Raccoon Dogs: COVID-Origins Study Links Them To Wuhan Market

Raccoon dogs, also known as Nyctereutes procyonoides, are a species of small to medium-sized canids native to East Asia. Despite their name, raccoon dogs are not actually raccoons but rather belong to the canid family, which includes dogs, wolves, and foxes. They are the only currently existing or living species within the genus Nyctereutes. Raccoon dogs have a distinctive appearance that somewhat resembles both raccoons and dogs.

They have a stocky build, short legs, and a bushy tail. Their fur is thick, usually brown or tan in color, and they have a masked facial pattern similar to raccoons. Raccoon dogs are found primarily in forested areas, wetlands, and grasslands of East Asia.


Samples containing viral RNA[1], which had been collected at the Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, in Wuhan, China, in early 2020, also contained genetic material from raccoon dogs—a foxlike type of canid apparently sold at the market—as well as other animals. The genetic material came from the same areas of the market where SARS-CoV-2 was found, suggesting that the raccoon dogs may have been infected with the virus (possibly by other animals) and could have been the first to spread the virus to humans.

They inhabit regions such as China, Japan, Korea, and parts of Russia. They are primarily nocturnal and are known for their climbing and burrowing abilities. They are excellent swimmers as well.

They are omnivorous, feeding on a variety of food sources including small mammals, birds, insects, amphibians, fruits, and berries. Raccoon dogs are monogamous animals, with pair bonds that usually last for multiple breeding seasons.


According to the report, researchers at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention uploaded new data from swab samples collected in January 2020 at the market — including of the floors, walls, and cages containing animals — to the open global genome sequencing database GISAID[2]. The samples that came back positive for the virus also contained genetic material of several animals, particularly large amounts matching the common raccoon dog.

They typically breed in early spring, and after a gestation period of around 60 days, the female gives birth to a litter of 4-8 pups. They are considered an invasive species in some regions where they have been introduced, such as parts of Europe. They can have significant impacts on native wildlife, including preying on small mammals and birds and competing with other carnivores for resources.

The conservation status of raccoon dogs varies across their range. In some areas, they are considered a species of least concern, while in others, such as Japan, they are designated as a natural monument. Habitat loss and hunting for fur are among the main threats they face.


Raccoon dogs are known to harbor other viruses that jump from animals to humans. For example, an October 2003 report found a virus very similar to SARS-CoV-1, which is a cousin of the new coronavirus, in a raccoon dog, and among humans at a live animal market in Guangdong, China.

  1. Viral RNA refers to the genetic material of a virus, which is composed of ribonucleic acid (RNA). It serves as the blueprint for viral replication and protein synthesis within host cells. Viral RNA can exist in various forms, such as single-stranded RNA (ssRNA) or double-stranded RNA (dsRNA), depending on the specific virus. Upon infecting a host cell, the viral RNA is released and utilizes the host cellular machinery to produce viral proteins and replicate its genome. The study of viral RNA provides insights into viral genetics, evolution, and the mechanisms of viral replication and pathogenesis. Techniques like reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) are commonly employed to detect and analyze viral RNA. Understanding viral RNA is crucial for diagnosing viral infections and developing antiviral strategies. [Back]
  2. The Global Initiative on Sharing All Influenza Data (GISAID) is an open-access global database that serves as a platform for the sharing and analysis of genomic data of influenza viruses and other emerging pathogens. GISAID facilitates the rapid sharing of viral sequence data, including RNA sequences, to enhance global surveillance, research, and response efforts. It enables scientists and researchers worldwide to access and analyze genetic information, aiding in the monitoring of virus evolution, the identification of new variants, and the development of diagnostics, vaccines, and antiviral treatments. GISAID has played a crucial role in the global response to infectious diseases, including influenza, COVID-19, and other emerging viral threats, by promoting data sharing and collaboration among the scientific community. [Back]

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Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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