Raccoons are undeniably cute creatures with their masked faces and striped tails. Their mischievous antics and clever paws have earned them a special place in popular culture. So it’s no surprise that some people consider keeping one as a pet. However, while their appeal is obvious, raccoons require very specialized care and face some serious challenges in captivity. As wildlife experts, we strongly advise against keeping raccoons as pets. Here’s an in-depth look at why they make poor companions for most households.

Not Your Average Domesticated Pet

One of the biggest issues with raccoons as pets is that they are not domesticated animals. Dogs, cats, horses, and other common pets were domesticated over thousands of years through selective breeding to make them suited for living alongside humans. Raccoons, however, are still entirely wild animals. While some are bred in captivity, they have not undergone domestication. This means their wild behaviors, instincts, and needs remain completely intact.

Raccoons are also highly independent, intelligent creatures. Their natural curiosity and ability to problem-solve makes them notorious for being escape artists, getting into everything, and causing significant damage and mess. Tales of raccoons raiding the fridge, ripping apart furniture, and destructive late-night rampages are far too common for raccoon owners.

Raccoon dog

Aggressive Tendencies

Beyond being mischievous and rambunctious, raccoons can also display aggressive behaviors stemming from their wild roots. While they don’t typically attack unless feeling threatened or trapped, even playing too roughly can lead to serious scratches or bites from their strong jaws. Raccoons may seem docile, but they are powerful mammals that can turn feisty very quickly if startled or defensive.

Their aggression poses a serious risk to households with small children or babies. Children often don’t understand how to properly interact with any animal, let alone a wild one like a raccoon. Even a typical raccoon behavior like “food aggression” around meal times could promote snapping or biting. For this reason, raccoons and children are a very dangerous mix that experts strongly caution against.

Health and Safety Risks

In addition to potential aggression issues, raccoons pose some legitimate health risks that make them unsafe as household pets. One of the biggest dangers is the range of diseases they can carry and transmit to humans.

Raccoons are a primary host for various strains of the rabies virus in many parts of the world. Raccoon rabies is easily transmitted through bites or scratches that break the skin. Other infectious diseases they may carry include leptospirosis, giardia, raccoon roundworm, and more. These pathogens can cause serious illness in people with compromised immune systems.

Raccoon dog

There’s also the risk of contracting parasites and injuries from raccoon bites and scratches that can break the skin. Their sharp teeth and long nails pose a danger, especially if they feel threatened or become aggressive during play or feeding time.

It’s also worth noting that some areas ban or have strict regulations against keeping raccoons and other wild animals as pets due to these health risks, potential issues with abandoned pets, and animal welfare concerns.

Challenging Diet and Housing Requirements

Even if you can safely meet a raccoon’s behavioral needs and mitigate disease risks, housing and feeding them appropriately is an immense challenge very few private individuals can meet. In the wild, raccoons forage for a wide variety of foods like berries, insects, eggs, small mammals, fish, and more to meet all their nutritional requirements.

Raccoon dog

Replicating this diverse diet in captivity requires supplying them specialized feed that contains all the proper proteins, fats, vitamins, and nutrients they need to stay healthy. Improper diets can lead to health issues and obesity. They also need constant access to fresh water to stay hydrated.

As for housing, raccoons need a very large enclosure or pen to have enough room to stay active, explore, climb, dig, and express their natural behaviors. Ideally, this set-up should include areas for swimming, digging, perching at different levels, and more variety. Simply housing them indoors severely restricts their needs and enrichment.

Raccoon-proofing the entire home is also critical to prevent these smart, nimble escape artists from causing havoc. Raccoons can easily open doors, cabinets, drawers, and more and have a strong drive to explore and find food sources. Without proper precautions, they will ransack the home and help themselves to any food left out.

The Time, Money and Commitment Required

All of these specialized care requirements for raccoons add up to an immense time and money commitment that makes them impractical as pets for most households. Their nutritional needs alone are quite costly, and they demand a great deal of enrichment, social interaction, and exercise to stay healthy and engaged. An owner would need to devote a considerable amount of time and funds to their care daily.

Additionally, raccoons can live 15-20 years in captivity. This lifespan requires a permanent, lifelong commitment that many people simply can’t make when taking on any new pet. Few want the burden of finding a new home for a rescued or abandoned raccoon in their later years.

Raccoon dog

Potential for Abandonment and Release

Speaking of abandonment, this sad reality is far too common with raccoons and other wild animals kept as pets. Too often, owners quickly become overwhelmed by the demands of care, aggressive behaviors, property destruction, and other issues that arise. When they can no longer handle the raccoon, they choose to illegally release it into the wild or abandon it entirely.

In both cases, this poses serious animal welfare concerns and risks to public safety. Raccoons released outdoors spread diseases and parasites to wild populations while also potentially exposing people to rabies risks. They’re considered an invasive species in many areas where they were released too and disrupt the local ecosystems.

Those that are abandoned often can’t fend for themselves since they lack the natural survival skills to hunt, find shelter, or avoid predators. This leads to them starving, getting injured or killed by vehicles, contracting diseases, or causing problems around human properties while looking for sources of food and shelter.

At the end of the day, while cute, raccoons are wild animals best left in their natural habitats. The significant housing, nutritional, safety and enrichment challenges make them impractical and unethical as pets for the average individual. We strongly caution against keeping raccoons as pets and instead recommend sticking to domesticated dogs, cats, and other traditional household companions better suited for family life.

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