Natural History for Raccoons
Raccoons are born around May and June in Indiana, with some late litters occurring in the Fall. A sow (a female raccoon) can give birth from one to seven cubs (baby raccoons), which are gray in color and helpless at birth. Cubs are born blind, and they open their eyes after three to four weeks. Sows often leave their cubs alone for the majority of the day because they are less likely to be found by predators if they are alone. She will, however, carry her young to a new den if the old one is uninhabitable or if the family is being disturbed. Sometimes the sow moves the young even when not disturbed; as cubs become more mobile (around six to eight weeks), she will take her cubs new places as part of their education. The travel and exploration of young often lead to conflicts with people, as they can wander into garages, occupy chimneys, get into trash, or do other things that attract human attention. Cubs begin to eat on their own and nurse less frequently (called "weaning") at about two months (around August in Indiana), but they usually stay with their mother over their first winter.
Raccoons are usually active at night (nocturnal). Raccoons will nest in hollow trees (even next to busy streets), underground dens, attics, garages, chimneys, and under porches. Raccoons eat plants and animals (called "omnivores" or "omnivourous"), and thier natural diet includes fruits, vegetables, acorns, earthworms, fish and other aquatic animals, amphibians (toads, frogs, etc.), and mice. If a steady supply of food such as garbage, bird seed, garden crops, and pet food is available, then they will eat that too. The raccoon must build up body mass and fat reserves before the start of winter to live on during the coldest periods.
Assessing If a Raccoon is Orphaned or Injured
The following list of signs should make you concerned
that a raccoon is injured (either a baby or an adult). If you see
any of these signs, please
contact us before you intervene!
- The raccoon has an obvious serious injury (bloody) or broken bone
- The raccoon is unable to walk, run, or climb
- The raccoon was chased or attacked by dogs, cats, or another predator
- The raccoon is an adult and lacks a fear of humans
If you find a baby raccoon (cub) separated from its mother, a raccoon mother should be given at least 24 hours to reclaim her cub(s). Do NOT move the cub to determine if a it is orphaned. Try turning a laundry basket upside down over the cub(s) and put a telephone book on top of the basket to weigh it down. When the mother comes back, she will flip over the basket to get the cub(s). Try this the first night to see if the mother comes back for her cub(s). Leave the cub(s) out until people go to bed, and if the mother has not come back by then, bring the babies inside (to a dark, warm, and quiet location such as a closet, bathroom or garage).
While waiting for the raccoon mother to reclaim her young:
If the raccoon is in IMMEDIATE danger (for example, if it is lying in a road), then move it only far enough be out of immediate danger (for example, move it to the side of the road).
Keep children and pets away from the raccoon.
Keep noises to a minimum.
DO NOT touch or pet the raccoon. This will cause it to become stressed, which sometimes can lead to its death.
DO NOT offer food or water to the raccoon. If it is fed something it is not used to eating, then it will become sick.
Why Can't I Keep It?
Raccoons carry and transmit serious parasites and diseases to people and their pets.
Baylisascaris procynis (Baylis) is a parasitic roundworm found in the majority of raccoons that is transmitted to humans through direct or indirect contact with raccoon feces (an example of indirect contact is touching a towel that has touched raccoon feces). Baylis is fatal to humans and ESPECIALLY young children.
Distemper is a disease found in both dogs and cats (canines and felines, respectively). Raccoons carry and transmit this disease during direct contact with pets and other wild animals. Warning symptoms include wandering around during daylight hours, listless behavior, "sleeping" in open areas, aggressiveness, or a lack of fear towards humans.
Rabies is a disease transmittable to humans. This disease is not frequently found in raccoons, but they may carry the disease without showing symptoms. It is transmitted through bite or scratch wounds.
The mother raccoon is looking for her baby.
A raccoon's best chance for survival is with its mother.
A raccoon raised with dogs is a dead raccoon. Dogs will attack the animal, and if it has not developed a fear of them, it will not know to defend itself.
Wild animals never make good pets. The cute stage lasts only a few months, and adults can be dangerous. Their behavior is governed by instinct, so unpredictable and dangerous actions are common.
Keeping a raccoon is against the law.
Certain material found on this page can be
attributed to and was reproduced with permission from the pamphlet
"Raccoons in Distress" published by the Minnesota Wildlife
Assistance Cooperative and the book
"Wild Neighbors - The Humane Approach to Living with Wildlife" published by the Humane Society of the United States
1997 (www.humanesociety.org). The opinions and views of the Wildcat Wildlife Center do not necessarily reflect the views of the Minnesota Wildlife Assistance Cooperative or the Humane Society of the United States.