How To Prevent and Get Rid of Raccoons: A Complete Guide

How To Prevent and Get Rid of Raccoons: A Complete Guide

A raccoon, or by its scientific name Procyon lotor, is one of the trickiest animals you can run into as a homeowner. It’s clever, persistent, possesses five-fingered hands, and loves to rummage through your trash.

While cute and quirky, raccoons are a highly destructive nuisance that you should prevent and remove. They will knock over trash cans, spread garbage across your lawn, tear apart birdhouses, and even invade the upper portions of your home. Thankfully, there are specific steps you can take to discourage raccoons from becoming a nuisance in the first place. 

How To Get Rid of Raccoons From Your Property

One of the most challenging aspects of raccoons is their dogged determination and persistence. Once raccoons identify a location that provides consistent food or shelter, they will repeatedly return. If you encounter raccoons either inside your home or on your property, you will need to take active steps to remove them and discourage further incursion once they’re gone. 

Raccoon Traps

One of the most effective and humane ways to deal with raccoons is to trap and relocate them. Several kinds of traps are available: body grip traps, paw hold traps, and live cage traps. Trapping raccoons, in general, can be both difficult and dangerous. If you are having raccoon troubles and are considering trapping, you should contact a professional before attempting to capture them on your own. 

  • Body grip traps: This lethal, older-style trap attempts to break a raccoon’s neck, similar to a mousetrap. You can place this trap over a location the raccoon will travel through. As it does, the trap springs and either crushes or suffocates the raccoon. These traps are difficult to place, dangerous to use, and inhumane. While some fur trappers still use these today, we do not recommend them for dealing with a raccoon infestation.
  • Paw hold traps: These are more common, modern traps used by fur trappers. While this trap has several variations, each functions roughly the same way. Jaws clamp down onto the raccoon’s paw, holding it in place until the trapper can return to kill it. These traps have received wide criticism for their cruelty and inhumane nature. Like body grip traps, we cannot recommend these for at-home use.
  • Live cage traps: These are live traps and are the most common type used by homeowners and pest control companies. These traps are long boxes, usually 32 inches in length by a foot wide, with a trigger pan in the back. They’re constructed from plastic with solid walls containing air holes or thick barred cages. The raccoon, lured into the trap by bait, triggers the pan, shutting the door behind it. Once caught, these traps keep raccoons secure and ready to remove from your property. If you’re working with a pest control company, it will take care of the relocation for you. Alternatively, if you have managed to trap the raccoon yourself, you should contact local wildlife control agencies to relocate the raccoon. 

Remove Food Sources

Food is one of the main reasons raccoons come to your property. Raccoons are omnivorous and will eat just about anything they can get their hands on. They’re attracted to any food sources outside your home, so here are the most common attractants you can remove to keep these critters away. 

  • Trash cans: “Trash panda” is a popular online name for raccoons. This term is incredibly accurate, as your trash bins will likely be their first stop when invading your property. Strong for their size, clever, and surprisingly nimble, a persistent raccoon can make quick work of even heavy-duty trash cans. To keep these critters out of your bins, ensure your trash is tied and secured. You can also invest in animal-proof trash cans with locking lids. If these cans are not enough, or you would prefer to stick with regular bins, you can also lock them inside your garage or shed at night. 
  • Pet food: Few things will attract a raccoon faster than pet food. Cat and dog foods contain fats, oils, nutrients, and carbohydrates, making them ideal snacks for a hungry raccoon. They also possess a strong scent that can attract raccoons right to your back porch. The most obvious recourse is to avoid using outside food dishes, but homeowners with outdoor cats or numerous dogs may find this difficult. Thankfully, all you have to do is feed your pets in the morning and afternoon; this gives your pets all day to chow down, then you can empty and rinse the bowls by evening. Since raccoons are nocturnal, they only feed at night, so as long as your pet food bowls are empty by the end of the day, they shouldn’t attract any unwanted guests. 
  • Compost heaps or bins: While we might find the smell of compost to be repulsive, raccoons and other pests only smell a fresh meal. While compost bins won’t be their first stop, they can attract other insects that raccoons love to eat. If you are going to compost, you should use securely sealed bins and keep them at least 20 feet away from your home. 
  • Bird feeders: Raccoons love nuts, grains, and seeds, which are all the primary ingredients of bird food. While bird-watching is a great pastime, it can attract pests and animals if done improperly. Use tall, thin shepherd’s hooks with narrow poles to deter raccoons. It will be difficult for them to access these feeders, as the narrow rods are challenging to climb. You can also use baffles at the top or midsection to keep them from accessing the feeders. Furthermore, birds can be messy eaters, leaving behind scraps, shells, and other debris after eating. Regularly clean the area around your bird feeders by raking the birdseed debris into a small pile, then shoveling it into the trash. Also, you should avoid using suet cakes at bird feeders if you’re experiencing raccoon problems. Suet cakes are made from berries, nuts, protein supplements, and boiled animal fat. While extremely good for certain bird species, they’re delicious superfoods for just about any outdoor animal. 

Seal Off Your Property

The first significant step in keeping raccoons away is removing attractants that will draw them in. Your next step should be to place barriers separating the raccoons from your space. You should also practice regular maintenance on those barriers to ensure they’re adequately sealed and secure. 

  • Invest in a good fence: Be it for your backyard, front yard, garden, or entire property, a strong barrier fence will keep raccoons away. However, not every kind of fence will work as raccoons are excellent climbers and will make quick work of certain fences. You should avoid chainlink, wrought iron, picket, or wire fences. Instead, use solid materials such as wood or vinyl and aim for a style consistent with security fences. The most effective option is an electric fence, but not every homeowner has the means for or wants an electric fence. 
  • Seal all holes and openings: Raccoons love to live inside dark, confined, and dry spaces. They seek these locations to nest, give birth to, and raise young. Unfortunately, many areas in and around your house fit the bill. 
    • Attic, crawl space, and basement: Ensure your windows and window screens are properly maintained and sealed. If you have gaps in your siding, foundation, or walls, you should replace these sections or fill them with silicone caulk and expanding foam. Raccoons may also access these spaces through vents and ducts; you can install wire mesh barriers to prevent this. 
    • Chimney: As surprising as it may be, one of the most common places to find raccoons is in your chimney. These spaces remind raccoons of hollowed-out trees, one of their favorite nesting locations in the wild. Keeping raccoons out of your chimney and off your roof can be tricky. First, you need to keep all trees and bushes away from your home, as they can climb these to access your roof. Then, you will need to seal your chimney with a cap or spark arrestor. 
    • Under your deck: Under decks is another common location to find raccoons. Keeping raccoons out is relatively easy; you can install heavy, wire mesh screens as a barrier or install elegant wooden-lattice panels. Alternatively, installing floodlights to illuminate the space under your deck may also deter them. This bright light can agitate them and works especially well when combined with a scent repellent. 

How to Keep Raccoons Away From Your Yard

Even if you have secured your property correctly, you may still find raccoons skulking around your lawn and garden. Keeping raccoons off of your yard is similar to keeping them out of your property; you have to make it as unappealing a space to them as physically possible. This can be difficult because not all elements that attract raccoons are immediately apparent and can require additional upkeep. 

Eliminate Grubs And Insects

While raccoons are known for their love of trash, they’re also proficient scavengers and hunters. Some of their favorite foods are insects, gubs, and larvae. If you have a raccoon digging through your lawn or vegetable garden, odds are they’re attempting to get to the insects inside the soil. Unfortunately, this can also imply the presence of a significant grub or pest infestation. Thankfully, the raccoon should move on once you clear these nuisances out. The exact pest control strategy needed will depend on the specific pest you’re dealing with. However, a curative pesticide is the quickest way to eliminate lawn grubs. You can also try mixing dish soap with water and spraying the infested portions of your lawn. If the infestation or grub problem is too much to deal with, calling a local pest control company will be your best bet. The company will be able to deal with the lawn grubs and humanely remove the raccoon.

Remove Trash And Debris

An unclean yard filled with trash and debris attracts many different pests — everything from earwigs to termites, mice, and raccoons. Keeping a clean lawn is good housekeeping and an essential pest control practice. Raccoons will consume the foodstuff in the trash and nest inside large pieces of debris. You should place all trash securely inside bins and remove all debris from your yard. 

Utilize Repellents

A raccoon’s strong sense of smell is one of the reasons it’s so easily drawn to garbage. It can detect the subtle scents of food even through trash bins and sealed bags. You can use this strong sense of smell to your advantage and keep it at bay. 

  • Ammonia: Raccoons don’t urinate or defecate where they eat or nest. To deter them, you can use ammonia, the chemical that gives urine its pungent smell. You can either douse or spray the perimeter of your property. Alternatively, you can soak rags and leave them where the raccoons are frequent. 
  • Cayenne: This is one of the most popular DIY raccoon repellents. Raccoons aren’t a fan of overpowering or spicy smells. By combining an entire bottle of cayenne pepper with a bottle of hot sauce and a gallon of water, you can create a potent raccoon repellent. This spicy mixture can then be added to a spray bottled and applied to your lawn, garden, fence, and trash bins. 
  • Vinegar: Vinegar is one of the most versatile concoctions out there. It sees use in cleaning, cooking, and pest control. Create a half vinegar and half water mixture to spray around your property. Like ammonia, you can also soak rags in this solution and leave them where raccoons congregate. 
  • Mint Scented Trash Bags: These clever waste bags mask the scent of your trash with that of overpowering mint. This scent helps keep raccoons away from your trash cans and works best when paired with a durable, sealable set of bins. These bags can also repel other pests prone to eating trash, like mice, rats, and other rodents. 
  • Commercial Raccoon Repellent: Several brands of raccoon repellent exist, most of which are highly effective. We prefer brands composed of natural ingredients, so look for ones including piperine and capsaicin. Many sprays can utilize predator urine to deter raccoons; these do work but can, in some cases, attract other unwanted guests. 

Use Motion Activated Lights or Sprinkler Systems

In most cases, raccoons are skittish and will avoid conflict. Anything that gives off the impression of a predator, or a movement in general, will startle them and send them running. Some of the best ways to achieve this are motion sensor lights or sprinkler systems. 

  • Motion sensor lights: Motion sensor lights are simple and easy to install. They provide valuable protection from raccoons and double as an effective home security measure. These can be either ground level or attached to the top of your backyard or lawn-facing walls of your home. Be sure to place the motion sensor at a level where the raccoon will trip it. 
  • Motion sensor sprinkler system: While more challenging to install and more expensive than lights, motion sensor sprinkler systems are far more effective at spooking raccoons. Who wouldn’t jump out of their skin if a random spritz of water blasted them? However, while effective, there is one thing you should keep in mind while using sprinklers as a raccoon deterrent. Too much water can damage your lawn, so use the sprinklers as little as possible while deterring your unwelcome guest. 

Signs & Causes of a Raccoon Infestation 

Raccoons leave many telltale signs of their presence. If you identify any of the following, you might have a raccoon infestation. 

  • Knocked over garbage cans: Raccoons can be highly single-minded and determined. They often create a path of destruction between them and their food source. Knocked over trash cans and garbage scattered across your lawn are the first and most prominent signs of a raccoon problem. 
  • Scattered pet food and knocked-over pet bowls: Raccoons are still likely to make a mess even when food is readily available. It was probably a raccoon if you come outside and find your pet’s food scattered across the porch and bowls thrown halfway across the yard. 
  • Destroyed bird feeders: With their five-fingered hands, raccoons can manipulate and damage many of the structures in your yard. Bird feeders are the second most common victim behind trash cans. Raccoons will make quick and violent work of most plastic and low-quality wooden bird feeders. 
  • Tracks: Raccoon tracks can be challenging to spot and are often found in gardens or wet soil. Raccoons walk flat-footed, like humans, leaving behind hand-shaped impressions on the ground. They’re often confused with possum tracks, as they’re highly similar in shape, with four feet and five fingers. However, a raccoon’s tracks are longer with closer set toes that all face forward. Raccoons also have a unique track pattern, or gait, where each back foot lands behind the opposite corresponding front foot. This bizarre pattern is because most of the raccoon’s weight is centered around their hindquarters.
  • Droppings: Raccoon droppings resemble those of small dogs, being tubular in shape with dark coloration and blunt ends. They also frequently contain undigested food like seeds and berries. One of the most dangerous elements of raccoons is their usage of latrine sites. Since raccoons do not defecate or urinate where they eat or sleep, they instead find a different, specific restroom location. Unfortunately for homeowners, these latrine sites are often a roof, attic, pool, firewood pile, or under a deck. Stumbling across a raccoon latrine site is a significant sign of an infestation, but they’re also highly dangerous on their own. Raccoons carry a highly infectious parasite called roundworm that is transmitted through their feces. When cleaning a raccoon latrine, you should take extreme caution and strictly follow the CDC’s guidelines for raccoon latrine cleaning. 
  • Claw marks and property damage: Due to their dogged determination, raccoons will claw their way through shingles, walls, siding, fascia, insulation material, and even ductwork to get inside your attic or basement. A small opening, crack, or hole is all the indication they need to discover a potential home inside. Once they’ve set their mind to it, it’s only a matter of time before they make their way indoors. If you come across entry points in your home covered in tiny scratches, it was most likely caused by a raccoon or other small mammal. 
  • Damaged plants or produce: Raccoons will just as happily chow down on your garden as they will in your trash bins. They have a particular preference for melons, corn, cherries, apples, plums, nuts, and citrus fruit. 
  • Damaged coops: For farmers, keep an eye out on your chicken coops as raccoons love to break in and wreak havoc. Chickens, and particularly their eggs, are one of their favorite meals. While not widely regarded as such, raccoons are capable hunters and more than able to kill one or multiple chickens. 
  • Noises: If raccoons are active on your property, you will likely hear them before you see them. Their general activities are noisy; knocking down trash bins, tearing holes in siding, and rummaging through everything they can find. They’re also highly vocal animals, producing various noises and calls such as whistles, hissing, snarls, chitters, and screeches resembling that of an owl. Baby raccoons also make a distinctive mewing, similar to a cat.

How To Identify Raccoons 

Raccoons are smaller-sized, North American, nocturnal animals and a member of the Procyonidae family. Also known as ringtails, these clever critters are common across the United States and Canada. They prefer wooded areas but are highly adaptable and can easily live in mountainous, marshes, and urban environments. 

  • Height: Adult raccoons are between 16 and 30 inches long, including their tail. 
  • Weight: Raccoons typically weigh between 12 and 30 pounds but can become quite bulky, weighing up to 60 pounds. 
  • Coloration: They have dark gray to brown fur, with a distinctive mask pattern on their face around the eyes and rings along the tail. Some subspecies of raccoon also range in color from light, smokey gray to an almond blonde color. 
  • Personality: Raccoons are highly intelligent and known for their curiosity and problem-solving ability. With the capacity to swim, climb, and their highly dexterous five-fingered hands, it comes as no surprise that raccoons have a reputation for breaking into anything. Raccoons are more than capable of opening doors, unscrewing jars, opening windows, opening corks, and removing window screens. When threatened, they’re known to flee and climb trees to avoid danger but can become aggressive if cornered or with young. 
  • Burrows and nests: In the wild, raccoons are known to nest inside hollowed-out trees, brush piles, and abandoned burrows. When invading urban areas, they gravitate to barn lofts, storm sewers, attics, crawl spaces, basements, under decks, chimneys, and even sheds or garages. 

Threats of Raccoons

Raccoons pose both a structural and health hazard for homeowners. These clever mischief-makers can get into just about anything. Combine this with their curious and destructive nature, and they will create costly messes everywhere. They can destroy trash cans, siding, roofing, attics, walls, gardens, lawns, outdoor structures like bird feeders, etc. 

Even worse is the significant health risk they pose. Raccoon latrines create and spread diseases, most notably roundworm. A roundworm is a parasite that can cause severe neurological damage and death. Raccoons are also a known carrier of rabies, a lethal disease for which there is no cure. Rabid raccoons may act abnormally, such as making strange vocalizations, possessing impaired movement, and becoming more aggressive. However, rabies does not always show symptoms like these in raccoons as it does with other canids and small mammals. Raccoons may not show any outward signs at all and are even known to retreat to their burrows when afflicted. 

If you see an animal acting strangely, do not approach it. Instead, keep your distance and immediately contact your local animal department. 

When To Call a Professional for Raccoon Removal

Determining when to contact a pest control company for raccoons can be difficult. If you live near a forest or certain urban areas, raccoons may be common. In these situations, seeing one wander into your property from time to time is expected. Furthermore, raccoons damaging items around your home, such as trash cans or bird feeders, may not indicate an infestation or nearby nest. However, frequent sightings or recurring damage is not typical, and in these cases, you should take active steps to deter them. 

You should consult a professional whenever you believe a raccoon specifically and consistently targets your home or property. Furthermore, since raccoons carry diseases and are known to be aggressive, we recommend contacting a professional whenever you believe a raccoon has infested your home or nearby property. Nests, droppings, latrines, or incursion points are the primary signs of an infestation, and you should consult a professional immediately. 

Final Thoughts 

Raccoons have become staples in popular culture. With their cute appearance, clever nature, and quirky personalities, it’s no surprise that people like them. But, like all wild animals, we should observe them from a distance and keep them in their own space. Like all pests and critters, raccoons are driven by their need for food and shelter. We should do what we can to minimize attractants from our property to keep them away. Simple steps like purchasing lockable bins, utilizing mint-scented trash bags, and installing a well-designed fence should be more than adequate to keep raccoons out.

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