Getting Rid of Nuisance Racoons
Racoons are an intelligent and clever member of the Procyonidae family. Racoons are found all around the world and have increased in numbers as human populations have expanded. Despite their admirable abilities, they are often considered a nuisance when their interests collide with humans. Racoons have five extremely sensitive fingers which allows them to grasp objects with one hand and manipulate the object in their hands. This allows them to open any cooler in a campground, get into your house, and break into nearly any garbage can they desire.
The English word racoon is derived from the Powhatan word aroughcun, which means, animal which scratches with its hands. The Spanish word for racoon, mapache, comes from the Aztec word mapachitli, which means, one who takes everything in its hands. With dexterity in their hands and clever problem-solving ability, the man vs nature conflict surrounding racoons and humans is a story as old as time.
Racoons weigh between 4-23 pounds. They are nocturnal, meaning they are most active at night. They are omnivorous, meaning they eat both plants and animals. In the wild racoons prefer to eat their meals foods such as crayfish, frogs, and shellfish such as oysters and clams. If they come across a backyard garden, they will happily help themselves to the bounty. Racoons are generally thought to be a problem in more rural areas, but racoons are thriving in big cities. Racoons have become seasoned city-dwellers, feasting on garbage left in the streets and nesting in our homes and businesses. Brooklyn in particular has seen an explosion in racoon populations in recent years. An experiment conducted in Toronto, placed GPS collars on racoons in the city. They learned that urban racoons avoided the busiest intersections and could open trash cans better than their rural counterparts.
Racoons in your House
With racoon populations continuing to increase, the conflict between people and racoons will increase as well. If you have a racoon in your home you should take immediate action to get the nuisance racoon out of your home and the area cleaned and disinfected. There are stories all over the internet of racoons coming into homes and wreaking all sorts of havoc from tearing apart furniture to eating pet and human food. However, the problem is more difficult to diagnose if they discretely enter your chimney or attic in order to give birth.
Racoon nesting season is usually in spring with peak time for birth in March. In nature, racoons look for a hollow tree in which to birth and raise their young; your uncapped chimney or attic provides a similarly cozy, warm, and safe spot for rearing young racoons. The elevated space of your attic protects the kits (baby racoons) from predators. After birth, racoons are nursed by their mother for about 10-12 weeks. Baby racoons will not leave the nest and forage on their own until they are about 3 months old.
Signs that Nuisance Racoons have Invaded
Racoons are fairly large animals and they are not particularly graceful or quiet. Generally, you will first be alerted to a racoon issue when you hear scurrying and scratching coming from your attic at night. As the mama racoon builds her nest, you will hear bumping, thumping, and wrestling. Many home owners also observe visible damage to the entry area. Again, because of their strong hands, racoons can peel back or bend siding, soffit and roof vents, and manipulate and tear many building materials. The maternal instinct that draws them to these spaces is powerful, and racoons are very caring and attentive mothers.
You also may hear the chirping, or crying, of baby racoons. Just like human babies, kits are quite vocal during their first few months of life. Of course, to know for sure if racoons are nesting in your attic, you need visual confirmation. You may watch a racoon climb the exterior of your house and enter through a soffit, or you may pop your head into the attic and nose around yourself. Once racoons are confirmed, you need to act quickly to limit the damage to your home.
Damage and Danger Caused by Racoons
As discussed above, racoons usually enter homes in order to nest, but they don’t build a tidy little nest out of twigs like a bird. Racoons clumsily leave evidence of their presence everywhere they go. Racoons can be destructive and cause damage and disease even after they are removed from your home.
Racoon Feces and Odor
As racoons travel through your attic, they allow their feces to accumulate… and racoon droppings are large. Racoons usually reserve an area near the nest to be used as a latrine. The urine from this latrine will saturate insulation, drywall, and wood with urine often causing the need for these materials to be removed and replaced in only a matter of weeks. It will also infect your attic insulation with disease causing microorganisms and a putrid odor.
Not only does this latrine create an extremely foul odor it is a breeding ground for dangerous diseases. Roundworm eggs are passed in the feces of infected racoons and people can become sick by ingesting these eggs. There are cases of children becoming very ill with Bayliscacaris procyonis, or racoon roundworm, after contacting racoon poop in a sand box. This parasite invades the lungs, eyes, brain, and liver and can leave permanent brain damage or even cause death. Racoon droppings are particularly dangerous when found in large quantities in a confined area like your attic.
Racoon Damage to Ductwork and Electrical
In an attempt to find the perfect nesting spot, racoons often tear apart AC ducts and crawl inside. Sometimes racoons die in the AC Ducts which causes the dreadful odor to circulate through your home. If racoons have damaged your ductwork, you will have to call in a HVAC contractor to repair or replace the damage. If the damage the to ducts is allowed to remain, the holes will allow cold or hot air to escape which will significantly increase your energy costs.
Usually damage to electrical wires the attic is attributed to rodents (rats, mice, or squirrels) because of their insatiable need to gnaw. However, racoons do gnaw and damage wires in attics that they inhabit. If a wire is creating a boundary or in the racoons’ way, they will certainly chew through it with their strong jaws. Racoons’ long, hard nails can also cause damage to wires that are along their route. Any frayed or damaged wire is a fire hazard and should be replaced by a licensed electrician after the racoons have been removed.
Diseases Carried by Racoons
Rabies is probably the first disease you think of when you think of racoons. Racoons are considered a primary vector of rabies as racoons suffer from rabies more than any other mammal in the United States. A racoon infected with rabies will usually die in 1-3 days.
A rabid racoon will often exhibit bizarre behavior such as:
- Staggering or wandering aimlessly, uncoordinated or paralysis of the legs
- Appearing in daylight hours
- Unaffected by noise or movement nearby; not afraid of people and other animals
- Discharge from eyes or foam at the mouth
- Wet and matted hair on its face
- High-pitch noises
Never approach a racoon displaying any of these symptoms. Call a professional wildlife trapper to remove any such racoon and seek immediate medical attention if a racoon bites or scratches you.
Canine Distemper is another disease carried by racoons. This disease cannot be transmitted to humans, but it can be passed to unvaccinated dogs. The symptoms of canine distemper are similar to rabies and it is usually fatal.
The third disease associated with racoons is the parasite bayliscacaris procyonis, or racoon roundworm. The eggs of the roundworm are found in racoon fecal matter. Infection occurs when feces containing the eggs are ingested. Once ingested the larvae travel to the brain, eye, and other organs ultimately causing neurological damage and sometimes death. The CDC believes that this disease is under reported as human exposure to racoons is increasing and there is no commercially available serological test for racoon roundworm.
How to Get Racoons Out of your Home
For all of the reasons mentioned above, you simply must invest the time and resources to remove the racoons from your home, seal up any possible entry holes, and clean and disinfect the racoon nesting area. Professional nuisance wildlife trappers are knowledgeable and experienced in dealing with racoons. They are familiar with racoon behavior and instincts. They have the tools and fortitude to humanely remove racoons from your home. State and Local rules vary when dealing with racoons. Since racoons are a known rabies carrier, many localities do not allow for racoon relocation. Once a racoon is trapped, he must be handled humanely, respectfully, and within the confines of the law.
Removing Baby Racoons from the Nest
When removing racoons from an attic or chimney, you must be aware of the young. If you trap the mother and seal up the attic, the helpless, immobile young will die in the attic compounding your problems. To avoid starvation, the kits, or baby racoons, must be located and hand removed from the nest. This project is not to be taken lightly, remember, there may be a mamma racoon nearby and you are about to commit the unforgiveable to any mother. To avoid a confrontation, try to time this “kit napping” while the mother racoon is out foraging for food. Wear thick protective gloves and a HEPA filter mask and begin your journey through the attic. In addition, if you proceed to seal all openings of the attic trapping the kits inside while the mother raccoon is away, her maternal instincts will drive her to find a NEW way inside. This often causes thousands of dollars of new damage as she rips down soffits or chews holes in roofs or siding.
A mother racoon often stashes her young in tight corners, down a wall, or down a soffit. Carefully traverse the attic walking only on the beams so you don’t fall through the ceiling! Once you locate the nest, gently place the racoons in a pillowcase or similar sac and carry them out of the attic. You should expect to find 3-5 babies in the nest. Many homeowners find this task beyond their Do-It-Yourself ability. There is no shame in hiring a professional racoon trapper to fight this battle for you.
Trapping a Racoon
Once you are certain you have removed the babies, it is time to set your sights on the mother racoon. There are many different types of traps available. The most common type of trap for trapping racoons is a live cage trap. Live cage traps are rectangular metal cages available in different sizes and with either one door or two doors. The racoon is lured into the trap with bait. When the racoon steps on the trip pan the cage door slams shut and the animal is trapped inside alive. Your professional wildlife trapper will have the appropriate trap for the job. If you choose to do the trapping yourself, make sure your trap is large enough for a racoon and then choose the best trap for the situation. Traps should be placed at least once per day. It is inhumane to allow a racoon to starve to death inside a trap.
We usually don’t recommend trying to trap the mother racoon inside the attic. If you can ascertain where she is coming and going from, you can easily and effectively set the trap on the ground near where she is climbing up, or on the roof near the attic entry point. Be sure to place the trap in the racoons’ direct line of travel. If you have removed babies from the nest, some trappers use them as “bait.” A mother racoon will walk right into a trap if she thinks she can rescue her baby. If you would rather, you may use sweet fruit like watermelon, pet food, bread, vegetables, or marshmallows bait; racoons will eat almost anything. Be mindful though, meat-based baits may trap unwanted critters, like the neighbor’s cat or skunks! You should leave a trail of bait leading into the cage with a larger pile of bait in the back of the trap behind the trip pan.
Know your local and state laws for relocation or euthanasia of a trapped racoon. If it is legal in your area to relocate trapped racoons, you should take it at least 5 miles away or it will track its way back to you. Some areas allow for releasing a trapped animal on the same property. So long as you seal entry holes well, this can be a viable racoon option.
The exact placement of traps and bait used to remove racoons is determined by the exact scenario. For example, if you have a racoon in a chimney, there is a specific chimney racoon trap that is placed above the chimney flu. The young racoons will still have to be hand removed from the chimney using a mirror. If a trap is placed in too general of a location, you can’t know that you caught the nuisance racoon. If a trap is placed in too specific of a location, such as in the attic right where the babies were located, the racoon may not enter the trap. The training and experience of a Nuisance Wildlife Officer is invaluable at solving a racoon problem quickly, humanely, with as little interference to the natural ecosystem as possible.
Removing Dead Racoons
Unfortunately, death is a part of life. Sometimes, you just don’t know that animals are living in your attic until that unmistakable odor of death starts to permeate your home. Depending on the size and quantity of decaying animals, the odor can last for months and even cause people to abandon their homes for a period of time. Dead animals can be extremely tricky to remove. They often purposely find an out of the way hole in which to pass. Often racoons or rats will die inside of walls or under attic insulation or ductwork. If they can be located and removed without causing damage to your property, we at Nextgen Pest Solutions will gladly provide you with that service. However, people have intentionally created a lot of damage to their home looking for a racoon or rat carcass. Anything to be rid of the smell and the flies! We urge caution though; before engaging the sledgehammer technique evaluate the costs and benefits of the destruction.
Attic Clean-Up After Racoons
As discussed above, racoons’ habit of using one particular area as a latrine creates an accumulation of filth in your attic. If the racoon has been nesting in your home for a while, the urine and feces will have accumulated to the degree that sanitization and odor elimination will need to be performed. Racoon urine and feces will likely be soaked into the drywall, insulation, and wood which will need to be removed and replaced. Racoon feces contains roundworm eggs that when ingested by humans can be very dangerous. Most professional Nuisance Wildlife Control Officers offer attic cleanup and restoration services.
Nuisance Racoons Outdoors
The majority of this article has discussed the problems associated with racoons nesting in your attic or chimney. Racoons can also cause problems outdoors. Gardeners battle racoons for the bounty from their gardens. Once racoons have located your blueberry patch, they will feast nightly! Consider installing a fence around the garden or fruit bushes/trees. Racoons can also dig small holes all throughout a lawn searching for grubs to eat. Of course, racoons and garbage cans go together like peanut butter and jelly. Ensure all garbage cans have secure lids. Remember the dexterity of the racoons’ hands. If a bungee cord attaching the lid to the garbage can doesn’t slow the racoon down, check Youtube for some creative garbage can solutions! It’s an amusing way to spend an evening! If all else fails, wildlife trappers can trap and remove the racoons from your yard.
After you have claimed victory in your war against racoons, you will surely do everything possible to avoid eyes glowing at you from the depths of your attic. Your efforts should be both general, meaning you do not want to attract racoons to your property in general, and more specific. The specific prevention is keeping your home in good repair and sealing any holes or damage.
General Racoon Preventing Tips
- Bring in pet food and water at night
- Keep all trash in metal cans or bins with tight fitting lids
- Clean and deodorize trash cans regularly
- Weigh trash lids down with a brick or a block
- Regularly clean up fallen fruit such as berries in your garden
- If possible, cover garden crops with a cage of wire netting.
- Consider eliminating water sources in your yard
The Humane Society suggests playing a recording of a talk show to keep racoons from your yard, and others suggest motion activated lights keep racoons at bay. Most racoon repellents are ineffective. Racoons come to your yard and home to meet the basics of life, food, water, and shelter. Eliminate or block these amenities and racoon activity in your yard should decrease.
Preventing Racoons from Entering your Home Again
After you have claimed victory in your war against racoons, you will surely do everything possible to avoid eyes glowing at you from the depths of your attic. The only way to effectively prevent racoons, or other critters, from nesting in your home is to seal up every entry hole. Racoons can pry off and bend many building materials. If they find a hole about 3” in diameter, they can scratch around it to make it large enough to pull their body through. Rats, mice, and squirrels, however, can fit through holes the size of a dime. Aim for sealing the smallest of holes. The more thorough and detailed that you seal your home, the greater prevention you afford yourself against an array of critters.
This is an ideal time to properly seal against insects, rodents, bats, and racoons. You can use hardware cloth, sheet metal, copper or aluminum wire mesh, or steel wool.
- Plug or repair any cracks in the foundation, walls, and basement
- Seal gaps around windows and doors
- Seal holes around pipes that lead to appliances
- Install a heavy-duty steel chimney cap over the chimney
- Place vent covers over dryer vents
- Repair soffits and gutters
Nextgen Pest Solutions Racoon Removal
Racoons are increasing in numbers in cities and in more rural areas. Racoons are perfectly comfortable living in proximity to humans, and their unique abilities can create unusual scenarios! Although we appreciate racoons for their clever problem solving skills and cute little banded faces, we should always remember they are a wild animal.
Nature should always be treated respectfully and humanely. At Nextgen Pest Solutions, we are a veteran-owned, full-service pest control company with branches in Atlanta, Georgia, South Florida, and the Tampa Bay Area in Florida. Our Professional Racoon Trappers are trained and experienced in removing racoons from your attic, cleaning up the mess, and sealing your home to keep them out for good.