They’re furry. Even cute. They’re 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.
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.
So if you find a family of the cuddly looking problems in the attic, it’s time to take some action.
Here’s how to get rid of raccoons, but heed Drake’s warning: “Be careful.”
The Damage Raccoons Can Cause
Those cute little furballs can be a whirlwind of damage in your attic or garage. They’ll do damage to your house itself, your property and even bring in the threat of disease.
Luckily, Drake says raccoon problems don’t necessarily plague every American homeowner. But when they do, they can be more than a headache because raccoon activity is destructive.
The University of California Integrated Pest Management Program says mother raccoons in search of nesting sites can tear off shingles, fascia boards or rooftop ventilators to get into an attic.
Wall insulation and air conditioning ducts can be ripped off and destroyed.
“They’ve got to create a hole large enough for them to get in,” Drake says. Usually, that happens in the roof or the eaves. Then when it rains, that weather gets in your house.
That raccoon doorway also lets in other nuisance animals, like squirrels or bats.
Raccoons Bring Parasites, Leave Smell
Perhaps the worst damage can come when the raccoons decide to use an area of the attic for a latrine. It can stain the ceiling beneath with droppings, urine and their objectionable odors.
Raccoons can even bring parasites and diseases into your home.
The raccoon roundworm is an infection spread to people by the accidental ingestion or inhalation of the roundworm eggs from raccoon feces. And it’s especially dangerous to children.
Raccoons are carriers of rabies and distemper, not to mention fleas, lice and mange.
So if you do get scratched or bitten by a raccoon, get it tested for rabies, Drake says.
Outdoors, raccoons routinely damage gardens. Sweet corn, UCIPM says, is a particular favorite for raccoons which will climb the stalk and tear it down, usually just before harvest time.
Other fruits and vegetables can also be eaten by the animals, which will even roll up newly laid turf looking for grubs and worms.
Problems people typically have are raccoons eating their garbage or the seed from their birdfeeder, Drake says. Sometimes the crafty little animals will even hunt Koi fish in landscape ponds.
And when they build nests in your chimney, it can cause real problems when you try to light your next fire or vent the gas from your home furnace.
Protecting Your Home From Raccoon Damage
With cold weather and the raccoons’ breeding season just around the corner, now is the time to make sure your house doesn’t become a raccoon’s winter getaway.
Raccoons typically breed between January and March, says the Illinois Extension. It takes a little more than two months before the new litter is born. And those baby raccoons can stay with the mother even after they’re able to fend for themselves.
So how do you keep them from moving in at all?
There are two methods, explains the University of Missouri Extension: 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.
Raccoons are cavity dwellers, Drake explains. They nest in holes in dead trees and similar areas, especially chimneys, which the animal essentially views as a perfect place for a nest.
A proper chimney cap can go a long way to keeping your home raccoon-free.
Properly secure potential food sources like fallen fruit, bird feeders, pet food and trash cans to keep hungry raccoons from turning your yard into a buffet.
“Don’t allow attractants on your property,” Drake says. Without food or other draws, raccoons won’t even visit your house and if they do, they won’t stay for long.
Unfortunately, this may be too tall an order in many cases.
As the extension and UCIPM explain, raccoons can have large territories that include entire neighborhoods, meaning it may take a community-wide effort to push them out this way.
Just because your backyard isn’t full of food, doesn’t mean your neighbors’ yards are in such good shape.
That leaves exclusion, which is likely to be the most successful strategy for your home. With a little effort, you can create a raccoon-proof house:
- Deny access to the roof by removing close-hanging tree limbs
- Cover chimney openings with heavy metal screens or sheet metal caps
- Open spaces beneath structures should be tightly screened with galvanized hardware mesh buried at least six inches below ground
- If a fence is already present around the garden or property, place an electric fence around the perimeter about eight inches off the ground and eight inches from the fence
- If you don’t have a fence, two electrified wires placed six inches and 12 inches above the ground will work
Physical exclusion isn’t the only way to keep them out.
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 tried to deter damage from wildlife like pesky raccoons.
Firecrackers, horns, bells, whistles and even motion-detecting sprinklers and propane cannons can be used to annoy wildlife like raccoons, according to the extension.
But results are usually temporary with tactics like these, as raccoons adapt quickly.
Chemical raccoon repellents haven’t proved particularly effective, UCIPM says, but several options are available for homeowners.
One of those UCIPM lists is Critter Ridder, which Amazon sells for less than $30.
For even less, the creative homeowner can make their own.
They work either by taste or odor, explains nonlethal trap manufacturer Havahart.
Taste repellents including cayenne pepper can deter a raccoon’s interest in your property, as can mothballs or other strong and offensive odors like ammonia.
Those methods can even be used to evict raccoons that have already made themselves comfortable in your house.
But their efficiency is questionable, and Drake doesn’t recommend them at all.
“I wouldn’t even do it,” he says, about ammonia-soaked tennis balls or trays of mothballs. “The more effective, efficient solution is live trapping (and) preventing access to begin with.”
How to Get Rid of Raccoons
So they’ve already moved in. The scratching in the attic and the overturned trash cans are proof.
Here’s how to get rid of them.
The first thing to do is get them out of the house and then close up the raccoons’ entry points to the house while they’re away.
The University of Wisconsin provides some advice in an article co-authored by Drake, saying to evict the raccoons with bright lights like floodlights, loud noise or a pan of ammonia, bleach or moth balls.
Once they’re out of the house, follow the exclusion methods listed above, shoring everything up so they can’t get back in.
But make sure you’re not sealing up the raccoon inside with you.
To see if the raccoons are still using the den, place some newspaper or rags where you expect the raccoon was accessing the site. If it remains undisturbed for two days or more, congratulations.
If it’s been disturbed, then the raccoon is still using the site, and it’s time to try again.
A one-way door can also be used. Installed at the entrance, it will let the raccoon out but not in.
You may find those clever critters more difficult to evict than that, though. If that’s the case, a trap is your best bet to ensure they stay out of the house.
“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.”
But before you head out to the local hardware store for a trap-or multiple traps if you’ve got multiple raccoons-there’s some prep work to do.
First, Drake says to contact your state’s local wildlife management organization to see what’s legal and illegal when it comes to trapping, releasing or killing raccoons.
In Wisconsin, he says, you can lethally remove raccoons as long as the manner in which you kill it is legal.
If releasing the animal, you can’t just head to the nearest rural area. You’ll have to have permission from either the private landowner or the public land manager.
States’ laws vary when it comes to trapping animals, so make sure to find out how your state legislates trapping raccoons.
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
Say you’ve checked those boxes. Next:
- Buy a strong trap large enough to hold a fully grown raccoon.
- Bait with marshmallows, sweet corn, fruit jam, watermelon or sweet breakfast cereals.
- It may be necessary to anchor the trap to a tree or the ground to prevent the raccoon flipping it and escaping.
- Relocate a trapped raccoon at least 10 miles away.
- Be extremely careful around agitated raccoons, wild animals that can quickly snap and bite.
- Be sure to check local rules and regulations about trapping and relocating raccoons.
Drake offers some more advice, saying to be careful where inside the raccoon trap you place the bait. 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.
Check your local laws for regulations on checking traps. At a minimum, he says, check traps every 24 hours. Your local regulations may require more frequent checking.
If you placed the trap in a very hot location, put it in the shade and provide some water so the animal doesn’t suffer.
So trapping can get complicated quickly. You may find the best option is to call in a professional.
Calling in the Pros
Unfortunately, your local animal control officer won’t be crawling in your attic to set traps for raccoon removal. It’s a pest control job you’ll need to hire out.
“There are plenty of for-profit companies that will come trap and remove the raccoon and then fix the hole,” says Drake.
Local pest control or wildlife removal companies can trap and remove the raccoon for you, bringing experience and equipment you don’t have access to.
Cost of Professional Help
Having a pro handle your raccoon problem can be expensive. Live traps rated for raccoons run anywhere from $25 to around $100 for a DIY approach. A professional is likely to be more expensive.
According to Angie’s List, the raccoon control service averaged just under $300 for its members, generally ranging between $263 and $320.
Another big advantage of hiring a professional is that the company will handle the animal’s relocation or euthanization, usually at the customer’s choice, Drake notes. And they don’t have to strictly be exterminators.
“Typically, as the client, you can make that request,” he says. “There are companies that are no-kill companies and their company philosophy is to not kill the animal.”
Others may kill raccoons when they trap them, but release them at a request from the client.
That means you’re not left trying to get a permit from the state or permission from landowners while the raccoon tears away at your attic.
Either way, once the raccoons are out, make sure to clean up food sources around the house, shore up garbage cans and seal up any potential entry points.
That will make sure you don’t have to go through this process all over again in a few months and the only small furry animals in your house will be the family cat or dog.