“Awww, how cute” is usually the first response when people see a raccoon, especially a baby. With their masked faces, ringed tails and the almost human-like agility of their front paws it is hard to beat the raccoons adorable factor. But while they may appear adorable, the reality is that raccoons can cause extensive destruction to buildings and be a dangerous health hazard to humans and pets.
By better understanding raccoons and their behaviors, you can minimize the destruction they may cause to your property and eliminate the health risks they pose.
Raccoons (Procyon lotor) can be found throughout all areas of North America. In the wild, they prefer to live in woodlands, marshes or prairies and commonly make their homes in the large holes of trees or in fallen logs. They are omnivorous, meaning they will eat a large variety of foods including meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, eggs, and plants. While mostly nocturnal, they will commonly venture out during daylight in search of food for their young.
While they may be wild animals, raccoons have proven to be highly adaptable at living around humans. They are commonly seen in all major urban areas where they have learned to live in homes and buildings and feed on human garbage. They will tend to shy away from human contact, but can become a major nuisance if they’re living in your home, eating plants from your garden, fishing in your pond or tearing up your lawn.
The best way to control raccoons around your property is to minimize their access to food, water and shelter. Access to food and water are the primary reasons raccoons will venture into an area. Be sure your garbage is tightly sealed in containers and do not leave pet food outside. If you have a garden, place a fence around it to hinder entry. If you are raising any kind of poultry or keep pet birds outside, be sure the cages are tightly secured as raccoons will readily kill them. Limit fresh water sources as much possible, especially by not leaving pet water bowls outside overnight.
Once they have found food and water sources around humans, raccoons will quickly locate places to live in human structures. Be sure your home has no holes in the attic or foundation areas. A raccoon only needs a 4 inch diameter hole to enter. Repair all holes that may provide access to the interior, cap all chimneys and cover all air vents with a strong mesh material.
The major reason for wanting to control raccoon activity around your property is that they carry a wide variety of diseases that can be harmful to both humans and pets. These include rabies, canine distemper, giardiasis, leptospirisis, salmonella, e. coli, fungus and parasites. Especially troublesome is a roundworm called baylisascaris that is a parasite of the intestines of raccoons and is shed in their feces. Human exposure (both through direct handling and breathing the air of feces) to this parasite can lead to severe central nervous system damage. For these reasons it is vital to never attempt direct contact with raccoons and immediately remove and safely dispose of any feces. When handling feces always wear protective gloves and a face mask.
Removal of problem raccoons, even babies, should only be attempted by trained professionals. Adult raccoons can be surprising vicious, strong for their size and extremely agile. They are highly intelligent and not easily contained by common traps. To safely catch them a specialized pole is required that minimizes risks from bites and the above mentioned diseases.