Wildlife Safety Tips: Raccoons

Raccoon begging for food
Yana Bukharova/Moment/Getty Images

Raccoons are a common sight in many areas–urban, suburban, and rural, but this doesn't mean that they are safe or friendly to humans. In fact, raccoons can be quite dangerous if they get too close.

Following are some tips from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife on safety around raccoons:

Keeping Raccoons From Coming Too Close

  • If a raccoon approaches too closely, make yourself appear larger: stand up, shout, and wave your arms. If it continues to approach, throw or spray water, or even stones if needed.
  • A raccoon that is very aggressive–or too tame, or seems to be disoriented or staggers may be sick or injured. Do not approach the animal yourself, instead contact your local wildlife department or wildlife management professional.
  • In areas where raccoons are regularly seen, children should be warned against approaching them and told to yell a set phrase (such as "Go Away Raccoon!") if a raccoon approaches too close so that adults know they need assistance.
  • If a raccoon gets in your house, the Wildlife Department advises, "Stay calm, close surrounding interior doors, leave the room, and let the animal find its way back out through the open door, window, or pet door. If necessary, gently use a broom to corral the raccoon outside." However, you should never corner a raccoon, as that will force it to defend itself.

Preventing Conflicts Between People and Raccoons

  • Don’t feed raccoons. When people feed raccoons, the animals can lose their fear of people and approach them seeking food. If they are then not fed, they may become aggressive, even biting or scratching. Feeding the raccoons can also bring more into an area than would otherwise be there, causing a spread of parasites and disease.
  • Keep garbage out of reach of raccoons. Raccoons are very intelligent and will find ways to get to garbage for food even when you think you've secured the lid. If your garbage can does not have a locking/clamping lid, secure it with rope, chain, bungee cords, or weights. It is also advised to secure the can to prevent raccoons from tipping it over. This can be done by driving metal or wooden stakes through the garbage can handles and into the ground. Another option is to keep all garbage cans in the shed or garage–and keep the doors tightly closed! On trash pick-up day, wait until morning to put the can out, as raccoons are nocturnal, so are most active at night.
  • Do not leave pet food outdoors. It is best to feed dogs and cats indoors. If this is not possible, it is best to feed outdoor pets in the late morning/early afternoon, then always pick up food, water bowls, leftovers, and spilled food each day before dusk.
  • Keep pets indoors. Whenever possible, keep pets indoors at night. If this is not possible, ensure that they are in a secure area that raccoons cannot penetrate. Raccoons will attack dogs or cats if they feel threatened by them, and raccoon bites can cause disease or injury.
  • Keep pet doors secure from raccoons. To reduce the attraction of a pet door, never place the pet's food or water near the inside of the door. Pet doors should always be locked at night. If this is not possible, there are options for electronic doors that are activated by a corresponding pet collar.
  • Keep compost secure. If composting, do not food in the compost pile, rather, it should be put in a secure, raccoon-proof compost container or kept in a closed structure. This not only keeps the raccoons from feeding, but it also keeps the compost free of their droppings.
  • Bury scraps deep. If you bury food scraps, they should be covered with eight inches of soil, and no garbage should ever be left above ground. A wire mesh should also be placed over this below-ground compost and secured with a heavy object to help keep raccoons at bay.
  • Clean up after barbecues. Always clean barbecue grills, grease traps, and barbecue area immediately after cooking out, so that remaining food scraps do not attract raccoons.
  • Eliminate access to harborage. Raccoons will climb into chimneys and enter attics, crawlspaces, and areas beneath houses, porches, and sheds to harbor and nest or den. To close off possible entry areas, cover them with ¼-inch mesh hardware cloth, or with boards or metal flashing. Ensure that the entire area is covered with no gaps at the top, bottom or sides. This will not only keep out raccoons but also mice, rats, and other wildlife.
  • Keep raccoons out of the house. To keep raccoons (as well as many other insects, rodents, and wild animals like skunks) from getting onto your roof to enter your home, keep all tree branches and bushes trimmed away from your home. Raccoons can also climb decorative ivies, so these should be removed from the home exterior. It is also advised that you attach sheets of metal flashing around corners of buildings to keep animals from climbing them.
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  1. Baylisascaris. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

  2. Raccoons and Public Health. The Humane Society of the United States.