Many of us are captivated by the sight of bandit-masked raccoons. Even though we’ve lived together in close quarters for a long time, the romance hasn’t quite fizzled out. These adaptable creatures have featured in literature (think Thornton Burgess’s Bobby Coon and Marvel Comics’ Rocket Raccoon), film (think Joey in Doctor Doolittle 2) and Native Indian mythology.
Ringed-tail raccoons will eat almost anything, so they are easy to lure into your porch. In fact, you may have thought of them as furry and adorable little backyard garbage cans one time or another. Perhaps it’s because they are so unafraid of human interaction, yet we hardly understand their mysterious habits, that raccoons are so fascinating to us.
What do raccoons eat?
According to National Geographic, garbage cans aren’t even the raccoons’ favorite food. In the wild, these creatures prefer to eat water creatures, like frogs and crayfish. They also love clams, snails and fish.
The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife notes that when water creatures are not available, raccoons eat slugs, insects, dead animals, birds and eggs, fruits, nuts, seeds and vegetables. When they are near humans, they are willing to eat pet food and garbage.
Clearly, the masked raccoons are opportunistic creatures when it comes to what they eat. Just like us humans, which is what makes them so well-suited to live in urban areas.
But experts also warn that raccoons are not very good hunters. If they are forced to hunt, they will just about manage to catch mice, squirrels, gophers and rats. If raccoons catch your mice for you, they are useful, of course, besides being cute and lovable.
But being poor hunters and being overly dependent on humans for food in urban areas can actually do harm to both the raccoons and to you and your family. The Peninsula Humane Society/SPCA warns that feeding wild animals on a regular basis is not humane, since it can turn them into beggars, nuisances and lead to damage and disease.
Where do raccoons live?
Whether you live in the prairies, marshes or forests of rural America or in urban areas, you’re bound to come across raccoons. They once lived in the tropics, but slowly moved north and even adapted to cold regions like Alaska. When they lived in the wild, raccoons would den in tree hollows, rock crevices and tree hollows.
The only places you won’t find raccoons in North America today are in the deserts and in some dense forests. They prefer living near water. They are small and just the right size to fit into your barn or in your city home. The raccoon’s small size is what makes it so comfortable in urban areas, as compared with foxes and coyotes that live just at the urban edges.
Raccoons can climb into your attic through the chimney space. They can crawl into your chicken coop through gaps in fences. These remarkable creatures have clever hands and are great at opening doors and generally solving problems they come across in cities. For that reason, they can also be a great nuisance.
What damage can a raccoon do?
You may enjoy having raccoons around your porch and may not mind them nesting in your attic in winter. But they tend to create a mess in the home, steal and contaminate pet food, and spill garbage. Spilled garbage carries its own health hazards for you and your family.
Raccoon droppings may also contain roundworms, which are parasites that can cause eye, brain damage and even death. Coming in contact with the saliva of a rabid raccoon or being bitten by one can give you rabies.
These are reasons to prevent raccoons from coming into your home, no matter how adorable they are. The Center for Disease Control stresses the importance of removing and destroying ‘raccoon latrines’ from your property if you find one. Raccoon latrines are simply communal toilets where the animals drop their feces.
How to avoid inhumane feeding of raccoons
It is highly recommended that you avoid feeding raccoons. If you do feed them, avoid feeding them by hand. The animal might mistake your finger for food and accidentally bite you. You would then have to be tested for rabies, along with the raccoon, which will be euthanized before it is tested for the disease.
Feeding raccoons from time to time a distance away from your porch and backyard is alright. It is unwise and unkind to lead raccoons on to expect food every night. If taught to expect daily food, they could even tear into your home looking for food when you’re on vacation.
Leave out several plates of food to avoid territorial fights. Also, make sure that your neighbor doesn’t have any problem with you feeding the neighborhood dumpster divers.
How to keep your home safe from raccoons
You can still enjoy the charm of these wonderful creatures without inviting them into your home. Remember that their name is adapted from a word for animal that scratches with its hands’ in native Powhatan. It’s best not to give them any reason to think there’s food and shelter around your home.
Don’t leave out free meals in the form of pet food, uncovered compost, garbage bags and fallen fruit that will encourage them. Also make sure to seal all the chimneys in your home with chimney caps. The last thing you want is to have a nesting mother create a nuisance, and the pest control having to drag away the tiny little babies and their often aggressive parents.
Keep your pet doors closed at night and regularly clean your barbecues. Seal any possible entries under your house or under the porch with metal flashing.
Is it possible to raise wild raccoons as pets?
It is certainly possible, but it isn’t easy. Nor is it recommended. While some people have managed to semi-tame these creatures into living with them, as you’ll find out in this YouTube video.
Note that the video is about rescued babies by an animal rehabilitation expert. You’ll also see that these raccoons are kept in the outdoors, in large caged facilities.
The video also describes what you should do if you rescue a raccoon from an attic or find an abandoned baby. Be careful of lurking mothers, who are likely to be aggressive and dangerous. If you feel like you must rehabilitate a kit or baby raccoon, it is best to visit your nearest rehabilitation center. Don’t forget that you must obtain a wildlife rehabilitation license to learn more about caring for the animal, before you can keep it!