How Keeping Wild Animals as Pets Could Endanger Your Health In a Totally Unexpected Way

In July 2018, a Colorado woman thought she was doing the right thing when she brought a baby raccoon into her home after finding it abandoned on her property.

In doing that, she exposed herself — and 20 of her friends — to the rabies virus.

Oops?

Sure, the baby furball probably looked helpless and cute. But what one person thought was the best choice ended up being the worst thing she could have done.

As adorable baby animals grow up, their adult instincts kick in — which means they’re much more likely to bite, scratch, and seriously injure you. But these aren’t even the greatest health risks that come along with rescuing and keeping wild animals when you don’t know what you’re doing.

Raccoon on tree

Raccoon on tree | iStock.com/amadeusamse

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns residents that certain wild animals that commonly roam around urban areas carry diseases that could be deadly to humans.

  • Raccoon and skunk droppings can cause roundworm infection in humans and their pets.
  • Bird droppings can cause a fungal infection in humans.
  • Rodents can cause a diarrheal infection in both humans and animals.
  • Squirrels can transmit a virus through their saliva and droppings.
  • Animals such as raccoons, skunks, and foxes can infect humans with rabies.
  • It’s not uncommon to catch Salmonella from wild animals.

Don’t let your kids or pets interact with wild animals — dead or alive — or their droppings. And definitely don’t approach an animal in distress without talking to a professional first.

Squirrel

Squirrel | Suefeldberg/iStock/Getty Images

The CDC offers the following recommendations when interacting with wildlife outdoors:

  • Leave orphaned animals alone — it’s likely their parents will return for them.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water after being outside to avoid disease.
  • Usually, the safest option is to call your local wildlife rehabilitation or animal control center and ask if you can transport an animal to a safe location yourself.

According to the Pet Health Network, adult animals are dangerous, and you should never approach them or attempt to rescue them yourself.

If a rehabilitation or animal control official says it’s OK to move a baby animal in distress, wear gloves. Place the sick or injured animal in a box (with holes) and take it to your nearest rehab center. Do not feed or try to rehabilitate or “adopt” the animal yourself. It’s bad for both you and the animal.

If you’ve found an animal in need of help, the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association has a go-to resource for handling baby animals and birds.

Basically, if you only take away one thing from this article, let it be this: Do not treat wild animals like pets. They do not belong in your home. They also do not care about you once they no longer depend on you for survival. As soon as you’re done “raising” them, there’s a good chance they’ll turn on you. That is, if you don’t harm them in the process of trying to provide for their growing-wild-animal needs.

If you need a pet, get a cat. A dog. A fish. Anything but a raccoon, squirrel, fox, wild bunny, or anything you might find outside that’s supposed to stay outside. Do it for the sake of your own health — and the health of the animals in question. Don’t mess with nature. Didn’t Jurassic Park teach you anything?

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