Found in almost every major urban, suburban and rural habitat in the 48 adjoining states, raccoons don't know that our trash cans, vegetable gardens, bird feeders and chimneys aren't for them—they’re just trying to survive. Unfortunately, when these clever critters take advantage of the food and shelter we (unintentionally) provide, they often get into trouble. Problem raccoons bring in a lot of money for some unethical wildlife control companies, but it’s more effective, inexpensive and humane to use our prevention, eviction and exclusion methods.
- How can I prevent raccoon issues in general?
- How do I know if I have a raccoon problem?
- How can I get raccoons out of my house, attic or chimney?
- How can I get raccoons away from my yard?
- How can I stop raccoons eating from my trash can?
- How can I stop raccoons eating from my bird feeder?
- Do raccoons have rabies or other diseases?
No matter how big or small your outdoor space, you can create a haven for local wildlife. By providing basic needs like water, food and shelter, you can make a difference in your own backyard.
- Never intentionally feed raccoons. Avoid feeding pets outside and pick up fallen fruit. If you must feed pets outside, pick up food as soon as they’re finished eating.
- Purchase wildlife-proof trash cans, or secure lids with bungee cords.
- Remove bird feeders at night, hang bird feeders from clotheslines, purchase bird feeder raccoon guards or consider removing bird feeders altogether and installing seeding and fruiting native plants instead.
- Try hot sauce, motion-activated lights, motion-activated sprinklers and battery-operated radios to scare raccoons away.
- Use single-strand electric wire or exclusion fencing around raised vegetable beds or to protect fish in backyard ponds. (If no children are present.)
- If unoccupied, cover attic and crawl space gaps and install chimney caps.
- Use lockable or smart pet doors and keep rabbits and cats indoors.
- Don’t allow dogs to roam unsupervised and keep all vaccinations up to date.
- Lock all duck and chicken coop doors and use 16-gauge 1-inch welded wire to protect all windows and any openings. Consider an automatic coop door that opens and closes at set times.
Sometimes raccoons are blamed for damage they don’t do. Here are signs you have a raccoon in residence:
- Sounds that start at dusk and then again around dawn. If you hear sounds during the day, it’s probably not a raccoon who’s causing you concern. (With the exception of raccoons foraging longer hours to support their young, visiting a garden while dogs are indoors or moving to a new location.)
- Hand-shaped tracks on light surfaces or where the ground is soft enough for their paws to leave an impression. Like bears, raccoons walk on their entire paws, not just the toes.
- Scat about 3/4” in diameter and 2-3” long with segmenting and blunt ends. Raccoon scats vary widely in size, depending upon the raccoon’s age and in content—which is often quite evident, depending on what has been eaten.
- Scat stations where one animal has repeatedly left scat or multiple animals have done so. Unfortunately, these are sometimes established on roofs and in attics. If feces have accumulated, follow the Center for Disease Control’s removal recommendations or hire cleanup professionals to safely clean the latrine area.
Occasionally, a raccoon may accidentally enter your home through a pet door or other entryway with no intention of staying. Otherwise, raccoons mate in late winter and use a wide range of natural and manmade den and resting sites that may include unprotected attics and chimneys.
Raccoon kits are not physically able to leave your house, attic or chimney with mom until they’re about 10 weeks of age, so trapping and relocating mom or driving mom away may leave you with a bigger issue. You may need to hire a humane wildlife professional to assess if your raccoon has kits, and if so, if they’re old and mobile enough to leave with her.
Raccoons in your home by accident
Never try to catch or directly handle a raccoon. A panicked and scared raccoon may bite. The raccoon is going to be mainly concerned about getting back outside, which is helpful—you just need to show them the way!
- Stay calm. A panicked raccoon may run further inside your house and may cause damage.
- Contain pets in rooms away from the raccoon.
- Close doors to other parts of the house.
- Open doors and windows that lead outside. (A chair under a window will help the raccoon jump up.)
- Make a trail of marshmallows, cheese bits or fig bars leading out an open door. Move quietly and slowly and try to nudge them back out by walking behind them with a vacuum cleaner or broom.
- If that doesn’t work, leave the room and wait quietly for the raccoon to escape.
- If the raccoon doesn’t leave after you’ve tried for several hours, call your local animal control officer for assistance.
Raccoons in your attic, crawl space, etc.
First, figure out how your raccoon is getting in and out. Inspect your house to find entry points by viewing your house from the perspective of an animal looking for a den. Raccoons often find their way into attics at entry points where different building materials join; this might be where dormer junctions occur, where unpainted trim board creates structural defects, or where the building material itself is pliant, such as where vinyl soffits have been used.
Humanely harass your unwanted tenant at dusk with a combination of bright lights, loud noises and strong smells, such as a bowl of cider vinegar. Once you’re certain they’re all gone, cover available entry points with 16-gauge wire mesh or metal flashing to prevent future wildlife from moving in. If raccoons have occupied the space for a long time and feces have accumulated, follow the Center for Disease Control’s removal recommendations or hire cleanup professionals to safely clean the latrine area.
Some people use a “one-way door” to get raccoons out of attics or crawl spaces. Once the animals have left, they're unable to get back inside. Use of these doors is best left to professionals, who can make sure that mothers are not isolated from their kits. The young must be old and mobile enough to exit through the one-way door with their mother, and this can be very hard to assess.
Raccoons in your chimney
An uncapped chimney is a perfect nursery for mother raccoons. Never try to smoke them out, as kits and mom are often trapped and die from smoke inhalation, making your removal problem far worse. The most effective and humane approach is to wait until after they move out, which they will, allowing you to install a chimney cap to prevent future issues.
If waiting isn’t an option, hire a humane wildlife professional who will keep the raccoon family intact and release within their home range using an eviction, exclusion and reunion strategy. As soon as the raccoons are gone, call a certified chimney sweep to clean your chimney of all nesting debris, and install a chimney cap.
Raccoons can damage lawns (especially recently sodded ones) by digging for earthworms and grubs, which surface when lawns are wet. This is generally a short-term problem that lasts only as long as the rain or watering does. Raccoons might also make a temporary den in a woodpile or eat from your vegetable garden or pond.
- Try hot sauce and motion-activated lights and sprinklers, or set up a battery-operated radio tuned to an all-night talk show and turn it on for a few nights to drive raccoons away.
- Remove and burn wood used for a den outdoors to destroy roundworm eggs.
- Use single-strand electric wire or fencing around raised vegetable beds or to protect fish in backyard ponds. (If no children are present.)
- Provide places for fish to hide using aquatic plants, rocks and cinder blocks with holes in your pond. (This will also prevent other pond predators.)
Purchase wildlife-proof trash cans, secure lids with bungee cords and/or keep them in a shed or garage until pick-up day.
The simplest solution to raccoons at your bird feeders is to remove them at night and put them back outside in the morning. If that’s not an option, you can:
- Remove your bird feeders for a week or slowly reduce the amount of food in the feeders. When the seed disappears or dwindles in size, raccoons may seek other places to eat.
- Hang your bird feeders on poles a half inch or less in diameter, securing the pole firmly so it can’t be knocked over. Raccoons cannot climb such a thin pole and they won’t be able to tip it over to access the seed.
- Suspend your bird feeders from a wire extending between two trees, or set up a clothesline for hanging the bird feeder, isolated from tree branches or other structures that might provide access for raccoons.
- Reduce the seed that falls to the ground (an attractant for raccoons) by using only one type of seed per feeder and using feeders that catch fallen seed.
- Purchase a bird feeder raccoon guard.
- Store your birdseed supplies in galvanized metal cans with tight lids.
Don't grease up feeder poles or wires to prevent raccoons. If grease gets on a bird’s feathers, they can’t preen it out, leaving the bird vulnerable to predators, bad weather and disease.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only one human has ever died from the raccoon strain of rabies. A rabid raccoon is usually dead within 1-3 days of becoming infectious, and if you're bitten by a rabid raccoon, effective post-exposure treatment is available.
If you see a raccoon in your yard during the day, don’t panic—they’re not necessarily sick or dangerous. They may merely be foraging longer hours to support their young, visiting a garden while the dogs are indoors or moving to a new location.
Observe the behavior of the raccoon before calling for assistance. Look for:
- Staggering gait
- An animal seemingly oblivious to noise or nearby movement
- Erratic wandering
- Discharge from eyes or mouth
- Wet and matted hair on face
- Repeated high-pitch vocalization
- Unprovoked aggression
A raccoon showing these signs may be rabid or infected with canine distemper or feline parvovirus. Call your local animal control or police department.
Roundworm (Baylisascaris) found in raccoon feces can infect humans and pets. Prevention is the key. Keep raccoons out of attics and crawl spaces, and supervise young children and pets outdoors to make sure they don’t come into contact with raccoon feces.
Leptospirosis is caused by a bacteria that can infect raccoons, skunks, opossums, Norway rats, mice and white-tailed deer. Humans may be exposed if they come into contact with infected urine or contaminated soil and water. Avoid touching wild animals. If contact is necessary to get a raccoon out of your house, call in a professional.