Human progress has led to the development of new ecosystems — and as our population has sprawled into the territories of other creatures, they’ve come to adapt to survive in our urban environments. Out of all the animals that are seen in the suburbs and cities, raccoons are often one of the most ubiquitous. With their distinctive masks and chubby features, they’re also some of the cutest animals we share our environment with. But living alongside other animals means respecting them and recognizing that they’re wild animals. We’re here to answer the question of whether or not raccoons are dangerous and to identify how humans can coexist safely with them.
Do Raccoons Attack Humans?
Raccoon attacks are incredibly rare, and they generally happen only in one of three circumstances — if they perceive you as a threat and have no route for escape, if they’re trying to protect their young, or if they’re suffering from an illness that makes them more aggressive. Even in high-stakes situations like these, raccoons are more likely to flee than they are to attack a human.
Yet stories of raccoon attacks tend to persist. A large part of that has to do with how raccoons react to threats. It’s typical for a raccoon to put on a posture of intimidation when they’re feeling threatened. The results can be quite aggressive. Raccoons will grow and puff up their fur to appear as large as possible. They may act erratic, fixate on the threat, or even make a lunge at the source.
What scared humans often don’t understand is that this is an act of bluffing for the raccoon. Much like a possum playing dead, raccoons will act as if they’re looking for a fight in an attempt to find an opening to escape. Of course, that can be hard to remember when you’re being faced down by a raccoon — and it’s not always possible to tell whether a raccoon is sick, protecting its young, or genuinely just looking for a way out.
Do Raccoons Pose a Threat to Pets?
Raccoons are scavengers, and that’s part of what makes them so capable of thriving in urban habitats. The pets that are most likely going to be at risk are potential prey like rabbits and chickens. If you’re raising smaller creatures like this in your yard, you might want to put in place extra security measures to take into account the risk of raccoons.
Any issue between raccoons and cats will likely be one of territoriality. House cats don’t typically prey on raccoons, and raccoons will generally try to avoid conflict with cats — but they may become defensive if a raccoon is in their lawn feeding from their bowl. Cats and raccoons have been known to get into fights, but you’re just as likely to see them sharing space and mutually ignoring one another.
The conflict between dogs and raccoons is the most common circumstance to worry about, as dogs are prone to chasing after raccoons. It’s unlikely that a healthy raccoon would attack a dog, but a dog can get badly hurt when facing down a cornered raccoon.
Do Raccoons Have Any Other Risk Factors?
Raccoons eat from the trash, so it only makes sense that they carry their fair share of diseases — and many of these can pose a threat to either humans, pets, or both. The most serious of these is rabies which can be fatal, cause raccoons to act erratically, and be spread to humans or pets through a bite or scratch. But they can also spread several other viral and bacterial infections through contact with their waste or fluids. Some of these infections, like Leptospirosis, can be potentially fatal if not treated promptly.
Raccoons can also cause a large amount of property damage in a very short amount of time. In the wake of mating season, raccoons begin looking for places to raise their young — and attics, basements, and porches all serve as perfect spots to hide. But raccoons like to build nests for their young, and they’re prone to using insulation, cables, or whatever else they can find in your space to make them. Add in the fact that they’re leaving their droppings in your home, and an infestation from raccoons can become a dangerous personal health issue even if you never come into direct contact with any of the critters.
How Can Raccoon Encounters Be Prevented?
The presence of a raccoon during daytime isn’t necessarily a cause for concern, but they’re nocturnal animals — and that means that confrontations with raccoons are most likely to happen at night. The best plan of action for preventing raccoon attacks is to minimize the amount of contact with raccoons. Feeding your pets indoors and properly securing your trash will minimize the value of your property as a food source and reduce the risk of you ever coming in contact with raccoons, healthy or otherwise. Keeping your pets inside after dark and not letting your dog out without a leash can further reduce the risk of conflict. Raccoons are also attracted to stagnant water sources like birdbaths and bird feeders, so removing or isolating these can be useful for reducing the presence of raccoons.
You can also take measures to reduce the risk of raccoons nesting in your home. Inspect your home for any openings that could fit a raccoon and especially for nooks and crannies that could serve as nests. Attics are particularly vulnerable to nesting raccoons, so keeping up with regular roof inspections is important. Missing shingles should be promptly replaced. You can also trim branches that hang over your roof to make it more difficult for raccoons to access the attic.
The best thing you can do to prevent raccoons from becoming dangerous is to prevent them from becoming habituated. Raccoons are highly intelligent, and they can be cute and charming companions when they become used to being fed by humans. And while feeding raccoons reduces the fear they have towards humans, it doesn’t change the fact that they’re wild animals. Even the friendliest raccoon can turn on you if they’re sick, and there’s no way of predicting how raccoons will act towards humans they aren’t scared of. Bold raccoons aren’t necessarily hostile, but they raise the risk of raccoon and human encounters while also increasing the odds that there will be a violent misunderstanding.
What Should Be Done if a Raccoon Attacks?
Trying to avoid contact with a raccoon is the best way to prevent an attack, but the most important thing to do if the situation escalates is to not panic. It’s important to remember that the raccoon is likely to be more scared of you than you are of it, so try to ensure that the raccoon has a means of escape and try to remove yourself from the situation as soon as possible. If you run, it’s unlikely that a raccoon is going to follow. If you think the raccoon poses a larger threat to yourself, your pets, or your property, your best course of action is to enlist the services of a professional.
If you’ve been bitten or scratched by a raccoon — or if you think you’ve been in contact with raccoon feces — disinfect and cover the wound as well as you can and then seek medical attention immediately. While the wound itself may appear minor, the diseases spread by raccoons can develop rapidly once they’ve entered your body through a wound.
Next Up: Do Wolves Really Howl at the Moon?