If your dog was recently scratched or bitten by a wild animal like a raccoon, you may be worried about the potential health risks, especially rabies. Even when your dog is up to date on its rabies vaccine, a raccoon encounter can still cause anxiety.

The good news is that since your dog has been properly vaccinated against rabies, its risk of contracting rabies from this incident is extremely low. However, it’s still smart to consult your veterinarian to determine if any additional treatment is needed for the injuries or potential secondary infections.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about what to do if your vaccinated dog is scratched by a raccoon. Key topics include:

Assessing Your Dog’s Injuries From The Raccoon

Checking for cuts, puncture wounds or other damage

After a raccoon encounter, you’ll want to thoroughly check your dog’s body for any signs of injury. Carefully look over and part their fur to expose the skin and check for cuts, scratches, bites or puncture wounds. Raccoons have very sharp teeth and claws that can cause deep punctures or slashes.

Look over the head, neck, legs, belly and tail closely. Small dogs or cats may have more extensive wounds than larger dogs due to their smaller size. Any broken skin should be gently cleaned with warm water or a saline solution to prevent infection.

Avoid using chemical disinfectants like alcohol or hydrogen peroxide which can damage healthy tissues.

Signs of infection: redness, swelling, discharge

Monitor any wounds closely over the next several days for signs of infection like redness, swelling, discharge or foul odor. Infection is a serious risk with raccoon bites since their saliva often contains bacteria like Pasturella multocida which can cause illness.

Look for red streaking away from the wound site or pus/discharge coming from the injury. Your dog may also act lethargic or have a fever if infection sets in. Contact your vet promptly if you notice these worrisome symptoms so they can prescribe antibiotics or recommend special wound care.

When to take your dog to the emergency vet

While most incidents result in minor wounds, immediate emergency vet care is needed if the raccoon encounter caused significant injury like large lacerations, multiple deep bites or puncture wounds. Extreme lethargy, difficulty breathing or extensive swelling/bruising after an attack also warrants urgent vet evaluation.

Getting prompt care helps prevent dangerous complications like sepsis or extensive tissue trauma. Let the vet examine your dog thoroughly to determine if stitches, drain placement or special bandaging is required for proper healing.

Extensive injuries may need sedation for treatment and pain management.

Even if wounds seem minor at first, it’s a good idea to follow up with your regular vet within a day or two. They can check for signs of infection and test for rabies if you are concerned about possible exposure.

Your vet may recommend starting antibiotics as a precaution as well as administering a rabies booster vaccine if your dog is not up-to-date. With prompt care and monitoring, most dogs recover fully after frightening raccoon encounters.

The Low Rabies Risk For Vaccinated Dogs

How rabies vaccines protect dogs

Rabies vaccines provide dogs with robust protection against the rabies virus. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), rabies vaccines are extremely effective at building immunity in dogs.

In fact, they estimate that a properly vaccinated dog has over 95% chance of being protected from rabies.

Rabies vaccines work by exposing dogs to an inactivated version of the rabies virus. This allows their immune system to build antibodies against the virus, without actually causing rabies. That way, if they ever encounter the real rabies virus, their body is primed and ready to mount an immune response.

It’s amazing how rabies vaccines enable the dog’s immune system to memorize the virus and defend against future infection. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), dogs that receive a rabies vaccine and maintain an up-to-date booster schedule are unlikely to become infected, even if they are exposed.

In most states, rabies vaccination is required by law for all dogs by 4 months of age, and boosters must be administered regularly – usually every 1-3 years. Responsible pet owners ensure their dogs receive their scheduled rabies shots.

This routine vaccination protocol ensures ongoing protection against the fatal rabies virus.

Why the rabies risk is still minimal

Even if a vaccinated dog is scratched or bitten by a rabid raccoon, their risk of developing rabies remains very low. Here’s why:

  • The rabies virus is spread through the saliva of infected animals. For transmission to occur, the saliva must enter a fresh wound or come into contact with a mucous membrane.
  • A minor scratch may not transfer enough virus-laden saliva into the dog’s body to cause infection.
  • The rabies antibodies created by the vaccine can rapidly neutralize small amounts of rabies virus at the wound site.

According to the AVMA, even after exposure, the risk of rabies infection in vaccinated dogs is less than 5%. So while not zero, the chances of a vaccinated dog developing rabies after a minor scratch are extremely slim.

That said, any potential rabies exposure should be taken seriously. Though rare, there have been cases of vaccinated dogs contracting rabies. Once clinical signs appear, rabies is virtually 100% fatal. For this reason,pet owners should contact their vet immediately if their vaccinated dog is exposed to confirm next steps. With timely medical care, even high risk exposures in vaccinated dogs generally have favorable outcomes.

The bottom line is rabies vaccines provide excellent protection for dogs. So even after potential exposure from wildlife, dogs who are current on their rabies shots have very little to fear from the rabies virus. Their vaccine-primed immune system is ready to kick into gear and neutralize the threat.

Cleaning And Treating Scratches At Home

Supplies needed to properly clean wounds

Having the right supplies on hand is crucial for properly cleaning any wounds your dog sustains from a raccoon scratch. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Cotton balls or gauze pads
  • Antimicrobial or antiseptic wash such as chlorhexidine
  • Buffered saline wound wash
  • Antibiotic ointment
  • Sterile bandages
  • Adhesive tape
  • Latex gloves

You may also want styptic powder or cornstarch to help stop bleeding if the scratches are actively bleeding. Having these basic first aid supplies for pets will allow you to effectively clean, disinfect, and bandage any wounds at home.

Disinfecting scratches with antimicrobial wash

Properly disinfecting any wound is extremely important to prevent infection. Here are the steps you should take:

  1. Put on latex gloves to protect yourself from potential infection.
  2. Gently clean away debris, dirt or discharge around the wound using cotton balls or gauze pads wet with buffered saline wash. Be very gentle.
  3. Apply an antimicrobial wash like chlorhexidine and let it sit on the scratches for 2-3 minutes. This will kill bacteria on the skin.
  4. Rinse the area thoroughly with cool water or more saline wash to remove residual antimicrobial wash.
  5. Pat dry gently with a clean towel or more gauze.

Repeating this cleaning routine 2-3 times a day will help prevent scratches from becoming infected. Seek prompt veterinary care if you notice increasing redness, swelling, discharge or your dog seems to be in pain.

Applying antibiotic ointment and bandages

Protecting wounds with antibiotic ointment and bandages can promote healing. Here’s how to bandage dog scratches:

  • Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment like polysporin to the wounds.
  • Cover with sterile gauze or a non-stick bandage pad.
  • Wrap the area with rolled bandages, leaving room for swelling.
  • Secure ends with adhesive tape but not too tightly.
  • Check bandages twice daily, change if wet or dirty.

Most veterinarians recommend leaving small wounds uncovered once cleaned initially. Bandages keep the wound moist which can increase infection risk. Only use bandages on large wounds, paw injuries, or areas your dog may lick excessively.

Be vigilant for signs of infection in raccoon scratches which require prompt veterinary care. This includes redness, swelling, discharge, fever, or lethargy. Monitoring cleaned scratches carefully at home allows early treatment if needed.

Protecting Against Other Potential Infections

Risks of bacterial infections like Pasteurella

Dogs that are scratched or bitten by wildlife like raccoons are at risk of developing secondary infections, especially from bacteria like Pasteurella which are commonly found in the mouths of these animals.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 50% of dog bite wounds become infected without proper care.[1]

While your dog may be currently up-to-date on its rabies vaccination, wounds inflicted by the scratches could allow bacteria on the raccoon’s claws to get under your dog’s skin and cause infections. These bacteria can then get into the bloodstream and lead to more serious issues if left untreated.

Getting prescription antibiotics from your vet

If your dog was recently scratched or bitten by a wild animal like a raccoon, it’s crucial to take them to the vet as soon as possible. Your vet will thoroughly clean and flush the wounds to help remove bacteria, debris, and dirt that could cause infection.

They may also prescribe a course of broad-spectrum antibiotics like Amoxicillin to help prevent bacterial infections from taking hold. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), antibiotics may be prescribed for up to 2 weeks following an animal bite to help stave off infection.[2]

  • Amoxicillin: treats skin wounds, urinary tract infections, and respiratory infections
  • Clavamox: effective against Pasteurella as well as skin, soft tissue, and bone infections
  • Cephalexin: fights Pasteurella and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus
  • Follow all antibiotic treatment instructions from your vet carefully. You’ll also need to restrict your dog’s activity while healing to prevent tearing stitches or slow wound closure.

    Monitoring your dog closely for signs of infection

    Even if your dog finishes a course of antibiotics, it’s crucial to monitor them closely in the days and weeks after the raccoon encounter for any signs of infection. According to the BluePearl Pet Hospital, some symptoms that may arise include:[3]

  • Swollen, painful areas around the bite/scratch wounds
  • Red skin, pus, or oozing around wounds
  • Loss of appetite or lethargy
  • Fever
  • Coughing or labored breathing if infection spreads to lungs
  • If you notice any of these warning signs, take your dog back to the vet right away for further treatment. They’ll likely need a change in antibiotics or antibiotic combination to tackle the infection. Immediate treatment is vital to stop bacteria from spreading deeper or to the bloodstream, where it can rapidly become life threatening.

    While raccoon scratches can certainly cause health worries, the good news is that around 75% of animal bite injuries heal without complications when proper medical care is quickly given. Stay vigilant, follow your vet’s advice, and get any developing symptoms checked out promptly to ensure your dog makes a full recovery.

    Reporting The Incident To Animal Control

    Importance of contacting animal control after incident

    If your dog was scratched or bitten by a raccoon, it is crucial to report the incident to animal control as soon as possible. Timely reporting allows animal control to try to locate the raccoon, test it for rabies if captured, and monitor for additional incidents.

    Rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, so quick action is essential.

    Animal control keeps records of wildlife incidents and can identify areas where problematic animals may be concentrated. This data allows them to warn the community about risks and target education and preventative measures.

    Reporting every incident, even if minor, helps them get an accurate picture of wildlife interactions and disease risks in your neighborhood.

    Providing details on location, time and description of raccoon

    When you contact animal control to report the incident, provide as many specifics as you can about when and where it occurred. Details like the exact address, time of day, and date are extremely helpful for tracking the raccoon.

    If it happened in your backyard, note landmarks like a woodpile, tree, or shed where you saw the raccoon. Also try to give a description of the raccoon – its size, any distinctive markings, and which direction it ran off.

    The more details you can provide, the better chance animal control has of identifying the specific animal to test it.

    How animal control tracks and monitors biting wildlife

    Animal control has methods of tracking and attempting to capture biting or scratching wildlife like raccoons. Traps are often set in areas where incidents occurred, baited with food the animals find irresistible.

    If the offending raccoon is captured, animal control takes it to test for rabies and other diseases.

    Tracking the animals allows for data collection about territories, feeding habits, and interactions with pets and humans. Animal control may then issue alerts about problematic wildlife in certain neighborhoods.

    They also provide educational resources on preventing contacts between wildlife and domestic animals.

    An important part of animal control’s monitoring process involves following up after incidents to ensure pets receive any necessary veterinary care like booster rabies shots. They typically require owners to provide documentation of medical treatment following wildlife encounters.


    While any encounter between your beloved dog and a possibly rabid wild animal is undoubtedly scary, you can rest assured knowing your pet’s rabies vaccine will provide robust protection against the rabies virus if exposed.

    Still, don’t hesitate to promptly consult your vet,clean and monitor any wounds, and contact animal control to both care for your dog’s injuries and help track the problematic wildlife. With proper care and caution, your furry companion can make a full recovery and avoid developing any serious illnesses due to the raccoon scratch.

    As the saying goes, ‘better safe than sorry’ – so follow these recommendations and your vaccinated pup will bouncing back to chasing squirrels in no time.