What is a raccoon dog? : NPR

A raccoon dog looks out of its cage at a Chinese live animal market in January 2004. Raccoon dogs may have been the initial host of the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

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Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

A raccoon dog looks out of its cage at a Chinese live animal market in January 2004. Raccoon dogs may have been the initial host of the virus that caused the Covid-19 pandemic.

Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

The World Health Organization has asked Chinese authorities to release data that could show a link between raccoon dogs and the coronavirus. This left many people wondering – what exactly is a raccoon dog anyway?

First, here’s why we’re talking about them. They were sold at a seafood and meat market in Wuhan, China, where researchers found evidence of the coronavirus in January 2020. Briefly published data, later removed, an international database appeared to show the genetic material of raccoon dogs. It showed up on the same swabs as the virus that causes Covid-19, indicating that animals may have been the initial host.

Well, what are they?

In simple terms, they are a wild dog with a face like a raccoon. On a slightly more scientific basis, Raccoon dogs belong to the canid family With fur markings and head patterns similar to raccoons.

The omnivore is native to East Asia, including parts of China, Korea, and Japan. Breeding from the fur farming industry introduced thousands throughout the former Soviet Union, and they are now a widespread invasive species throughout northern and western Europe.

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They prefer to live in forests and dense vegetation, as well as in water border areas.

They are more closely related to foxes than domesticated dogs. Raccoon dogs are a completely different breed CoonhoundsThey are a domesticated breed of senthound also known as coon dog.

Are they linked to other diseases?

Yes. Raccoon dogs and related mammals are sold for food at aa live animal markets in China In 2003 At that time it was found to carry a coronavirus similar to the virus found in humans during the SARS coronavirus outbreak. In 2004Chinese health authorities have ordered the sale of 10,000 animals, including raccoon dogs, at markets after one person tested positive for a new strain of the SARS virus, raising fears of another outbreak.

A 2022 study Samples were taken from around 2,000 animals of 18 different species from settings in China – including natural habitats, zoos and fur farms. Wild animals eaten by humans, including raccoon dogs, were found to carry 102 different viruses from 13 virus families.

Twenty-one of them pose a higher risk to humans, the researchers said, because they have infected people before or have a history of jumping easily between species.

Raccoon dogs specifically carried four canine coronaviruses that are genetically similar to those found in humans. They also carry enteric viruses or viruses that are spread when infected feces enter the mouth or nose.

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The evidence confirms the danger of live markets like the one in Wuhan, the researchers said.

“It’s hard to think of a more effective way to ignite and fan the flames of an epidemic,” said Edward Holmes, an evolutionary biologist and co-author of the study. told the press Science. “We’re allowing these things to flourish, and it’s only a matter of time before there’s another outbreak and another epidemic.”

And yet, they are so cute! Can I have one?


Raccoon dogs are wild animals, not domesticated pets. They live in large home ranges, which means they need a lot of space and are difficult to manage in enclosures or other small spaces. According to England’s Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

They have a strong scent because they use scent to communicate, which makes them a poor indoor host.

Also, if a raccoon dog escapes or is released into the wild, it can threaten native wildlife in areas of the world where it is not native.

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