Are raccoons on your property impressing you in ways you wish they weren’t? Do they scale your chimney inside and out, for example, or harvest veggies from your garden before you can enjoy them? If so, it’s time to learn more about these resourceful animals, so you can solve and prevent the conflicts they can sometimes cause. We’ve got the raccoon facts.
Raccoons are often blamed for things other animals do—one more reason it’s worth taking time to make sure what animal(s) you need to foil. If you haven’t yet actually seen a raccoon around, but have suspicions, here are some raccoon signs to look for:
Raccoons are greatly aided by their almost hand-like paws, which enable them to sense their way in the dark, climb with ease, and deftly handle food items. As it turns out, tracks from those hand-like paws also greatly aid in identifying their presence, so look for them around the places you think raccoon activity may be occurring. Tracks will appear in pairs of one front and one hind paw, often showing up best on light surfaces or in soft soil.
Sounds in your attic…
Raccoons are mostly solitary animals, except when raising their young, or when denning during cold winter weather. Raccoon moms and kits exchange at least seven distinct vocalizations, so if you’ve got a mom raising young in your chimney, you’re bound to hear some of those sounds, especially around dusk and dawn, before and after her nightly forays, when she is likely to be nursing. In winter, if you hear something moving about in your attic, you may have one or more adult raccoon. Although raccoons don’t hibernate, they do seek a cozy place to sleep through particularly cold or snowy spells. For tips on how to handle either situation, see Raccoon Removal.
Signs of their comings and goings…
Raccoons entering or exiting an attic are likely leaving telltale signs of their passage on surfaces, as do several other animals. If you are uncertain which animals are visiting, look for rub marks or stains that occur when they try to squeeze into these unintended access points, and pair that evidence with nearby paw prints.
Evidence of elimination…
Raccoons tend to eliminate in the same place repeatedly, forming latrines that are quite noticeable. Their scat varies in appearance, due to the diversity of their diet, but a raccoon latrine, or scat station, is a large gathering of scat where multiple raccoons have eliminated. These may occur on roofs or in attics and must be cleaned up carefully for health reasons (see instructions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at the end of this article).
Raccoons night and day…
Raccoons tend to be active from sunset to sunrise, with a peak in their activities around midnight. But raccoons may be out at any time of day, especially when moms have young to feed. Thus, seeing a raccoon out in the day does not mean that the animal has rabies. The vast majority of raccoons are not rabid, and a rabid raccoon usually dies within 1-3 days of becoming infectious, significantly limiting the opportunity for encounters. If you are ever bitten by a rabid raccoon, get prompt medical attention. Post-exposure treatment is highly effective.
Here are the signs to look for when assessing for whether an animal is rabid:
- unaware of nearby noise or movement
- wandering erratically
- discharge from eyes or mouth
- wet and matted facial fur
- high-pitched vocalizations
- self-mutilation (biting or chewing on themselves)
If you see an animal exhibiting these signs, call your local animal control or police.
Raccoons and pets…
Raccoons are not normally aggressive toward people, but pet encounters can occur when dogs chase raccoons or when cats get into scraps with them, and raccoons may prey on chickens or rabbits in poorly designed outdoor housing. Given the possibility for disease transferral—such as rabies, canine distemper or feline parvovirus—you want to pre-empt encounters by taking several basic precautions:
- Keep pets on leash or accompany them when they are in the yard.
- Keep pets out of crawl spaces that may harbor a raccoon latrine.
- Feed pets inside. If you opt to feed outside, only do so when you are present to monitor them.
- Keep small caged pets indoors or in heavily constructed shelters that cannot be compromised by a hungry raccoon or other predator.
- Latch pet doors at night, or outfit them with radio-sensors that only admit your pet, wearing a signal-emitting collar.
Clean-up of raccoon latrines…
Diseases—including roundworm and Leptospirosis—can be spread from exposure to accumulated raccoon feces. Hiring a professional to clean up raccoon latrines is often the smartest decision. If doing the task yourself, though, follow CDC guidelines:
- Protect your hands and feet with disposable rubber gloves and booties (or rubber boots that can be scrubbed).
- Protect your lungs by wearing an N95-rated respirator (available at your hardware store).
- Minimize the potential for dust to be stirred up during cleanup of a raccoon latrine by first misting the area with water using a spray bottle.
- Use a shovel or an inverted plastic bag to remove feces and any material that it has touched.
- Burn or bury the feces and contaminated material, or bag it and send it to a landfill.
- Treat outside feces-soiled surfaces with boiling water. Wipe inside feces-contaminated areas repeatedly with a damp sponge, rinsing frequently in a bucket of hot, soapy water. When done, flush the water.
- Next, use boiling water to disinfect the shovel and bucket, and dispose of the contaminated sponge in a plastic bag.
- If you used rubber boots, scrub them with hot soapy water. Disposable booties and gloves should be thrown away in a plastic bag.
- Wash hands thoroughly with soap and warm running water.
- Wash clothing with hot water and detergent.
- Wash hands again after putting clothing into the washer.
Note: If raccoon feces have been found on your woodpile, do not bring any potentially affected logs into the house—burn them outside.