose. I couldn't tell whether they were teeth marks, or if the raccoon has scratched her with its claws.

I wiped the blood off Meadow's nose with a tissue and put some Neosporin on it. I then checked Maia's face closely, but didn't see anything amiss. Given Maia's willingness to approach the raccoon that second time, I figure she came through the initial encounter unscathed.

Maia continued pacing in the house. After thirty minutes - with me telling her to "Go lie down!" frequently - she finally gave up. Around 3:00 AM they both wanted to go outside. I let them, figuring that raccoon would be long gone by then. It was.

I'm not sure what attracted the raccoon to the yard. I don't leave any dog food outside. Maybe it was just checking. Hungry. And grumpy, after a long winter.

Skunks, fox, coyotes, wolves. The girls and their yard are very popular in the neighborhood. Lots of late night visitors. I'm beginning to understand what fathers of pretty teenage girls go through.

I was relieved that I'd always vaccinated both girls for rabies and kept those vaccinations current in order to get them into Canada for vacations. I wasn't worried about the bite. Until I started doing some online research. Most vet sites suggested a rabies booster where you know (or strongly suspect) the critter that bit your dog is rabid. Given that both girls' three year vaccinations were to expire in August of this year, I decided to have them both re-vaccinated this afternoon.

I also felt stupid for letting them go back outside with me when I didn't even know what they'd been tussling with. It could have been much worse, with more bites to one or both girls.

My research further revealed that I should have been more careful as I cleaned and treated Meadow's nose. The rabies virus - if the raccoon has it - can live in its saliva for a couple of hours. A human can transmit the virus to themselves unwittingly by getting that saliva into their own blood through an open cut or wound, or in their nose, eyes or mouth. Another lesson the girls have helped me learn.

Something called Coonhound Paralysis came up in many of my searches for "raccoon bite + dog" or in articles about rabies and dogs bitten by rabid animals. I now know that a raccoon's saliva can transmit something other than rabies. While they don't know exactly what it is, there's a correlation between raccoon bites (thus the name; the connection was first made with coon hounds used to hunt raccoons) and a neurological problem in dogs, a paralysis that can start within 1-2 weeks of a raccoon bite, with hind leg weakness and eventually near-total paralysis lasting for as long as 3 months, after which most dogs slowly and fully recover. (In some cases, if the respiratory muscles are involved, ventilation may be required). Not every dog bitten by a raccoon will get it, nor is the disease solely caused by raccoon bites. Coonhound (or Coon Dog) Paralysis can be seen in any breed of dog.

Who knew? I really didn't want to be learning these sorts of lessons. I'll be keeping a close eye on Ms. Meadow for the next couple of weeks.