Raccoons are super cute, but don’t feed them
My house is on the edge of a green belt, and one summer we had a family of raccoons living in a dead tree very close to my kitchen window. I loved being able to watch the mom and her babies as I prepared a meal or washed dishes.
Several of our neighbors actually put cat food out to entice more raccoons into their yards. Some have even become so comfortable with the masked-eyed animals they hold out food and wait for the raccoons to take it from their hands.
This always freaks me out a little. Raccoons have very sharp teeth. And they are one of the primary carriers of the rabies virus in the US.
The rabies virus attacks the central nervous system. On the bad side, untreated rabies is about 99% fatal. The handful of patients who survived were put into medically-induced comas. They lived, but suffered lasting neurological problems.
In other words, rabies is a nasty disease.
On the good side, rabies is not a common disease in the US. And if treated relatively soon after exposure, it’s 100% curable.
Still, it’s probably best not to tempt fate.
- Don’t feed raccoons or try to train them or make pets out of them. Raccoons are wild animals.
- Make sure your garbage can lids close tightly. Raccoons are dumpster divers!
- Feed your dogs or cats inside. Raccoons are food thieves!
- Keep an eye on your dog or cat door, if you have one. Raccoons won’t hesitate to let themselves into your house if there is food to be had.
Stay calm and maintain a friendly distance
With the longer days of spring and summer, raccoons are more visible. I usually see them cross through my yard in the early morning hours, or at dusk.
I rarely see them in the middle of the day, although it does happen occasionally when I’m working in my garden. I just stand still and wait while the raccoon stands on his hind legs and stares at me. After a few moments, he (she?) decides I’m not threatening and waddles away.
Quite opposite to my neighbors who try to make pets out of our urban raccoon population, other friends are terrified of the critters and think they should all be trapped or shot or otherwise done away with.
Whoa, now, let’s not overreact!
I like raccoons, and it makes me happy to know they are playing, foraging or snoozing in the woods near my house. And they aren’t just pests; they eat the insects and slugs that ravage my vegetable garden, and they probably keep the rodent population under control, too.
It’s possible to live together in harmony with our wildlife friends.
Keep pets and kids safe
If you live in an area with raccoons, remember that spring means babies. And where there are baby raccoons, there is probably a protective mama raccoon.
Raccoons can easily kill small dogs and cats. There are missing pet posters all over my neighborhood! Keep pets indoors or safely fenced in the yard.
Dogs and cats should be vaccinated against the rabies virus. Make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date.
As for small children, maintain eyes-on supervision, and teach them not to touch or chase after raccoons. Baby raccoons are so cute, what child wouldn’t be tempted?
If a raccoon becomes a pest around your house and you are concerned, contact a local exterminator or animal control officer. Nuisance raccoons are usually trapped and relocated.
If all your safety precautions fail and you, a child or a pet is bitten by a raccoon, seek medical attention. A bite is not a life-threatening emergency, but it does need to be treated promptly.
The bite will be cleaned, and antibiotics given.
It probably won’t be possible to find the guilty raccoon and determine if it has rabies. But because untreated rabies is so lethal, and the vaccine is so effective, expect to be given the vaccine regardless.
Better safe than sorry, right?