The Raccoon -- Friend or
The raccoon (Procyon lotor) is an
important link in nature's food web. Raccoons are also beneficial to humans
because of their consumption of pesky insects and mice, their aesthetic
qualities, and their fur. They are an enjoyable and lovable animal; however,
they can cause damage and pose health problems to animals and humans. This
publication describes precautions that you can take to avoid potential raccoon
Habits and Habitats
Wherever both year-round food and den sites abound, raccoons can
be found. The range of the raccoon covers most of the U.S., except for desert
areas and some dense forests. Because of its adaptability, it is found in a
range of habitats from fields and farmlands to wetlands and suburban areas.
This nocturnal (active at night) mammal likes to feed on crayfish, frogs,
insects, clams, small mammals, birds and their eggs, turtle eggs, and a wide
range of fruits and nuts. This makes it an omnivore--a feeder of both plant and
animal matter. Garbage and pet food may comprise a significant portion of its
diet in urban and suburban areas. Hollow trees, rock crevices, and rock piles
provide good den sites for raccoons. They also use hollow logs or abandoned
animal burrows in the winter. Raccoons mate during the winter and have one
litter (of 2 to 5 young) per year with birth occurring in the spring.
|Raccoons can cause problems by:
- defacing property and contaminating areas
with their droppings (scat);
- Discourage raccoons from living in and
around your home and out-buildings. Seal off openings where they can enter, use
fencing around chicken coops, and cap or screen chimneys. Check periodically
for signs of raccoon presence. Seek professional advice before attempting to
clean out raccoon droppings from an area and wash your hands well after contact
with contaminated areas.
- posing a health hazard to humans and other animals (see table);
- Secure your garbage can lid to the can with a bungee
cord, or construct a shed large enough to fit the garbage can(s) inside and
attach a lock.
- raiding garbage cans and pet food;
- Do not leave pet food out.
- making a meal of corn crops and poultry; and
- Use electrified wire (electrified by a commercial
charger) to exclude raccoons from your garden or commercial crops.
- preying on the nests of ground and shrub-nesting birds
such as warblers, thrushes, and vireos.
- Do not adopt raccoons (or other wild animals) as
|What is it?
||Rabies is a deadly viral infection. All mammals including
humans can get rabies. Animals most often infected include raccoons, skunks,
foxes, bats, and woodchucks.
||Roundworm is a potentially dangerous parasite commonly
found in the small intestine of raccoons. The larvae invade tissues of humans
and other animals.
|How can I be infected?
||By: 1) an animal bite; or
2) saliva, brain, or spinal
cord tissue of a rabid animal entering a wound, eyes, nose, or mouth (you do
not have to be bitten to become infected).
|By accidentally ingesting roundworm eggs (shed in raccoon
droppings) from contaminated areas. Adult humans can probably ingest a few eggs
and suffer no symptoms. If, however, large numbers of eggs are ingested, severe
central nervous system damage, eye damage, or even death can result.
|How can I prevent infection?
||Do not touch or pick up live or dead wild animals. Ensure
that your pets and livestock are vaccinated against rabies. Do not allow pets
to roam freely, day or night. If your pet has been bitten or had contact with a
potentially rabid animal, wear gloves while handling your pet and contact your
veterinarian for further instructions. (In addition, use measures listed on
reverse side under "Control".)
||Small children are particularly vulnerable because they
will put almost anything into their mouths. Children should be taught to
recognize raccoon latrine areas and should not be allowed to play in or near
them. These areas typically occur at the base of trees, on fallen logs, large
rocks, and woodpiles, and in barns (especially haylofts) and other
outbuildings. By observing a few common sense rules, the chances of becoming
infected with the parasite can be effectively limited (follow suggestions
listed on reverse side under "Control")
|What should I do if exposed?
||DO NOT wait for symptoms to appear. Rabies is fatal when it
reaches that stage. Wash the exposed area with soap and water for at least 10
minutes. Call your doctor and local health department immediately. There is no
need to panic. Vaccinations for rabies (which are received in the arm) are
||Assess the risk of infection (ingestion of eggs). Seek
medical advice and let the practitioner know (especially for an eye or nervous
system problem) that infection by roundworm may be a possibility.
Abnormal behavior such as appearing sick or disoriented may be a
sign of rabies or distemper infection. However, a raccoon can appear to be
normal and still be a carrier of these or other diseases. Raccoons may carry
salmonella, ringworm (fungus), tularemia, and also serve as host to the deer
tick, which can carry lyme disease.
This publication describes some important aspects of
potential raccoon problems. Please refer to the contacts listed below and in
the above text for further information.
U.S. Dept. of Health and Human
Centers for Disease Control
Rabies: (404) 639-1050
Roundworm: (404) 639-3534
Purdue University (317) 494-7556
For references and sources of information,
contact: Toni McLellan at (603) 868-7690
Prepared by: Toni McLellan and Mary Torsello,
USDA Forest Service, State & Private Forestry, Northeastern Area, P.O. Box
640, Durham, NH 03824-0640