Below are frequently asked questions in regards to animal contact, sightings and general precautions to be taken when encountering animals that are possible disease carriers.
I heard that all bats carry rabies, is this true?
Like most mammals, bats can contract rabies. However, less than one half of one percent of bats contract rabies, a frequency no higher than that seen in many other animals. As with other animals, they die quickly. It is essential that caution is taken around ANY wild animal as ANY wild animal is potentially dangerous. Any bat that is active during the day, is found in a place where bats are not normally seen, or in unable to fly is more likely to be sick and like all bats and other wild animals, should never be handled.
What if I touched a bat?
Touching a bat should be considered a potential rabies exposure until proven otherwise. The City of Austin Health and Human Services Department (512-972-5555) or your personal physician should be contacted immediately for instructions and advice. Any bat that bites a human should be collected and tested for rabies as soon as possible by submitting it to the state rabies lab for testing.
Post-exposure treatment should begin immediately unless the bat is confirmed negative. Bat bites are typically felt and detected at the time. Visual examination for bite marks is unreliable. If visible at all, bites may appear only as a single tiny puncture or scratch. Most punctures are a millimeter or less in diameter, and most bat inflicted scratch marks are less than a centimeter long.
Extenuating circumstances can make detection difficult. If a lost or sick bat hides in bedding, it could be inadvertently pinched during one's sleep, bite, and leave without detection. If a young child or a mentally incapacitated person is found alone with a bat in the same room and the possibility of a bite cannot be eliminated, post-exposure treatment should be considered unless prompt testing of the bat can rule out infection.
When questioning about possible exposure, it is essential first to calm fears of painful shots. For the majority of patients, the post-exposure shots are less painful than tetanus vaccinations. Also, persons who wake up with a bat in the same room where they have been sleeping are advised to submit it for testing, especially if the bat is unable to fly or seems weak. (Information in this section was obtained from Bat Conservational International).
How can you tell if an animal has rabies?
Rabies can only be confirmed by a laboratory test. Animals with rabies may act differently than healthy animals. Wild animals may move slowly or act tame. A pet that is usually friendly may snap at you and try to bite.
There are two types of rabies. One type is “furious” rabies, which is more common.. Animals with this type are hostile, may bite at objects, and have an increase in saliva. In the movies and in books, rabid animals foam at the mouth. In real life, rabid animals look like they have foam in their mouth because they have more saliva.
The second and more common form is known as paralytic or “dumb” rabies. An animal with “dumb” rabies is timid and shy. It often rejects food and has paralysis of the lower jaw and muscles.
Signs of rabies in animals include:
- Changes in an animal’s behavior
- General sickness
- Problems swallowing
- An increase in drool or saliva
- Wild animals that appear abnormally tame or sick
- Animals that may bite at everything if excited
- Difficulty moving or paralysis
Animals in the early stage of rabies may not have any signs, although they can still infect you if they bite you. The incubation period is the time from the animal bite to when signs appear. In rabies, it is usually 1-3 months however it can last as long as several years. Once the virus reaches the brain or spinal cord, signs of the disease appear.
What if I see a raccoon, opossum, or skunk out during the day?
Although nocturnal animals are most active throughout the night, it is not an indication that something is necessarily wrong if seen out during the day. Nocturnal animals often DO come out during the day.
Pet food, bird seed, and garbage can be powerful attractants. Weather changes, construction, or public events can also affect wildlife. A mother skunk or raccoon will often venture out in the daytime to take a well deserved break from her babies. At certain times of the year, particularly in the Fall, animals must be efficient in preparing for the winter and maximize their foraging time to find food, therefore starting out during daylight is not uncommon. Another possibility to consider is if an animal has been displaced from its home due to construction, then it is forced to move on sometimes during the day in search of a new shelter. The winter and early spring months signifies mating season for most species, meaning a peak in activity throughout the day for that time frame. Often, nocturnal animals seen in the early morning/afternoon hours are just taking their time getting home.
If a nocturnal animal is out during the day and is sick you will know it. The symptoms when an animal is sick or injured can vary, but regardless it’s fairly obvious that something is wrong. If you are concerned, please call Animal Make Safe or the City of Austin Animal Services immediately about ill animals. Don’t attempt to take action yourself.
What happens to the animal after they're captured?
An incident may be resolved in a number of ways including immediate release of the animal, relocating the animal to private property, or transferring the animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.
What if I am bitten by an animal?
Wash the affected area with thoroughly with soap and water and get medical advice immediately. All animal bites, regardless of the species or the severity should be examined by a physician.
I’ve found an injured or orphaned animal. What should I do?
What kind of wildlife is on / around campus?
The University of Texas at Austin campus is home to many wildlife species. Some of the more common species are: raccoons, opossums, squirrels, bats, snakes, skunks, and many birds. Please respect our wildlife residents and do not harass them in any way. This is their home too!