Raccoons are a common wild animal found throughout North America. While they are cute and fascinating to observe, raccoons can sometimes come into conflict with humans, especially when they get into trash cans, take up residence in attics or chimneys, or cause damage to gardens or property. This leads some people to wonder – should I kill raccoons that are causing problems? As a wildlife biologist, I’m here to help answer that question.

Are Raccoons Dangerous?

Raccoon dog

First, let’s address the potential risks associated with raccoons. Raccoons can sometimes carry diseases like rabies, canine distemper, and raccoon roundworm that can be transmitted to pets and humans. However, the risk of disease transmission from raccoons is generally low. Only a small percentage of raccoons carry rabies, and transmission to humans is very rare. Raccoons are also not aggressive by nature and will generally avoid confrontations with people and pets.

Raccoons can cause damage and make messes when they overturn trash cans, dig in gardens, or den in human structures. However, in most cases this damage is relatively minor. Raccoons are not malicious – they are simply opportunistic and are drawn to human spaces in search of food and shelter.

Killing Raccoons is Inhumane and Often Illegal

Raccoon dog

Some people’s first instinct when dealing with a perceived raccoon problem may be to kill the animal. However, killing raccoons is inhumane and should only be considered as an absolute last resort in extreme situations, if at all. Like all living creatures, raccoons can feel pain, fear and suffering. Killing them via body-gripping traps, drowning, poison or other methods is cruel and can lead to an agonizing, prolonged death.

In most jurisdictions, it is also illegal for homeowners to kill raccoons and other wildlife themselves without a permit. In the U.S., raccoons are classified as furbearers and there are regulations around hunting and trapping them. Killing raccoons without proper permits can lead to fines and legal trouble. Cruelty to animals is also prohibited in most areas.

Even if killing raccoons was legal, it is almost never necessary or effective. Removing one or two problem raccoons will not solve conflicts, as other raccoons from the surrounding area will eventually move in to take advantage of the same food sources and shelter. Killing raccoons also disrupts the local ecosystem and can lead to unintended consequences.

Effective, Humane Solutions for Resolving Conflicts

Raccoon dog

Fortunately, there are many effective, nonlethal methods for humanely resolving conflicts with raccoons and preventing problems:

  • Animal-proof trash cans and secure lids will prevent raccoons from getting into garbage. Trash should also be secured indoors until the morning of collection.
  • Sealing off access to chimneys, attics, crawl spaces and other potential raccoon den sites will make your home less attractive. Cap chimneys, repair holes, and use heavy mesh to exclude raccoons.
  • Cleaning up fallen fruit and securing pet food indoors will remove food sources that attract raccoons and other wildlife to your property.
  • Bright lights, loud noises and unpleasant smells like ammonia-soaked rags can be used to humanely harass raccoons and encourage them to leave an area where they are not wanted.
  • Professional wildlife control operators can humanely remove raccoons from inaccessible areas like chimneys and attics, and can advise on animal-proofing your home.

In the rare cases where individual raccoons must be killed due to disease or because they are a threat to public safety, this should be done as humanely as possible by professionals. Lethal control should not be undertaken lightly.

Raccoon dog

Appreciate Raccoons From a Distance

The best approach is almost always to appreciate raccoons from a distance and take preventative measures so you can minimize conflicts and coexist peacefully. Raccoons are intelligent, adaptable wild animals that play important roles in the ecosystem. By removing attractants from our properties and living responsibly alongside wildlife, we can avoid most conflicts. Killing raccoons is cruel, ineffective and unnecessary in the vast majority of situations. With a little knowledge and effort, we can all learn to live alongside these fascinating masked bandits.

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