Raccoons are curious and smart wild animals that are highly adaptable to living in developed areas near humans. They, like us, are in the pursuit of happiness – food and shelter. Their bandit mask and ringed tail distinguishes them from other common urban wild mammals like skunks and opossums. However, it is their peculiar food "washing" behaviour and their incredible dexterity in manipulating all that they touch, that is quite unique.
Often labeled as dumpster-divers, pond-raiders, and garden-destroyers, raccoons have a bad rap for making a mess in pursuit of the perfect meal. However, their role as scavengers in fact makes them valuable in nature by cleaning up the unwanted foods from other animals. Most active at night, raccoons also forage during the day when resources are available. As intelligent as dogs and cats, they have routines for gathering food and seeking shelter, such as remembering where the best grapes are grown and where the freshest cat food is left out in their neighbourhood. But an easy meal from garbage or pet food is not a healthy staple for their diet and decreases their fear of humans, which sadly will increase their chance of being injured or killed.
Just as they are opportunistic when it comes to food, raccoons are not picky about shelter either. In nature, raccoons will den in tree cavities, brush piles, old stump and abandoned burrows. But in developed areas, a chimney, attic, crawl space, shed, storm sewer, haystacks and barn lofts, make a comfortable resting area. Always prepared, raccoons will usually have more than one den site ready for use at one time in case they need to move out of an area quickly.
Was it a raccoon?
You can identify a raccoon with their distinct tracks – they have five toes on the front and hind feet and tracks are usually paired, with the left hind foot placed beside the right forefoot in stride.
Possible conflicts and solutions
A number of people think they are helping raccoons by feeding them, sustaining their bad behaviour and inevitably end up killing them with kindness. Others will even attempt to keep and raise baby raccoons. It is ILLEGAL to keep raccoons as pets in B.C. and by intentionally feeding them inside or outside the home, people are in fact harming the animals. Download our rack card "Don't feed the animals" to learn more or print off and drop in a neighbours mailbox if you suspect they are feeding raccoons.
If you believe that a baby raccoon has been orphaned (loud sounds coming from young, dead mom on road) contact a professional wildlife rehabilitator in your area.
Raccoons are not dangerous to people, but when they lose their fear of people, they may be aggressive towards food and injure our pets. If a raccoon approaches you: yell, stamp your feet, clap your hands and make noise to scare the raccoon away. Note that raccoons are NOT rabies carriers in B.C. However, they can carry a roundworm parasite that is very dangerous to humans and is passed through their feces. Wear a protective mask, gloves and clothing when cleaning areas inhabited by raccoons. Raccoon "latrines" are like community bathrooms – sites where multiple raccoons repeatedly deposit fresh feces on top of old feces in a particular area in their environment. It is important to recognize and clean them when they occur near your house, garden, or anywhere children may play.
Got raccoons? How to encourage them to move along
First, consider the time of year as babies may be in dens starting as early as March. The best time to address resident raccoon problems is before March or after August as the potential to separate a mother from its young is too high. Use mild harassment techniques that are not harmful to the raccoons or their babies. To start, ensure that all potential food sources are eliminated and determine where they may be residing on your property.
Do-it-yourself exclusion techniques are humane and inexpensive, but may take a little patience:
Place a flashlight or work light in the den site
Play a radio (with a talk radio station) near the den site
Place rags soaked with apple cider vinegar in a plastic container, tape-shut the lid and punch enough holes in the lid so the smell permeates. Place one or more containers in the den or at the entry points if inside is not accessible. Refill the apple cider vinegar as needed every couple days if effect is not working.
In most cases such techniques disturb the raccoons enough that they will want to move out and mothers will even take their babies, one-by-one, to a back-up den site. But you must give them sufficient time to move their young and double check the den before closing up the site.
To prevent raccoons from climbing fruit trees, wrap two-foot-wide sheet metal around the truck of trees at two feet above the ground and trim branches that are providing other access, such as from rooftops or fences.
Raccoons will frequently roll up new garden sod while looking for bugs. Use non-toxic natural Diatomaceous Earth on your lawn to ensure there are no bugs to be found. If a raccoon is raiding your pond, try placing PCV tubes at least 2 ft in length in your pond so the fish can hide inside. Ponds are free buffets for raccoons, herons and other wildlife and none of them know how much you spent on your exotic fish! Nets are dangerous and electrical fences can be harmful. Understand that the wildlife only see your fish as an easy meal so challenge yourself to outsmart them!
No luck on your own? Call the experts – contact a nuisance wildlife management company that uses only exclusion practices and does not trap!
Trapping is not the solution
Trapping is inhumane, ineffective and restricted by regional wildlife regulations. Even if you use a live trap, relocating a raccoon to another location is usually a death-sentence. The raccoon will be in danger because it is likely now in the territory of another raccoon as they are widely distributed. A large percentage of wildlife that is removed from the city generally does not survive and just moves the problem to someone else's backyard. Raccoons can be injured in traps and even if they were removed, it will only be a matter of time before another raccoon moves in to claim the existing food source and shelter. Poisoning is also inhumane and could also kill other wild animals or pets.
We want to achieve a raccoon population balance within the urban environment based on available natural food supply. In order to do this we need to keep the food supply restricted by cleaning up garbage, and preventing access to pet food. We can learn to live with raccoons by respecting that they are wild animals and treating them as such.
Prevention is the key to co-existing
• Never attempt to feed any wildlife as doing so causes them to they lose their fear of humans. This makes them more likely to being hit by cars or trapped and killed.
• Supervise all pets closely outdoors, keeping them indoors from dusk to dawn.
• The only way to guarantee your cat's safety is by making it an indoor pet. An outdoor-enclosed cat run is also an option.
• Maintain sheds, garages and access to crawl spaces and attics to prevent unwelcome tenants.
Don't feed the raccoons
Make sure you aren't unknowingly making your home an attractive place to stay for raccoons. Check that:
• Garbage bins and composts are secured
• Fruit fallen from trees is not left on the ground
• Bird feeders are not overflowing with seeds
• Pets are fed inside and no pet food is left outside