How to Get Rid of Raccoons
17–19 minutes to read | Updated for 2018
The rustling sounds you hear near your garbage cans at night may not be wind gusts or a top-heavy container falling over.
Your yard may have become the favored feeding spot of a furry visitor. While raccoons may seem cute, they can be a pest to homeowners and farmers – and even a carrier of disease. That’s why it’s important to understand raccoons and their behavior should you spot one near your home.
Researchers believe that over 10,000 different species of ants exist, but only a handful of breeds regularly venture indoors. Here’s a guide to the most common household invaders and the risks they carry:
- Adults may weigh from 10-30 pounds and measure two to three feet long (tail included)
- Distinctive blackened areas around the eyes
- Grizzled-gray fur with a bushy tail that features dark rings
- Eats both plants and animals
- May run up to 15 miles per hour and also swims
- Found throughout most of the U.S.
- Less active in winter, but do not hibernate
- More active at nighttime as they seek out sources of food
While their activities are defined by the seasons, raccoons only live three to five years in most cases. Roughly 50-70% of their populations consist of animals under a year old. Their role within the food chain helps to prevent overpopulation.
A Raccoon’s Life Cycle Moves as Follows:
- The spring months see the birth of a new generation of raccoons after a gestation period of about 63 days. Most new groups consist of one to four babies, called kits. The young stay with the mother for six to ten months.
- The youngest raccoons are weaned during late summer and fall, at which point many will leave home to build their own dens.
- As they reach adulthood, raccoons will roam about during winter and early spring in search of mates. Males (called boars) are known to travel greater distances than females (called sows) during breeding season as mating occurs only once per year.
- Raccoon tracks may be confused with opossum tracks.
- They walk flat-footed (like humans) and have claws on all toes.
- The name “raccoon” is inspired by the Algonquin Native American term for “one who scratches with his hands.”
Can Raccoons Transmit Disease?
A small number of serious illnesses can be transmitted to humans by raccoons, the most common being a virulent strain of rabies that can spread quickly. Their bodies can also act as carriers for infected fleas, ticks, and lice.
While rare, raccoon droppings may contain a roundword egg called Baylisacaris procyonis that can transfer a dangerous illness to human children. If a child makes contact with raccoon feces that carry the egg, the roundword’s larvae may reach the child’s eyes or brain and result in blindness or even death.
Why Is a Raccoon on My Property?
Raccoons are not picky about their diets, habitats, or the presence of humans. These animals are opportunistic by nature and are content to forage and live in any location that meets their needs. discuss why this might be the case with your home.
- Location: Raccoons have adapted to humans in cities and suburbs by using residences and buildings as spaces for living and feeding. They’re found living inside chimneys and rake through siding and shingles to enter houses and set up a den in attics. Tree branches that reach close to your roof may even serve as easy access for the spaces above your ceiling. In rural areas, raccoons tend toward natural shelters like hollow trees, rock crevices, brushy areas, or abandoned animal burrows. They’re also likely to establish a home near a source of water.
- Food: Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals in developed areas and agricultural settings. Whether in an urban or suburban lot, trash cans are inviting targets for raccoons because of discarded food and the scent wafting from the garbage. Pet food left in dishes outside is also a tempting snack. Away from urban areas, the diet becomes more natural. A raccoon will take its plant meals from acorns, grains, wild berries, and fruits. To satisfy its animal hunger, the raccoon eats frogs, squirrels, mice, beetles, crawfish, and poultry eggs.
- Shelter: Home is everywhere for raccoons. They are a common sight near farms and woodlands because of abundant trees. In the big picture, though, raccoons are native to nearly every part of the United States. Only in very high elevations and in desert regions are these creatures absent from the terrain.
Signs of Damage
Here some things that will clue you to the activity of a raccoon nearby:
- If your trash bags have been repeatedly knocked over and ransacked, odds are high that a raccoon is the culprit. Their front paws are nearly as agile as human hands, making them quite skilled at opening various objects. Because leftover food and debris are a strong enticement, it’s important to secure the lids on your trash cans. This may even require bungee cords or pest-proof lids to discourage your nighttime visitors.
- For homeowners with swimming pools, raccoons may be an unexpected problem as they leave their droppings in the water on the top steps in the shallow end. This is an animal’s way of concealing its odor from predators in the area. Covering the top steps with plastic may be an easy way to force a raccoon elsewhere.
- Pet owners and bird watchers should keep an eye on outdoor food dishes and bird feeders. A raccoon will raid any spot that appears to be a food source – especially when the source is regularly restocked. Feed your pet during daylight hours and emptying the dish before nightfall.
- A determined raccoon may claw through shingles or fascia boards to make a home in your attic. This means that those areas may show claw marks and even a hole large enough for a small animal’s entry. Once inside, a raccoon may rip apart insulation and damage ductwork. To test whether your home has been breached, stuff newspaper into the entry hole you’ve located. If the newspaper has been torn out within a couple of days, a raccoon or other small animal is probably responsible.
- Certain crops are susceptible to raccoons. Damaged and gnawed ears of corn and partially-eaten melons are signs of a raccoon’s appetite. Poultry farmers should keep a watchful eye as well since raccoons will try to enter chicken coops.
What Are The Sounds and Signs Of Raccoons?
To determine whether a raccoon is visiting your home, check for tracks. Their distinctive paw prints carry a distinctive shape that sets them apart from other small mammals.
The hind print usually measures 3 ¼” – 4 ½” long, making it much longer than wide. The fore print is only about 3” long, with a similar width. You’ll notice a distance in the space between the fore and hind prints of roughly a foot to indicate the walking movement. These tracks are twice the size of skunk tracks.
Homeowners are unlikely to hear many sounds from a raccoon other than the rustling produced by their activity. One exception is when one raccoon calls out to another—a noise like the whistle of an owl.
Where to Find Them
The answer depends on where you live. In an urban or suburban setting, a raccoon will be accustomed to people and will probably try to create a den inside a home or building. As mentioned before, dens may be located in attics, chimneys, under decks, or other spaces within or under a house. In fact, a raccoon’s home range may include multiple dens.
If you live in a more rural or sparsely populated area, know that a raccoon will make its den in natural shelters such as hollow trees, alleys between large rocks, and stands of overgrown brush. As nocturnal animals, raccoons will rarely be seen during daytime hours.
While raccoons do not hibernate and are solitary by nature, their level of activity does ebb and flow with the seasons. What does this mean for homeowners?
- During the coldest days of winter, raccoons will rarely venture out of their dens as they try to sleep through the chill. Breeding season occurs during this same time, so boars will use much of their energy seeking out sows. If you live in a northern state, raccoon activity may not even be noticeable due to low temperatures. In southern states with mild winters, the day-to-day life of a raccoon may be largely unaffected.
- Spring sees new populations of raccoons as sows give birth.
- Kits are weaned during summer and moved about to prepare them for life on their own.
- Young raccoons sense autumn and will start to leave their dens to find a new place to live.
- While full-grown adult raccoons generally live three to five years, they may survive only one year in most populations due to their station in the food chain.
Preventative methods should be used regardless of whether you’re already dealing with a raccoon problem or not. These strategies will help eradicate raccoons from your property and help stop them from returning.
1. Seal Off Your Home and Yard
Dealing with raccoons in your garden or attic can be a nightmare, so it’s wise to try preventing that situation from ever happening in the first place. Physical barriers around your entire property or specific areas can eliminate easy entry points.
- Seal holes. Raccoons have a great sense of smell that they use to find food, and they won’t hesitate to venture inside your home if they can smell and easily access their next meal. Seal up any holes you find around the siding, foundation or roof of your house. Any hole that’s three inches wide or larger can be scratched open by a raccoon, creating an optimal entrance for them. You can easily cover these holes yourself with wood, caulk, expandable foam, or concrete.
- Use a perimeter fence. Raccoons are natural climbers that often venture onto trees and other tall places. A privacy fence surrounding your yard may not be enough to keep a raccoon out if it’s dead set on getting into your trash or pet food. These pests can easily scale fences in seconds, and baby raccoons can squeeze through any holes or cracks that are as small as three inches. The only guaranteed way to keep raccoons out is with an electric fence. This investment is a great long-term solution for keeping out raccoons and other wildlife. If you only have a standard wood or metal privacy fence, you can try to keep your trees and shrubs cut away from it so that it isn’t as easy to climb.
- Use barrier screens. Many purposeful openings exist throughout the outside of your home, which you may not ever think of as raccoon entrances. These could include the space leading to your crawl space, your chimney opening, and any side vents in your house that help with ventilation. Place barrier screen over these openings. You can use simple materials like mesh or screen, or nail plywood over openings like your crawl space.
You can also use barriers around your garden or individual plants that attract raccoons. This is a simple and inexpensive way to protect your vegetation. Simply purchase a mesh screen and use it to wrap a perimeter around your plants. Make sure to dig the screen deeply enough into the ground so that the raccoons can’t dig it up.
As smart and annoying as they can be, raccoons are still prey at the end of the day. They aren’t afraid to come close to a home or human, but they’ll scurry off quickly if they sense danger. You can use several different scare tactics to ward them away from you yard. But if they’re still attracted to your yard, they’re likely to forget about the potential danger or learn how to avoid it. Switch up the types of tactics you’re using so you can always keep raccoons on their toes. This method should also always be paired with additional treatments in order to rid raccoons for good.
- Motion-sensor devices: A motion-activated sprinkler, lights and ultrasonic devices are all available with motion sensor technology and can help scare off raccoons when they’re triggered since the abrupt presence of either of these things will startle them.
- Noise: If you’re home and you see a raccoon approaching through a window, you can easily scare it away with a speaker, blow horn, or even your own voice by yelling at it.
- Pets: Raccoons have been known to fight with cats and small dogs. But if you own a large dog, you can bring it outside to face down the raccoon and scare it away.
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Raccoons are the infamous bandits of the wildlife world.
The size of cats or small dogs, they’re easily recognizable by their striped tails, pointed ears, and dark, mask-like coloring around their eyes. With their small, fingered, almost human-like hands and ability to walk on their hind legs, they’d be considered cute if they weren’t such destructive pests.
Raccoons are always caught scavenging through trash and creating a mess outdoors. They are cunning foragers when looking for food, but they can also get into fights with other outdoor pests.
Raccoons cause the same type of damage any other pests that like to dig through trash. But unlike opossums or skunks, raccoons also make their way into basements or attics. If you see trash strewn about your yard and your outdoor garbage cans have been tampered with, look for raccoons’ unique five-finger paw prints to know if they are the culprit.
If there are raccoons in your attic, you’ll probably hear scratching noises at night while they’re awake and searching for food. Not known for being shy, this pest isn’t hard to catch in the act.
1. Remove Attractants
Unless you address what’s drawing raccoons to your property in the first place, any efforts toward shooing them away can be pointless. Your first step should be to make your property less attractive to them so they won’t keep returning.
- Properly seal and dispose of trash. Make sure that your trash cans are never overflowing and seal properly without cracks or holes in the lids. Raccoons are even known to open trash cans on their own, so consider investing in a lock or some type of tie-down for your trash can lid, such as bungee cords. If you eat or entertain outside, always clean up any trash promptly and never leave any food sitting out.
- Keep food covered or inside. If you have pets or bird feeders, raccoons will also be attracted to their food. Try not leave pet food out at night while raccoons are active, and invest in covers for your bird feeders to use at night as well. If you also have a garden or small fish pond in your back yard, you may need to invest in preventative barriers like fences. If it’s hungry enough, a raccoon will definitely fish for food and feast on the vegetation in your yard.
Even if you never leave food or trash outside, a raccoon’s sharp sense of smell can alert it to scents both inside and out of your home. Proper sanitation methods can help repel raccoons from your home and keep them from scavenging.
- Regularly clean garbage cans. Trash containers are undoubtedly one of the dirtiest items around any household. Even if they close and seal properly, any residue left inside of them is bound to emit a foul odor. Take care to regularly wash your cans out with soap and water, especially if you know that something has spilled inside of one.
- Rake up vegetation. If you have fruiting trees or vegetables in your garden, raccoons will be even more attracted to them if they’re left to rot and release a pungent odor. Rake up any fruit that falls onto the ground and try to pick them as often as you can once they are ripe.
Raccoons will likely move on from your property if they aren’t able to find much food there. But if they continue to come around – or if you know that you have some nesting inside your attic, basement, or crawl spaces – look at some trapping options. Cage traps are a surefire way to remove raccoons, but you’ll need to pair this method with preventative measures to make sure that you won’t continue to see raccoons.
How To Use A Raccoon Trap
- Before buying and using a raccoon trap, look into your state’s laws or specific area regulations regarding raccoons. You may need to obtain a permit, or there could be a specific way you’re allowed to trap and release a raccoon.
- Fully read the instructions that come with any trap you’ve purchased. Most raccoon traps work with one-way doors, but others can have mechanical spring mechanisms that may be dangerous to set up if you aren’t sure exactly how to do it properly.
- Place the trap in an area where you’ve seen raccoons feeding or near their nest if you’ve been able to identify it on your property.
- Bait the trap with anything you have on hand, since raccoons love to eat just about anything. You can try any type of pet food, fruits, or nut butter.
- Set the trap according to its instructions and leave it out at night.
- Make sure you’re checking the trap every morning to see if you’ve caught a raccoon. If you leave one for too long, it can injure itself trying to get out or dehydrate and die.
- Relocate the raccoon in compliance with your state or local regulations you have researched. A good rule of thumb is to leave the raccoon at least 10 miles away from residential property, such as a forest or other wooded area.
- Place some type of ball or pet toy inside the live trap so that the raccoon can release its stress with it. Otherwise, it could injure itself trying to escape the trap.
- If the raccoon is making abnormal noises or seems more aggressive or lethargic, call a professional immediately to help remove the animal from your property. These symptoms could mean that it has rabies, which will be very dangerous for anyone bitten.
DIY Treatment Methods
Raccoon repellent isn’t recommended as a solo treatment method, as these animals could easily get used to them or return to your property once the repellent has worn away. But there are several DIY repellent methods that can help make your property less appealing to them when combined with other treatment and prevention methods:
- Peppers: Unlike humans, raccoons can’t stand the taste or smell of hot peppers and don’t want them anywhere near their food. By soaking hot peppers in water and strategically spraying this solution in certain areas, you can keep these animals away from your trash or garden. Since this method is completely natural, you can use the spray directly on your vegetation.
- Spices: For the same reason why raccoons stay away from peppers, they’ll also steer clear of certain spices like black pepper, cayenne pepper, and cinnamon. Sprinkle these natural repellents liberally in the areas where you want to stave off raccoons.
- Ammonia: Soak cotton balls in ammonia and place them around your property. This is especially a good method to use if you have raccoons in your attic, as the scent will be much stronger indoors and drive them away. With this method, be sure that you can’t breathe in the ammonia from the attic and that your pets can’t get anywhere near it.
- Pet fur and predator urine: Like other critters, raccoons have natural predators to avoid. Dogs and cats are two of the animals with which raccoons fight, so the sight of these animals will discourage them. Nevertheless, your pets can be in danger if they get into a fight with a raccoon, so it’s best to keep them inside and out of harm’s way. Dumping their fur or urine around your trash or garden will keep raccoons on edge and prevent them from wanting to linger and feed in your yard.
These DIY methods are cheap and effective ways to combat small ant problems, but not enough to treat multiple nests plaguing your home, or even a single large nest.
Since raccoons are smarter and larger than other common pests like mice or insects, it can be advantageous to contact a wildlife removal expert. This expert will take the time to inspect your property and can know quicker than you if the pest is a raccoon or another species. Your professional may even help you clean up some of the damage left by raccoons as part of a preventative strategy. The expert’s removal plan will likely be integrated across remediation, habitat modification, removal and prevention, leading to higher success rates. Furthermore, many wildlife removal companies offer money-back or satisfaction guarantees in which the professionals will continue trying different methods until the problem is successfully taken care of, or they’ll give you your money back if they aren’t successful.
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