It’s not surprising that people would want to keep raccoons as pets. They’re extremely cute animals with adorable expressions whose antics are fun to watch. Raccoons are also about the same size as cats and dogs, two of the most popular household pets in the world. But we don’t keep them as pets. Why is that?
There have actually been many attempts to domesticate raccoons over the years — but they’re different from cats and dogs in that they cannot be domesticated. Raccoons don’t lose their natural instincts and can be aggressive and destructive in captivity. Pet raccoons are high-maintenance and can quickly become problematic.
Why Are they so Hard to Domesticate?
Historically, wild animals were domesticated because of the benefits they provided to humans. Dogs helped humans hunt, kept livestock safe from predators, and protected homes from potential threats. Cats protected food stores from pests in homes and on merchant ships. They also kept rodent populations, which spread disease, in check.
There have been many attempts to keep raccoons and other wild animals as companion animals over the years. However, domestication is a process that takes generations and isn’t always successful. In the case of raccoons, even animals bred in captivity over several generations continue to display instinctual behavior that makes them difficult to keep as pets.
Raccoons require things most people can’t provide for them and when they lack these things they become increasingly destructive and even aggressive. Keeping raccoons as pets can be dangerous to people and detrimental to the health of the animal, which is why keeping them as pets is illegal in many U.S. states. Even rehabilitating raccoon often requires a special permit and/or license.
Another reason why raccoons were never domesticated is that they are not social creatures. While dogs are pack animals and form close bonds with their human families, raccoons do not. And though there have been instances of raccoons forming temporary packs in dense populations, they are mostly independent and usually prefer to roam on their own.
Even in cases where raccoons were bred and raised in homes over several generations, they did not form the same emotional connection with their keepers that we would expect of other household animals. Raccoons are not like cats or dogs.
They can be Aggressive
Raccoons have instincts that prioritize self-preservation over their human’s need to cuddle them. They also have sharp teeth. They don’t hesitate to attack their human owner if they’re feeling stressed, upset, hormonal, or otherwise threatened.
Raccoons are foragers, so it’s natural for them to wander about and explore their surroundings in search of food. While they might remain in one place temporarily to mate, raise young or hibernate, they don’t consider a single place home.
Keeping raccoons indoors goes against their nature and while you might think they would appreciate the comforts of a warm home, they require freedom and can become aggressive when cooped up.
They Can’t be Easily Trained
While raccoons are intelligent and have fine motor skills thanks to their dexterous little paws, their instincts are focused on their own self-preservation, rather than the enrichment of the humans around them. This means that attempts to teach them tricks and behaviors contrary to their instincts are not likely to be successful.
What Problems are Associated with Captive Raccoons?
While it isn’t possible to domesticate raccoons there are still instances of people keeping tame raccoons. The difference between a domesticated animal and a tame animal is whether the animal is still considered wild.
A domesticated animal, like a dog or cat, is an animal that is far removed from their wild ancestors. Domesticated animals have been shaped over generations by their contact with humans, while a tame animal is a wild animal living successfully in captivity.
And while keeping a raccoon in captivity isn’t recommended, and can be illegal depending on where you live, it does happen under certain circumstances — like for rehabilitation. However, raccoons are high-maintenance in captivity and they require far more care and knowledge of the species than your typical household pet. If you’re not able to meet their needs, they can become problematic quickly.
Their Curiosity Becomes a Problem
Raccoons are curious and inquisitive. If left unsupervised, they can make messes, opening and emptying drawers, stealing food from your refrigerator, tearing up your couch, gnawing on your furniture, and so on.
House breaking a raccoon is also difficult. While convincing a cat to use a litter box is easy, raccoons are more likely to relieve themselves wherever they see fit.
You also cannot train raccoons to follow commands. While they have the capacity to learn their names and understand commands, raccoons are strong-willed and stubborn. Your pet raccoon may choose to ignore you if what you’re asking them to do doesn’t fit into their plans.
Raccoons are most active at night, and most humans are not. This can lead to a lot of sleepless nights for you while you adjust to their nighttime antics.
And unlike other animals, raccoons cannot be kept in a cage. They require their own space with a bed, climbing perches, and other things to keep them busy. If they feel trapped, they will become aggressive and more likely to bite you.
Can be Carriers of Disease
If you allow a raccoon to roam outdoors, you might be putting yourself, and the people around you, in danger. Raccoons can pick up a variety of diseases — including rabies — and transmit them to you if they bite.
To prevent disease, you’ll need work with a veterinarian with special knowledge and training. It’s important to choose a vet who knows how to handle these animals in case of emergencies. A qualified veterinarian will also be needed to provide your raccoon with vaccinations, address all medical issues, and possibly neuter or spay the animal.
Raccoons Need to Roam
While baby raccoons, or cubs, are mostly immobile, as they mature their instincts require them to roam in search of food and eventually to mate. They’re notorious escape artists and are unlikely to respect boundaries like a fenced yard, which makes keeping them, and their mischief, contained a challenge.
Their mischievous natures can lead to damage both inside and outside your home. And if they escape, a raccoon is not going to differentiate between your stuff and your neighbors’. And if they do escape, you may not get them back, leaving a raccoon who has little fear of people and little experience with other raccoons loose. This can create problems for the people the animal comes into contact with later and may eventually lead to the raccoon’s death.
Will Raccoons Ever be Domesticated?
Over the years, raccoons have slowly become urban-dwelling animals rather than just forest dwellers. They have adapted to human encroachment of their habitats in a way that hasn’t been seen in any other species. They have been very successful coexisting with people and have thrived in tandem with us.
You would think their adaptability would make them ideal for domestication. And by selective breeding, it may eventually be a possibility. However, so far domestication just hasn’t been successful.
But other than as companion animals, raccoons don’t really provide much of a benefit to people. While raccoons can be hunted and trapped for their fur with a license, they aren’t suitable as guardians animals and they don’t keep household pests at bay. They also don’t provide meat or other edible products. It needs to be considered whether the benefits of domesticating raccoons outweighs the challenges.
Not the Furry Pal you were Hoping for
While raccoons are adorable, rather than coveting these masked mammals as pets, like squirrels and other common neighborhood animals, you’re much better off admiring them from afar. Unlike cats, dogs, and other household pets, raccoons are not domesticated. And attempts at domestication repeatedly fail.
Raccoons are solitary creatures that have a tendency to become aggressive and destructive when mishandled. They don’t bond with people like dogs and cats do, and keeping them as a pet puts you at risk for bites and even serious diseases.
If you do happen across a raccoon in need of help, contact your local wildlife authority. They will be able to place the animal with a licensed rehabilitation center and increase the chances of the animal returning to the wild. If you find yourself needing help with pesky raccoons in your neighborhood, contact pest control — they can help you keep raccoons out of your house.