DHEC, SCDNR urge residents not to keep wild animals as pets

June 20, 2022

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR) urge South Carolinians not to keep wild animals as pets.

To protect people and wildlife, DHEC and SCDNR have teamed up to share information about the risks of keeping wild animals as pets. Wild animals live in nature and are not domesticated, meaning they’re not tame or kept as a pet or on a farm. Keeping wild animals as pets in some cases may be illegal, and puts the owner and others who encounter the animal at risk of injury or getting diseases such as rabies.

“Wild animals can be dangerous by nature, so they have the potential to seriously injure the owner, children, or guests without warning through bites or scratches,” said Terri McCollister, Rabies Program Team Leader. “This behavior can also be triggered when an otherwise peaceful animal is startled, injured, or sick. Bite wounds and scratches from animals can become infected which may lead to severe illness needing medical care.”

Rabies is a deadly disease for animals and people. If a person is exposed to the rabies virus, their healthcare provider can recommend a series of shots as a treatment that helps prevent the person from becoming sick with rabies. While this treatment can be life-saving, the cost for receiving these shots can be more than $10,000 per person. The best way to protect yourself is to do what you can to prevent possible rabies exposure. DHEC and SCDNR recommend that you protect yourself and others by:

  • Leaving wildlife alone and not keeping wild animals as “pets.”
  • Not approaching an animal in need. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator for the type of animal in need. Deer, fox, and coyote rehabilitators require a special permit issued by SCDNR. A registry of rehabilitators, maintained by SCDNR, is available here.
  • Contacting your local animal control for stray and feral cats and dogs, a wildlife control operator for nuisance wildlife, or a wildlife rehabilitator for sick and injured wildlife.
  • Never touching wild or stray animals with your bare hands.
  • Vaccinating pets and livestock against rabies. By law, all dogs, cats, and ferrets must be vaccinated. You can find low-cost rabies vaccination clinics here. It’s also recommended that livestock receive their rabies vaccinations as well.

In South Carolina, the most common animals to test positive for rabies are wild animals, such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises that a skunk, raccoon, fox, or bat that bites someone should be euthanized and tested for rabies as soon as possible. While cats and dogs may be able to undergo quarantined observation for a specific time period to determine whether they contracted rabies, holding wild animals for observation isn’t a safe option because it’s not known how long it takes for rabies symptoms to appear in different types of wild animals. And since there is no approved rabies vaccine for wild animals kept as pets, even vaccinated wild animals will be treated as unvaccinated.

DHEC is the agency responsible for enforcing the South Carolina Rabies Control Act. DHEC’s rabies prevention program investigates incidents involving people and animals, including pets and wildlife, to determine whether rabies is a factor.

The South Carolina Rabies Control Act, requires:

  • Pet owners to vaccinate their dogs, cats, and ferrets against rabies.
  • Pet owners or other people to notify DHEC if: 1) a pet or other animal is affected by or suspected of having rabies, or 2) a pet has been attacked or bitten by a domesticated or wild animal known or suspected of being affected by rabies.
  • Healthcare providers report animal incidents (i.e., a person has been bitten by an animal) to DHEC.

All animal bites, scratches, and exposures to potentially rabid animals must be reported to DHEC. To learn more about rabies, visit scdhec.gov/rabies.