Raccoons are furry. Even cute. They are pet-sized and adorable enough to earn nicknames like Trash Panda and Shuffle Cat, but raccoons can be a menace when they make their homes in your attic or crawlspace. Here’s how to get rid of raccoons.
What Does Raccoon Damage Look Like?
Those cute little furballs can be a whirlwind of damage in your attic or garage. They’ll not only set about dismantling your property, but they also bring in parasites and the chance to spread dangerous diseases like rabies.
“Raccoons are pretty feisty animals. Make sure you don’t get scratched or bit,” says David Drake, Extension wildlife specialist, and professor at the University of Wisconsin. Luckily, Drake says raccoon problems don’t plague every American homeowner. “But when they do, they can be more than a headache because raccoon activity is destructive.”
- Lawns: Raccoons can ruin furniture, decorations, or lighting you have in your yard. They will eat your garden veggies and may roll up turf to reach grubs. Many pests and wildlife leave holes in the lawn, though. Unless you see their distinctive tracks, it may be hard to ID them from the damage alone. If you see cone-shaped holes, you may have a skunk.
- Walls: In places where the walls are relatively thin or in wall cavities, raccoons may scratch and tear their way through. If you see new holes in your walls, a pest has likely entered your home.
- HVAC Systems: Raccoons can tear your HVAC system apart by breaking into the pipes or tubes, causing costly repairs. They also leave their droppings and urine behind, affecting your air quality.
- Insulations: Raccoons are big, strong animals and good climbers. They can weigh up to 20 pounds, so even if they only walk about your attic, they can trample and damage your insulation.
- Roof: Female raccoons looking for nesting locations will remove any loose or falling-off shingles, fascia panels, or soffit vents to enter your attic.
“They’ve got to create a hole large enough for them to get in,” Drake says. Usually, that happens on the roof or the eaves. That raccoon doorway lets in the rain, insects, and other nuisance animals, like squirrels or bats.
If you haven’t spotted any damage yet, you may have seen other signs of raccoon activity:
- Noises: Raccoons, like squirrels, will get into your attic and crawl spaces. You’ll often hear scratching, chittering, or other strange noises, like your trash cans getting knocked over.
- Tracks: The raccoon’s tracks have a paw print that resembles a tiny hand. They walk on all fours, not just their toes.
- Scat: You often see traces of raccoon droppings or urine around attics, roofs, tree trunks, or heaps of wood. Scat stations, often known as latrines, are locations where one or more animals habitually leave droppings.
Pro Tip: Because of the possibility of roundworms, raccoon latrines should be cleaned safely by a hazardous waste professional.
How to Get Rid of Raccoons Around Your House
So they’ve already moved in. The scratching in the attic and the overturned trash cans are proof. The first thing to do is get them out of the house and close up the raccoons’ entry points.
If your uninvited guests are a mother raccoon and her young, wait a few weeks until the baby raccoons are grown enough to leave with their mother because they will not survive without her. Raccoons have one litter every year, generally in April or May.
Pro Tip: Never try moving the family by yourself. Unless performed by a professional skilled in reuniting mothers and infants, it usually results in the separation and death of the young raccoons.
Raccoons in the Attic or Crawl Space
Raccoons can sometimes act brave or aggressive, but they are naturally fearful of humans and will not attack in ordinary situations. The Humane Society suggests “humane harassment” to send the raccoons packing.
- Noise: Set a loud battery-operated radio in the attic.
- Lights: Turn them on! Raccoons are nocturnal animals. Install a bright, motion-activated and fire-safe light to frighten them away.
- Odors: Raccoons have a sensitive sense of smell. Several ammonia-soaked tennis balls or a bowl of cider vinegar near living quarters can make the raccoons miserable.
Raccoons in the Chimney
Raccoons are cavity dwellers, Drake explains. They nest in holes in dead trees and similar areas, primarily chimneys, which the animal views as a perfect place for a nest.
Raccoon moms commonly den on the “smoke shelf” inside your chimney as it’s the perfect size for her and her kits (and there aren’t likely to be fires in the spring when they give birth). Although, they will use the exhaust vent as a furnace. You can use similar techniques as above with raccoons in the attic.
- Loud noises
- Bright lights
- Offensive odors
Contact a professional chimney sweep once the raccoons have left to clear your fireplace of all nesting debris and install a chimney cap.
Never use smoke or fire to force wildlife out of chimneys! Raccoons too young to climb will die, and adults may not make it out either. Then you’ll have to deal with the dead animal smell, too.
But before you head out to the local hardware store for traps, there’s some prep work to do. Trapping can get complicated quickly. You may find the best option is to call in a professional for raccoon removal and cleanup. Drake says first to do the following:
- Contact your state’s local wildlife management organization to see what’s legal and illegal regarding trapping, releasing, or killing raccoons.
- If you release the animal, you can’t just head to the nearest rural area. You’ll need permission from the private landowner or the public land manager.
States’ laws vary regarding trapping animals, so determine how your state legislates trapping raccoons.
- In Wisconsin, he says, you can lethally remove raccoons as long as how you kill them is legal.
- California allows trapping raccoons if the animals are harming property. But the state prohibits relocation without permission from the state Department of Fish and Game.
- In Illinois, you’ll need a free permit from the state to trap the animal at all.
How to Set a Raccoon Trap
“The best thing to do is get a live trap large enough to hold the raccoon,” says Drake. “And be prepared to fix the access points as fast as you possibly can so once you remove them, they can’t get back in.”
Steps to trapping a raccoon:
- Buy a strong trap large enough to hold a fully grown raccoon.
- Bait with marshmallows, sweet corn, fruit jam, watermelon, or sweet breakfast cereals.
Drake advises being careful how you place the bait in the raccoon trap. Make sure the raccoon can’t simply reach in and remove the bait. You may have to tweak the actual size of the mesh on the trap.
- Anchor the trap, if necessary, to a tree or the ground with bungee cords or stakes to prevent the raccoon from flipping it and escaping. If you place the trap in a very hot location, put it in the shade and provide some water so the animal doesn’t suffer.
Check your local laws for regulations on checking traps. At a minimum, Drake says, check traps every 24 hours. Your local codes may require more frequent checking.
- Be extremely careful around agitated raccoons as wild animals can quickly snap or bite.
- Relocate a trapped raccoon at least 10 miles away if allowed in your state.
Protect Your Home and Keep Raccoons Away
Once they’re out of the house, follow the exclusion methods listed below, shoring everything up so they can’t get back in. But make sure you’re not sealing up the raccoon inside with you.
The University of Missouri Extension recommends two methods: habitat modification and exclusion.
Habitat modification is what it sounds like, changing the surroundings to make your house a less desirable home, or habitat, for raccoons. Because they provide a food source and prospective den locations, gardens and homes are appealing to raccoons.
“Don’t allow attractants on your property,” Drake says. Without food or other draws, raccoons won’t even visit your house; if they do, they won’t stay long.
Just because your backyard isn’t full of food doesn’t mean your neighbors’ yards are in such good shape. Raccoons can have large territories that include entire neighborhoods, meaning it may take a community-wide effort to push them out this way.
Raccoons are scavengers with strong stomachs. Properly secure potential food sources to keep hungry raccoons from turning your yard into a buffet.
- Secure trash can lids: Raccoons may open garbage cans and trash bags with their dexterous hands and then knock them over, spilling the trash. Invest in lockable lids or try securing them with bungee cords. If possible, store cans in a garage or shed.
Regularly cleaning your trash cans can stop the smell of food from building up and drawing critters.
- Put away pet food: Put food bowls away at night, or feed your pets inside. Keep in mind that pet food near a pet entrance can attract raccoons if the door is left open.
- Eliminate excess bird seed: Install a tray about 6 inches below the bird feeder to ensure extra kernels do not fall to the ground. Feeders should be hung from poles or far from trees.
- Guard your garden: Harvest vegetables and fruit when ripe, and remove rotting vegetation regularly.
Before beginning the exclusion, check for any additional raccoon babies in likely hiding spots. After that, seal any gaps that a raccoon could exploit to invade your home.
- Trim your trees: Deny access to the roof by trimming close-hanging tree limbs.
- Cover chimney openings: Install heavy metal screens or sheet metal caps designed for your chimney.
- Install hardware cloth: Screen any possible entry points or open spaces along the siding or underneath structures with galvanized wire mesh or hardware cloth.
- Add an electric fence: If you already have a fence around your vegetable garden or property, then install an electric fence around the perimeter approximately eight inches off the ground and eight inches from the fencing.
If you don’t have a fence, two electrified wires placed 6 inches and 12 inches above the ground will work.
There’s a wide variety of techniques and apparatus that people use to try and repel or even scare raccoons away. From watchdogs to noisemakers and pyrotechnics, the University of Florida Extension says a dizzying number of tactics have been tested to deter damage from wildlife like pesky raccoons.
But results are usually temporary with tactics like these, as raccoons adapt quickly. Chemical raccoon repellents haven’t proved remarkably effective, UCIPM says, but several options are available for homeowners.
Raccoon repellents work either by taste or odor.
- Taste repellents, including cayenne pepper, can deter a raccoon’s interest in your property.
- Smell repellents, such as mothballs or other strong and offensive odors like ammonia.
Why Get Rid of Raccoons?
Perhaps the worst damage can come when the raccoons use an attic area for a latrine. It can stain the ceiling beneath with droppings, urine, and objectionable odors. Raccoons can even bring parasites and diseases into your home.
Raccoons are carriers for:
- Roundworms: The raccoon roundworm is an infection spread to people by the accidental ingestion or inhalation of roundworm eggs from raccoon feces. And it’s hazardous to children.
- Rabies: A rabid raccoon typically dies within three days after becoming infectious. If you are bitten by one, rabies treatment for people is a set of injections to the shoulder, so don’t fear the painful procedures of the past.
- Distemper: Canine distemper, a viral disease that infects foxes, coyotes, and skunks, can infect raccoons. The illness does not affect people, but it is dangerous to unvaccinated dogs.
- Pests: Blood-suckers like fleas, lice, and mange can make their way onto your family and furry friends.
FAQ About Raccoons
Raccoons can eat nearly everything, which attracts them to homeowners’ garbage, and they are extremely intelligent, agile creatures that discover ways to avoid human attempts to stop them. In 2016, Toronto paid $31 million to combat a raccoon infestation, yet the animals endured.
One raccoon would not cause much trouble, but an infestation of them will. Use the following advice to get raccoons out of trees:
● Remove raccoons with a live trap or by hiring a pest control service.
● Remove food sources from around the tree by raking up dropped nuts or fruit.
● Install raccoon guards or sheet metal around tree trunks to keep them from climbing.
No. It may help, but the light source is generally too high, and the raccoons will avoid it. Motion-sensitive floodlights are more effective at deterring raccoons. Motion-activated sprinklers are an option as well.
When to Call a Wildlife Removal Service
When you’ve tried all the suggestions above, and the raccoon or other wild animal still won’t leave your yard, it may be time to call a wildlife removal professional.
If a wild animal is acting strangely, do not try to eliminate it yourself. Rabies symptoms include aggression, keeping active during the day, and convulsions. If you suspect an animal is rabid, contact your local animal control or state wildlife agency for assistance as soon as possible. Wildlife removal of dangerous animals requires a professional.