If while hunting I come across a rabid animal and I kill it, both to end its suffering and to prevent it from spreading rabies, what should I do with the body?

I wouldn't want another animal to eat the carcass and get infected, and I don't want to put myself at risk either.


3 Answers 3


The California Department of Fish and Wildlife has a series of protocols in place for this subject.

Protocols for Safe Handling and Disposal of Carcasses:

  1. All dead animals should be handled only while wearing gloves; this includes carrying of dead animals, during necropsy procedures, and the dressing out of carcasses. There are several types of gloves to choose from, including leather, rubber, and latex gloves. Rubber or latex gloves are preferred due to their low cost, wide availability, and ease of disinfecting (latex gloves are disposable).

  2. The carcass should be placed in a plastic body bag and sealed as soon as possible. If a zoonotic disease is suspected (i.e., rabies, tularemia), it is recommended to double bag the carcass.

  3. Avoid direct contact with the dead animal's body fluids (i.e., blood, urine, feces). If contact does occur, wash the skin area contacted with soap and water as soon as possible.

  4. Avoid contact with the dead animal's external parasites (i.e., fleas and ticks). If possible, spray the carcass with a flea & tick spray prior to handling it. If pesticide poisoning is suspected as the cause of death and laboratory testing is to be performed on the animal's tissues, avoid spraying the carcass as it will interfere with laboratory results.

  5. Proper disposal of the carcass (incineration, burying, etc.) is critical to prevent exposure of other wildlife and humans to disease. Three common effective methods of carcass disposal are: incineration, burying, and rendering. Incineration is the preferred method to use when the carcass is diseased; however, it can also be the most expensive. An acceptable alternative is to bury the carcass. The carcass should be buried at least 4 feet deep and covered with lime to discourage scavengers from uncovering and consuming it.

  6. Persons who have direct contact with wildlife, especially carnivorous animals, on a regular basis are highly recommended to receive the rabies pre-exposure vaccination series. The pre-exposure series consists of a total of three vaccinations (refer to Appendix E - California Compendium of Rabies Control and Prevention, 2004) and is highly efficacious in preventing rabies. It is also recommended to have a rabies antibody titer tested every two years to determine the level of protection.

  7. Whenever there is an unusual mortality or die-off of wildlife the Wildlife Investigations Lab should be contacted to determine if a necropsy and disease investigation is recommended. The carcass(s) should be refrigerated as soon as possible until a decision is made as to its disposition.

Burial is the usually the preferred method of disposal.

When a site acceptable to the local environmental protection agency is available, burial is usually the preferred method of disposal. In selecting a burial site, it is necessary to consider the adequacy of soil depth and to avoid underground electrical cables, water pipes, gas pipes, septic tanks, and water wells. - Overview of Disposal of Carcasses and Disinfection of Premises.

As for burning a carcass:

Burning in an incinerator that is operated in compliance with local laws and ordinances is an excellent means to dispose of one or a few carcasses and is the preferred means for sheep with scrapie and cattle with BSE.

Burning carcasses in an open site should be done only when legally permitted. - Overview of Disposal of Carcasses and Disinfection of Premises.

Points to Consider

1. Burial

•Secure the landowner's permission

•Pick a location that will protect both surface water and ground water from contamination. The grave should be at least 200 feet away from any wells used to supply drinking water

•Ideally, the carcass should be covered with two feet of soil within a day of burial. (This can be extremely difficult during the winter, so you may need to switch to another method).

•If using a common grave, it should not be located within a 100-year floodplain zone or a wetland area.

2. Incineration

•The incinerator must have approval from both state and local authorities to burn pathological wastes.


Ken Graham has a great deal of useful information in his answer, which I will not repeat. But the OP has specifically asked how to deal with a rabid animal's carcass when he is out hunting. However, the OP has not specified how populated the area is, or whether the hunter is alone or with companions.

The most important instructions are do nots: do not touch the carcass and do not let your dog(s) get at it. The next most important: report it.

I am going to try to simplify and shorten my answer.

The bottom line is that you, yourself, may not be able to do anything with the corpse. You probably don't have the heavy plastic bags you need to double bag it and carry it out safely even a short distance, nor a shovel to bury it the recommended four feet deep, nor anything to safely manipulate it into a bag (e.g., a shovel). You may not even have heavy duty work gloves with you. As for burning it -- no. The policy quoted in Ken Graham's answer is overkill for a single carcass, but it should give you pause.

You help nobody by exposing yourself to rabies.

Your responsibility is to report it and, to the best of your ability, guard against others stumbling upon the carcass, for example domestic animals or children.

Thus, after making sure your dogs will not get at it, report it. Your first choice is Animal Control. Other possibilities are the local game warden, the owner of the land or the agency managing the land or the police.

I am now going to assume that you are not in the middle of nowhere, but in a rural area and not far from your car or from other people (e.g., a farmhouse). If you can get through to none of the responsible agencies, and if you have a companion, one of you walks out to report in person, and the other stays to make sure no one stumbles upon the carcass.

If you are alone, and have gotten only recorded messages telling you to leave a message, then, after waiting a reasonable time for a call-back, as a last resort call 911. (The recorded message might well happen with Animal Control, owners and wardens, but I'd be unhappy if it happened with the police.) It's better not to leave the carcass unattended if there is a significant chance that a domestic animal or a child will happen by.

If you are in the middle of nowhere, report the carcass when you get out. Whatever burying you can do is likely to be ineffective. If the vultures are gathering, let them have it. They can eat rabid carcasses with no ill effect.

It's tempting to think of hauling it out. Think. Can you securely double bag the carcass without touching it? Can you haul it out without touching it? If the answer is "maybe not", don't try. You also have to worry about fleas.

Footnote: In a carcass, the virus can persist for days. Science Direct. The isolated virus degrades more quickly.

These findings suggest the persistence of infectious rabies virus in carcasses left for 18 days at cold temperatures (4 °C) and up to 3 days in temperatures reaching 35 °C.

  • 3
    I don't think that this would qualify as enough of an emergency that it would warrant a 911 call. Jul 13, 2016 at 19:25
  • 1
    @ab2 Something to consider, would a non-emergency number or more specific (like the local game warden, or animal control) be better than 911? Jul 14, 2016 at 0:25
  • 1
    @Carey Gregory You have a point. I'll take out that phrase. However, it may be the only way to report the carcass quickly and to get advice quickly. I made a call to Animal Control about a dead raccoon in my backyard and did not receive a call back until the next day. We bagged it ourselves and took it to Animal Control ourselves.
    – ab2
    Jul 15, 2016 at 23:51
  • 1
    @Roflo Re squirrels: According to this: "Rodents (squirrels, chipmunks, rats, mice, hamsters, gerbils, and guinea pigs), rabbits, and hares rarely get rabies and have not been known to cause rabies among humans in the United States. Squirrels may suffer from the fatal roundworm brain parasite, which causes signs that look exactly like rabies" According to another source which I cannot now easily find, of rodents, groundhogs account for over 90% of rabies incidence.
    – ab2
    Jul 19, 2016 at 0:49
  • 1
    +1 for "as a last resort, call 911." It is not just for "Somebody is about to die!" emergencies. Sometimes it is hard to find numbers for other non-emergency agencies. One time, I even called 911 just to ask for a non-emergency police phone number because I could not find one, then later when I called the non-emergency phone number the response I got (when NOT calling 911) was still "911, what is your emergency?" Evidently they used the same dispatcher/phones.
    – Loduwijk
    Nov 30, 2017 at 18:18

We just had a rabid raccoon killed that was stumbling around in the day, by a Fish and Game warden yesterday. Importantly, he told us, remember that the animal's blood that spills on the ground also has rabies. We have been instructed to leave it open to sunlight for days before letting our dogs back into that area of the yard. Now reading the post above by @ab2, I will make sure we leave it longer as we have snow on the ground.

While there is not yet a necropsy on our raccoon, the warden said he knew it was rabid because it had a porcupine quill stuck in its mouth and they would only attach a porcupine when suffering from rabies. The poor thing also had an eye and mouth corner that were festering badly. It would be better to trust your gut to odd behavior and treat it as rabies for safety.

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