The raccoon is a stocky mammal about 2 to 3 feet long and weighs 10 to 30 pounds. It is distinctively marked with a black “mask” over the eyes and is heavily furred with alternating light and dark rings around its tail. Raccoons are active year-round.
This nocturnal animal adapts extremely well to urban and suburban environments, where it often dens in backyards, beneath decks, or in accessible outbuildings. Attics, chimneys, and the spaces beneath houses are also used as dens if access can be gained. Because they are active mostly at nighttime, raccoons are often present but may go undetected for some time. Raccoons are omnivorous, eating both plants and animals. Plant foods include all kinds of fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, and other types of grain. Animal foods include crayfish, clams, fish, frogs, insects, turtles, rabbits, muskrats, and the eggs and young of ground-nesting birds, including waterfowl. In urban settings, in addition to feeding on backyard fruits, nuts, and vegetables, they scavenge from garbage cans and compost piles. Pet food left outside overnight ranks high as a food resource and then, of course, some people deliberately provide food for raccoons.
Damage to gardens may be relatively minor compared to the potential damage a raccoon can do to a house. Females in search of nesting sites may rip off shingles, fascia boards, or rooftop ventilators to get into the attic. Once inside the attic, insulation on walls may be torn up and displaced, and insulation on heating and air conditioning ducts may be ripped off and destroyed. Raccoons may begin using an area of the attic for a latrine, and the ceiling beneath may become stained with urine, accompanied by an objectionable odor. Ectoparasites may infest the attic and migrate to other parts of the house. Uncapped chimneys are often used as den sites, as are spaces beneath porches and decks. Doors covering crawl spaces are sometimes damaged in an effort to den beneath the house. Raccoons are known to carry a number of diseases and internal parasites. The raccoon roundworm, an infection spread to people by the accidental ingestion or inhalation of roundworm eggs from raccoon feces, has caused increased concern in recent years. Roundworm infection can cause serious disabilities, and young children are thought to be most susceptible. Raccoons are also carriers of rabies.
There are various approaches to resolving raccoon problems. In some communities the situation has become so severe that it is beyond the ability of the individual homeowner to solve the problem. Habitat modification is the best way to manage a problem with any type of wildlife. Eliminating potential den sites and food resource is the first step to controlling a raccoon problem. Trapping and relocation are the best solutions to rid your home or business these animals
Raccoons are attracted to homes and businesses because they offer a food resource and potential den sites. Efforts to reduce available food can include using metal garbage cans with secure lids. To prevent raccoons from tipping over garbage cans, place the cans in a rack or tie them to a secure post. Pet food left outdoors should be removed before nightfall. Pick up fallen fruits and nuts frequently. Never intentionally provide food for raccoons, and discourage your neighbors from this practice as well; it only attracts more raccoons.
Exclusion is the key to eliminating den sites, but remember that raccoons are powerful animals and can become vicious when cornered. Their front paws are hand like, with toes that are long, flexible, and considerably dexterous. Raccoons are known to unhook simple latches. Prevent access to chimneys by covering them with a spark arrester that meets the fire code of your area. These caps will keep raccoons, tree squirrels, rats, and birds out of the chimney, but be sure they are tightly secured to prevent raccoons from pulling them loose. Open spaces beneath structures, such as porches, decks, and garden and tool sheds, should be tightly screened with 1/4- or 1/3-inch galvanized hardware mesh. The bottom edge of the wire should be buried at least 6 inches deep, extended outward for 12 inches, and then back-covered with soil. Such measures will exclude not only raccoons but skunks, opossums, squirrels, and rats as well.
For the average home or business owner, unfamiliar with trapping raccoons, it is advisable to hire a professional wildlife control operator to remove the animal. The professional will have the proper equipment to accomplish the task and will be able to tell if a trapped female is nursing its young. This is very important because you don’t want to leave young behind to starve. The professional will also have the means to euthanize the animals, since releasing them elsewhere may be prohibited by law. Released animals may return or present a problem to someone else and, in fact, the animal you have trapped may have been deliberately released near you. Release of animals is a major factor in the dissemination of numerous diseases to other animals. Some counties have trapping programs for nuisance animals, including raccoons. Contact your local agricultural commissioner to see if this service is available.