Are raccoons dangerous? While raccoons have adapted to live close to humans, the problems they bring with them can put your health at risk. They’re carriers of many diseases, including rabies, and they can be aggressive when cornered.
If a raccoon has made its way into your home, don’t hesitate to call pest control for help removing them.
Raccoons are heavily furred mammals with coats of different shades of grey. They also have a distinct black, bandit-like mask across their eyes and dark rings at the end of their tails. Raccoons have five fingers on both their front and rear paws, making them one of the more agile pests you may encounter. They have slightly rounded ears and they can grow up to three feet in length.
The Dangers of Dealing with Raccoons
There are reasons raccoons fall into the pest category rather than the pet category. Despite their cute appearance and entertaining antics, close contact with raccoons poses several risks to humans. Here’s why:
At first glance they seem harmless, but raccoons can carry and transmit many diseases. They can serve as hosts to harmful parasites, bacteria, and viruses.
Rabies. Raccoons, along with skunks, foxes, and bats, are considered a primary carrier of rabies. This viral disease infects the central nervous system and can cause disease in the brain and ultimately death if left untreated.
The rabies virus is transmitted through direct contact, usually a bite or scratch from an infected animal. It’s also possible to contract rabies through contact with the saliva of an infected animal if it gets into an open wound, though this kind of transmission is rare.
Initial symptoms of a rabies infection in humans include weakness or discomfort, headache, and fever. There may also be prickling or itching at the site of the bite progressing within a few days to cerebral dysfunction, anxiety, confusion and agitation. In later stages, symptoms progress to delirium, abnormal behavior, hallucinations, hydrophobia (fear of water), and insomnia. Unfortunately, once symptoms appear the disease is almost always fatal.
Signs of rabies in raccoons include lethargy, unusual movement as if it’s out of balance, aggressive behavior or lack of fear around humans, and foaming at the mouth. Raccoons are bold, but will typically avoid close contact with humans — if you see a raccoon acting oddly, don’t approach it. Call animal control and report a possible case of rabies.
Regardless of whether you suspect rabies, it’s better to avoid contact with raccoons altogether. If you’ve been bitten or scratched by a raccoon, wash the bite with warm water and a mild soap and then call your doctor and make an appointment. If rabies is present, you want to be treated as soon as possible.
Roundworm. Raccoons are carriers of a particularly nasty type of roundworm, Baylisascaris. These roundworms are found in raccoons and eggs are transmitted through their feces. Infection happens when people accidentally ingest them after coming into contact with feces.
Once the eggs are ingested, they hatch inside the intestines and then travel to other organs and can affect the brain and spinal cord, the eyes and other organs. Symptoms of infection include:
- Liver enlargement.
- Loss of coordination.
- Lack of attention to people and surroundings.
- Loss of muscle control.
Young children are more susceptible to roundworm infections because they’re more likely to accidentally ingest contaminated soil or feces. Frequent hand washing is the best defense against parasites. Early treatment may reduce serious damage, but no drug has been shown to be totally effective in treating infections. If you think you’ve been in contact with raccoon feces, call your doctor.
Other diseases. Apart from rabies and roundworms, raccoons carry bacteria that can also cause problems, including Salmonella, E. Coli, and Leptospira. The diseases these bacteria cause have a few common symptoms. These include nausea, fever, diarrhea, abdominal pain, and muscle aches, among others.
In severe cases, these infections can cause kidney failure and meningitis. Treatment includes a course of antibiotics when necessary. Washing your hands frequently can prevent transmission of many diseases, and if you think you may have been in contact with an infected animal, call your doctor.
Canine distemper. Raccoons are known carriers of canine distemper, which is highly contagious and often fatal to dogs, especially puppies. This disease affects the gastrointestinal tract as well as the respiratory and nervous systems of animals.
Symptoms in dogs include watery to pus-like discharge from their eyes, fever, nasal discharge, coughing, lethargy, reduced appetite, and vomiting. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, in later stages, dogs develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (“chewing gum fits”), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis. The virus may also cause the footpads to thicken and harden, leading to its nickname “hard pad disease.”
Canine distemper is airborne and spread through sneezing and coughing. It can also be transmitted through shared water bowls and equipment. Avoid close contact with wild animals and make sure your pets are up to date on vaccines.
Aggression Towards Humans
While raccoons are more likely to avoid you than attack you, under certain circumstances they can be dangerous. Raccoons are not aggressive in the sense that they don’t attack for no reason. However, if they’re cornered and feel like they’re in danger, they will defend themselves aggressively.
When you spot a raccoon, it’s best to avoid approaching it. Even if you mean them no harm, it’s possible that these animals won’t perceive it the same way. Close contact increases your risk for being attacked.
Aggression Towards Pets
Raccoons prefer to avoid most other animals as well, especially larger ones that they may perceive as predators. In confined spaces, raccoons may feel cornered and threatened, which can cause raccoons to act defensively and attack your pets.
If you keep small animals, like backyard chickens or pond koi, they may be vulnerable to raccoons. Raccoons are omnivores and will kill and eat fowl and fish if they can get to them. Small dogs and cats could also end up on the menu.
Take defensive measures to protect your animals from raccoons. Provide shelter for chickens, including a sturdy fence, bird netting, and a secure coop you can lock up at night. Use netting over your pond to keep raccoons from fishing. And bring small dogs and cats inside at night to keep them safe.
Knowing how raccoons behave in the wild and around people can help you prevent problems before they occur.
Raccoons are nocturnal, meaning they’re most active at night, when they come out to search for food, mate and do other raccoon things. But while raccoons prefer to move around at night, you might occasionally see one out during the day.
While it’s unusual, several factors might have forced a raccoon to move about before the sun goes down, such as a predator nearby. Being outside during the day can indicate abnormal behavior, and in combination with other irregularities, indicate a rabid animal. But on its own, daytime activity is no cause for alarm.
Regardless of the time of day, it’s best to leave raccoons be — unless they’re causing problems. If you have a raccoon problem, contact pest control or animal control.
Signs That You Have a Raccoon Problem
Sometimes, raccoons come too close and begin to cause damage. And while you may notice the damage, you may not notice the cause since raccoons are nocturnal. Here are a few signs to look out for:
Dens and latrines. Raccoons usually stay in dens to rest during the day. They don’t make physical ones with nesting materials like leaves and twigs or branches, instead, they’ll use existing burrows, hollows in trees, or take advantage of the unused areas under a deck or in a shed.
But you can tell whether a den is nearby if you spot latrines, communal areas used by raccoons for doing their business. Raccoons usually set up their latrines close to their dens, so they’re the primary indicators of where the nest is.
Scratch marks and scurrying noises at night. Raccoons have sharp claws that make sounds when they move about. They also leave scratch marks on places they’ve walked over. Spotting scratch marks on your attic floors, on your walls, and on your wooden floorboards are possible signs of an infestation.
Footprints. Raccoons leave very distinct tracks. Their front paws look similar to a human hand, only smaller, and their feet also resemble a human’s, only smaller and with longer toes. If you spot animal tracks that look like mini human hands or feet on the dirt in your lawn, it might mean a raccoon was in the area.
How to Get Rid of Raccoons
If you have a raccoon problem, you’re not helpless. Here are a few steps you can take to convince raccoons to move on:
Tidy up. Don’t leave pet food outside and remove or close off access to areas raccoons may find attractive for use as dens. Clean up piles of brush and close off access to the area beneath your deck. Keep lids on trash cans and secure them to an exterior wall to keep them from being toppled. You might also keep trash cans inside a garage or shed to keep raccoons out of them.
Use traps. You might also decide to use traps. Because of their size, medium to large traps are recommended. Follow all instructions included with the trap you choose, and use gloves during handling. Also make sure to check local laws pertaining to trapping animals — it may not be legal where you live to trap raccoons by yourself.
Call the pros. When it comes to large infestations or situations you can’t handle, contact a professional. They have the right tools, equipment and experience to handle an infestation.