Love them or hate them, there is no denying that raccoons are intelligent and curious problem solvers.
Always looking for food, investigating, and climbing with their highly dexterous paws, these charming, masked mammals play villain and hero alike in folklore stories around the world.
More practically, raccoons are known for breaking into attics, trash cans, and livestock feed in search of their next meal or shelter to raise their young.
Close encounters with people are extremely common and because of this we need to know: are raccoons dangerous?
No, raccoons are generally not dangerous to humans, although they can inflict a nasty bite and can occasionally carry the rabies virus.
Generally, you’ll want to stay away from wild raccoons, no matter how much they beg for food with those big, sincere brown eyes.
Lock up the dog food, resist their charms, and keep your distance if you are smart. You can learn more about raccoon behavior and their interactions with humans in this article.
Understanding Raccoon Behavior
Raccoons are nocturnal animals, which means they are most active at night. They are also very curious and intelligent creatures that are known to solve complex problems in quest of both food and shelter.
This has led more than one homeowner or farmer to discover a previously secured food container or chicken coop broken into by the most ingenious of ways.
Raccoon-proof latches, locks, and hasps are a must if you want to keep these wily critters at bay!
Commonly sighted in and around urban and suburban areas, raccoons will travel several miles in search of food or a mate, meaning they may live in or around human areas of habitation on a full or part-time basis.
They are excellent swimmers and climbers, which gives them unprecedented access to nesting places and food that other animals may not be able to reach.
This also unfortunately means that they often find their way into fruit trees, attics, chimneys, roof vents, and other small spaces that we would rather keep them out of!
Their high intelligence means they quickly adapt to most means to scare them away, and many even directly associate people with food, approaching humans in the hopes of obtaining a handout.
In the wild, raccoons typically live in forests near streams, lakes, or other bodies of water where they can find plenty of food, so you are likely to encounter them all over North America in such places.
Are Raccoons Aggressive Toward Humans?
No, though they will become aggressive if cornered, trapped or if their young are directly threatened.
Some raccoons that have become habituated to human presence and getting handouts may also get mean if denied food.
Have Raccoons Ever Attacked Humans?
Yes. Documented raccoon attacks have happened, but they are extremely rare and usually only happen if the animal is rabid or feels directly in some way.
Raccoons prefer retreat or escape to fighting whenever they can, but like all wild animals, they can be unpredictable and may go on the offense when least anticipated. We’ll talk more about the rabies issue in just a bit.
How Do Raccoons Attack?
Raccoons have only one form of attack that matters to people: biting. Like most omnivorous mammals, raccoons have sharp canine teeth for puncturing and holding onto their prey, as well as long, sharp incisors for slicing.
Their molars are broad and flat, ideal for grinding fruits, nuts, and meat. All of these teeth come together in a powerful bite that can do some serious damage to human flesh if the animal is forced to defend itself.
Raccoons are also known for their highly dexterous forepaws, more akin to tiny hands, and though they have claws they are small and the raccoon’s relative lack of strength means that they can do little more than scratch a person.
What Causes Raccoon Aggression?
Raccoon aggression typically occurs for one of a handful of reasons.
First, as we’ve already mentioned, a cornered or trapped raccoon will become aggressive if denied escape.
Second, a raccoon mother will aggressively defend her young if she feels they are in danger and cannot extricate them from the den quickly enough.
Third, the effects of the rabies virus can cause extreme and uncharacteristic aggression in animals, and though this is rare in raccoons it does happen.
Finally, a small percentage of raccoons that have lost their fear of humans (and particularly those that rely on humans for food) may naturally be more aggressive than others, and these individuals are more likely to attack humans when denied food. Don’t feed wild raccoons!
Do Raccoons Eat People?
No. A raccoon will not attack you in the hopes of killing and eating you. However, these omnivores are highly opportunistic, and it is likely that a raccoon would nibble on a fresh human body for food.
Are Raccoons Territorial?
Not toward people, but all raccoons can be expected to vigorously defend their den, especially if there are young inside.
This is another reason why you should never attempt to remove a raccoon from an attic or other structure on your own, as the mother will most likely be inside with her young and may attack in order to protect them.
How Strong is a Raccoon?
Raccoons are surprisingly strong for their size, and can commonly be observed rapidly scaling trees and walls, and even hanging from branches after they lose their grip.
Compared to a human they are not strong, of course, but their jaws have substantial power and they can be difficult to physically manhandle, particularly in the case of larger adult specimens.
Don’t underestimate them if you are forced to come to grips with one!
What Should You Do if You See a Raccoon?
If you see a raccoon, you don’t need to do anything unless it is breaking into your trash or trying to climb your home. Either case means that they are more likely to hang around.
If you have such an issue with raccoons, call your local animal control or wildlife rehabilitation agency. You can try to scare them away by making noise and shining a light at them, but be warned they will probably return.
If you see a raccoon in the wild and it does not appear to be sick or injured, the best thing to do is just leave it alone.
These animals are generally shy and reclusive, and will not approach humans unless they are already accustomed to human presence or handouts.
Outside of such instances, or if you know you are intruding on a den or a mother with young, you should be highly wary of any wild raccoon that approaches you, especially in the daytime. It could have rabies!
What Should You Do if Attacked by a Raccoon?
Your best course of action if attacked by a raccoon is to withdraw from the area as quickly as possible.
Raccoons will rarely pursue once they have forced off an attacker. If this is difficult due to a confined space (like your attic) or other circumstances then you should fight back.
Try to use a pole, stick, or some other object as a shield to keep the raccoon at a distance and avoid being bitten.
If you need to dispatch the raccoon, stomps and hard strikes will usually do the job. They are rarely bigger than a small to medium-sized dog, and aside from their teeth have little in the way of defense.
If you are bitten by a raccoon it is imperative that you get tested for rabies at once! See the next section.
Do Raccoons Carry Diseases People Can Catch?
Raccoons can host several nasty diseases and parasites that can be transmitted to humans, the most notable being rabies.
While it is rare for a raccoon to actually be infected with rabies, it does happen, and if you are bitten by a rabid animal the consequences can be deadly.
Raccoons might display symptoms of rabidity or they might not, with the most common being a fearlessness of humans, heightened aggression, strange vocalizations, poor overall health, and a sickly or depressed appearance.
Notably, some raccoons infected with rabies simply retreat into a burrow or other hiding place.
Other diseases carried by raccoons include trichinella, giardiasis, tularemia, and tetanus.
None of these are as serious as rabies, but all can be contracted by humans who come into contact with infected raccoons or their feces.
You’ll also need to be concerned about the usual assortment of fleas, ticks, and mites along with all the associated diseases they can cause.
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