Crews from Ontario's ministry of natural resources will drop rabies vaccine baits by hand in the western half of Toronto this summer to prevent the spread of the disease among wild animals.

The baiting is part of a larger $4 million provincial program designed to curb the spread of rabies in such animals as raccoons, skunks, foxes and bats.

Maimoona Dinani, a communications officer with the ministry, said there have been no confirmed cases of what is known as fox strain or raccoon strain rabies in Toronto wildlife since December 2015, but baiting in areas west of Yonge Street will begin in mid-July and continue until the fall as a preventative measure.

Baits will be dropped by helicopter in small areas in the city on the west side that are mostly green spaces and inaccessible on foot. Crews will also drop baits by hand in Mississauga and Brampton.

"Our government is committed to protecting the public, their pets and livestock from rabies and Ontario is recognized as a leader in rabies control," Dinani said in an email this week. 

Raccoon Dog Fight Rabies 20160107

The rabies vaccine baits are army green in colour. Made of a vegetable fat and wax compound, the baits have a sweet smell from the vanilla and sugar in the bait. They are labelled "Do Not Eat," are about the size of a small jam package. A toll free number is listed on the package. (Hannah Yoon/The Canadian Press)

In addition to Toronto, ground crews will drop baits by hand in such urban areas as Hamilton, Burlington, Brantford, Kitchener and Niagara Falls.

And as part of the program, aircraft will drop rabies baits across eastern and southern Ontario, including the Stratford, Hamilton and Niagara Peninsula areas. 

Dinani declined to say how many baits will be dropped in Toronto, but she said the western half of Toronto will be baited, as opposed to the eastern half, because the ministry distributes baits within 50 kilometres of confirmed positive cases.

About 250 animals have tested positive for raccoon strain rabies in Hamilton since December 2015. 

There have been 331 cases of raccoon strain and nine cases of fox strain rabies in Ontario since that time. The species that have had confirmed cases of either strain of rabies have included raccoons, skunks, foxes, cats, llamas, and cows. 

Red Fox

One rabid fox was confirmed in southwestern Ontario last year. ( Jim Cumming/Shutterstock)

A total of 171 rabid raccoons, one rabid fox and 84 rabid skunks were confirmed in southwestern Ontario last year. A total of 29 rabid bats were reported in Ontario in 2016. 

Dinani said the packages containing the bait are army green in colour and bait itself is made of a compound of vegetable fat and wax. The baits have a sweet smell from hints of vanilla and suger. 

The baits, labelled "Do Not Eat," are about the size of a small jam package. A toll free number is listed on the package.

"The ministry's rabies vaccine baiting program is an effective, cost-efficient method of vaccinating wildlife over large areas to help control the spread of rabies," she said. 

The ministry recommends that people do not touch the baits and leave them where they are found.

If the baits are in an area considered unsuitable, it recommends that people cover their hands with a bag before picking one up, to maintain the scent of the bait, and move it to a more discreet area where wildlife can find it. 

Rabies bait map

This map shows the areas in Ontario where the province is planning to drop rabies vaccines this year. The yellow areas indicate urban hand-baiting areas. (Province of Ontario)

"While the rabies vaccine and bait ingredients are not harmful to pets, we recommend that you do not encourage pets to eat the baits. Eating a bait does not replace the regular rabies vaccination by a veterinarian for your pet," Dinani said. 

A dog could experience some stomach upset due to the vegetable fat and wax compound surrounding the plastic vaccine pack. 

If people or dogs come in contact with the rabies liquid vaccine, call the number on the bait (1-888-574-6656).

If a pet eats more than one bait, it recommends calling a vet as a precaution. 

Rabies vaccine baits

The ministry says a pet eats one bait packet, it may get an upset stomach but there’s no need to worry. If it eats more than one, call a vet. (Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry)