Raccoons can be nuisances in homes, outbuildings, and gardens. These omnivores eat fruit, crayfish, insects, frogs, bird eggs, grains, berries, nuts, and other plants and animals. They become a problem when they destroy sheetrock and electrical wiring, tear out shingles and insulation, loosen boards, dig in lawns and ornamental gardens, devour crops, or cause other damage while foraging for food and making dens.
These primarily nocturnal animals range from two to three feet long and grow to ten to thirty pounds in weight. They’re easily recognized by the black “masks” on their faces, ringed tails, small, rounded ears, and grizzled coats of gray to black or brown fur. They like to wash their food with their front paws, which look like tiny human hands. Signs of raccoons include tracks in the soil, piles of nesting materials, scat (droppings), claw marks on porches, trees, and woodpiles, and unusual noises like snarls, high-pitched sounds, hisses, or chattering. You may hear them in your attic, crawl space or other area. When they prowl through garbage containers, they often leave trash scattered around.
Three Ways to Get Rid of Raccoons
Because they are fur-bearing animals, raccoons are protected in many states and you must have a license to trap or hunt them. Contact your state’s Department of Natural Resources and check your local regulations for more information. However, trapping and hunting is not recommended because raccoons can transmit rabies. (Not all raccoons carry rabies, but they are wild animals that also transmit other diseases, as well as viruses, bacterial infections, and parasites like roundworms and fleas.)
Though other pesky pests can be trapped and released elsewhere, raccoons shouldn’t be. In some states, you must have a license to trap them, and in most states, it’s actually illegal to relocate raccoons beyond your property. It would probably be an ineffective method of removal, anyway, as adult male raccoons can establish a territory up to twenty square miles, and even if you took them 10 miles away, they’d probably find their way back. Also, relocated raccoons often perish outside their home range from starvation, predation, and other factors. If a raccoon is making unusual sounds or seems aggressive or lethargic, leave it alone and call a wildlife removal service. It could have rabies.
If you do use a trap, use only a humane trap designed for live animals and check on the raccoon often. Trapped animals become stressed and may hurt themselves or die while trying to get out.
There are other effective ways to control raccoons, such as these.
Exclusion is the considered the best way to get rid of raccoons. This means keeping them out of places you don’t want them to be.
In homes, sheds, and other outbuildings, seal up holes, screens, windows, or other entrances they might use. Secure loose boards, siding, shingles, and vents. Repair cracks in your foundation or openings in your eaves. Install a sheet metal chimney cap with wire mesh. Raccoons often enter chimneys to have their babies. Limit access to your roof, where raccoons may enter, by pruning tree branches to at least three feet away.
Fence open spaces underneath porches and decks so raccoons can’t hide or nest there.
Be sure there are no raccoons present before you seal any openings. You don’t want to trap a raccoon inside!
Fence your garden or individual plants you want to protect with a mesh screen. Put the fencing deep enough in the ground that these furry bandits can’t dig it up. Raccoons will dig or pull up edible and ornamental plants to find fruits, vegetables, seeds, grubs, insects, or underground crops like carrots. They’re good climbers, so for best results, hot-wire a single strand of wire at the top and bottom of the fence. The voltage should only be high enough to deter them, not high enough to injure or kill.
If you have a small fish pond, use a preventative barrier like a fence. Consider securing a mesh screen over the water at night. Raccoons will eat your fish and pond plants.
Rake up fallen fruits or vegetables and dispose of them.
Scare Them Away
Although raccoons adapt quickly and easily to new experiences and settings, some mechanical methods may keep them out of your home and garden, at least temporarily. Consider motion-activated sensors that flash lights, make noise, or spray water. Scarecrows, windmills, and aluminum pie pans tied to fishing lines may frighten them away for a while, but raccoons will usually figure out how to get around scary deterrents.
Deter Raccoons Naturally
Some people say homemade remedies using natural or organic ingredients will prevent raccoons or drive them away. You may want to try these, although some are folklore methods and success isn’t guaranteed.
Scatter dog or cat fur or human hair round your garden. The smell is said to ward off raccoons. Raccoons may also be deterred by dog and cat urine. To ward them off with sound, play heavy metal music or an all-talk radio channel.
Mix ground garlic cloves with chili powder and sprinkle it around your yard or garden. Scattered blood meal or wood ashes are also said to work. You can also soak hot peppers in water or mix a bottle of hot sauce with water and spray the mixture onto areas you want to protect.
Soak cotton balls or rags in ammonia and place them around your attic or crawl space. Be sure humans and animals won’t be able to reach them or smell the dangerous ammonia fumes.
Contact a licensed pest or wildlife control professional for more help.
What Attracts Raccoons to Homes and Gardens?
Raccoons are clever, inquisitive animals that look for convenient sources of food, water, and shelter. They will make nests in barns or abandoned out buildings, or in dry, warm attics and crawl spaces and feast on easy-to-reach fruits and vegetables.
Pet food that is left outdoors often attracts them, too, so put food bowls away after your pets eat or feed them indoors instead.
How to Prevent Raccoons
You can buy animal repellents with strong odors that raccoons dislike, but they usually have to be reapplied after it rains and they wear off quickly. At present, no chemical products are registered to control raccoons. Toxic baits are not recommended because of the danger to humans and animals.
Instead, use tightly-fitting lids on trash cans; strap lids down with bungee cords; or weigh them down with heavy objects. You can also keep the cans in a locked shed or other outbuilding until you can dispose of the trash. Also, secure compost bins.
Remove water fountains so raccoons won’t visit them to drink and wash their food. Block access to small fish ponds. Remove or lock bird feeders and birdseed containers. If you use them a feeder, keep the ground underneath free of spilled seeds.
Remove piles of sticks, leaves and other debris that raccoons might use for a den.
Where Do Raccoons Come From?
Raccoons can adapt to live almost anywhere. They like being near water and hardwood trees, so they often inhabit areas around rivers, lakes, and marshes. When it’s time to bear their young, or take shelter during cold weather, they nest in piles of brush, hollow trees, barns, crawl spaces, attics, or burrows in the ground. Most often active at night, they will come out during the day to find food.
Do Raccoons Bite?
Yes, raccoons do bite. Raccoons are aggressive, though a normal, healthy raccoon (one that does not have rabies, for example) may first grunt or puff out its fur to try to scare away a person or another animal. A raccoon that feels threatened or unable to escape may bite or scratch.
Do Raccoons Carry Diseases?
Yes. Raccoons can carry such viruses as rabies or distemper, as well as bacterial infections like E. Coli, Salmonella, and parasites. Any human or animal bitten or scratched by a raccoon should get immediate professional medical care. Rabies, for example, can be transmitted by the saliva in a raccoon’s mouth or on its claws. Raccoons can also carry fleas, lice, and ticks that can transmit serious diseases. People and animals can become sick by handling or feeding raccoons or even cleaning up their waste. Always wear gloves when handling raccoon droppings and discard them in a doggie bag, as you would for a dog. Thoroughly wash your hands afterwards, to be on the safe side.
How Long do Raccoons Live?
Raccoons generally live from five to twenty years in the wild. Females may have one litter, with one to seven babies, called kits, in April or May. Racoons look for warm, safe places to bear their young, which makes homes and outbuildings attractive.
Will Raccoons Go Away on Their Own?
Raccoons that find their way to your yard or garden will likely stay around, unless they die or find another easily accessible food source. The best way to get rid of these opportunistic animals is by removing that food source or making it inaccessible through one or more of the methods of determent.
Also, don’t hesitate to call a professional wildlife removal service. They can work with you to remove the troublemaker and help you prevent its return.