How Do You Get Rid of Raccoons? Tips and Tales on Raccoons and Cats
Raccoons Are Smarter Than You Might Think
How smart are raccoons? Extremely smart. Much of my childhood involved a cat-and-mouse-like game between my family and raccoons—they found increasingly clever ways to sneak into our house and steal our cat Pumpkin's food, and we found increasingly drastic ways to stave them off.
Though you might think that humans are savvy enough to have everything under control, raccoons are clever creatures that are surprisingly difficult to thwart. Below I'll share my personal raccoon experiences with you, as well as share some tips on raccoons and how to get rid of them.
Learning From Experience
As I mentioned above, I've had enough personal experience with raccoons to know just how difficult it is to get rid of them.
As they might say in some of our local regions, raccoons "are HELLA smart!"
Though I live in a fairly urban area, we've always had raccoons. Typically, they'll slink around and poke around trash cans, but at one point during my childhood, the family of raccoons on my block decided that that wasn't enough. They wanted the good stuff, and the good stuff was inside.
They took to sneaking in through our cat door. We could always tell they had been in our home the morning after a visit (yes, we slept through a lot of these) because they left muddy footprints around the house. That never really got creepy until I woke up one morning to find them around my bed, which is on the second floor on the opposite side of the house. There's no food there, so that had all of us rather perplexed!
Aside from being creepy and watching young children as they slept, what did these clever creatures do once inside our home? They ate, of course!
They started with simple offenses like eating all the food in the cat bowl, but that wasn't quite enough, so eventually, they found where the entire bag of cat food was kept. They took to nomming on that; then they quickly discovered the concept of takeout and began smuggling bags out through the cat door and outside, where they enjoyed their food in the comfort of the lovely raccoon bistro below our back porch.
One night, we encountered two raccoons in the act—a mother outside the cat door, pulling the bag of cat food, and its juvenile kin on the inside, pushing. Aside from being wildly humorous (raccoon thieves! Caught in the act!), this was a rather dangerous situation, as we had a trapped, scared, and potentially dangerous animal in our house.
After this episode, we decided to get a locking cat door that only opened when a magnet affixed to our cat's collar was brought near to it. This door was no match for the raccoons. They quickly learned how to pick the lock with their claws.
After that point, we had to deadbolt and block the door each night. That did the trick, though unfortunately the critters moved on to new homes and did even more damage (more on that below).
How Do You Get Rid of Raccoons?
Personal stories aside, let's move on to the practicalities of getting rid of raccoons. How does one do it?
Well, here are some tips:
- Keep all food waste locked up once you dispose of it outside of your home.
- Get a magnet locking cat door: Maybe our family of raccoons was just particularly smart, and also, were they initially deterred by this door, they might not have bothered in the first place)
- Get motion detectors that set off lights: This is a convenient feature for deterring uninvited humans as well as raccoons—unfortunately, the raccoons will quickly get bolder and stop caring, so this should not be your one and only measure.
- Generally batten down the hatches: Make sure that your attic and chimney are sell sealed off to prevent raccoons from sneaking in, and check for any other structural weaknesses or holes in your home that might make it possible for raccoons to edge in.
In the comments below, Edweirdo offers some additional tips that I think are definitely worth sharing:
- Fences make for an excellent deterrent: Raccoons will always find a way to break and enter, but if you block obvious pathways, they might be more likely to go elsewhere
- Powdered fox urine only goes so far: As I mentioned above, raccoons quickly get used to lights, and Edweirdo agrees, plus adds powdered fox urine to the basket of "raccoon deterrents that only go so far." Looks like raccoons adjust to that stuff too... plus.... how do people collect the stuff? Gosh, it brings up some funny imagery.
- Keep trash bins in the garage: This is an excellent way to make sure raccoons aren't finding a regular food source on your property—plus reduces the chances of them making a royal mess, too!
LeisureLife also offers this excellent and simple tip:
- Pour hot sauce all over your garbage: They'll probably not want to come back after that!
When It Is Time for More Drastic Measures
Raccoons in the Attic
After going for our home, our raccoons decided to take on the neighbor's house. They ended up building a weekend chalet in what would be her attic, but it was more like a crawlspace between her ceiling and roof.
You do not want to know the kind of disgusting mess this produced. All you need to know is that the resulting mess was gross, very expensive, and a general nightmare. This kind of situation should be avoided if at all possible and dealt with as quickly as possible.
If you find raccoons trying to nest in your attic, you need to call pest control. They will handle anyone still in your attic, and may also set traps in your yard. It's not going to be a fun experience—the calls from a trapped raccoon are devastating and rather freaky. I know this from experience. But I suppose it's what you've got to do.
When picking a pest control service, though, try to go with a humane one; one that relocates raccoons to the wild instead of just killing them outright. THEY didn't choose for human civilization to move into their habitats, right? Or at least, they don't deserve to die just because they're clever.
In the comments below, s.carver shares that there are plenty of catch-and-release programs out there and that the ones she has encountered in her experiences even baited traps with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches! Now that's reasonable.
One of the scariest stories I've ever heard is the real account of a woman who had been attacked by one when walking to her home on a snowy day. This story was told in one part of a This American Life episode titled "And the Call Was Coming from the Basement," which first ran on October 27th, 2006. It is an excellent episode, and I've linked to it to the right. I highly recommend listening to it!
If you EVER encounter a rabid raccoon, GET AWAY and make sure that it is shot and killed immediately. If you have been bitten or scratched at ALL by the raccoon, be sure to get treated straight away.
Raccoons and Cats
If you have a pet cat, you might be particularly interested in knowing how much of a risk raccoons pose to your feline friend. Raccoons and cats often become associated for the simple reason that they both like food and water and are somewhat similar in size, so if you're catering to one with special, convenient food bowls and doors, the other might want in on all the fun.
How do cats react to raccoons?
When raccoons were in my home and backyard my cat was nowhere to be seen. She had the good reason to keep away from the family of raccoons on the block because not only were they bigger and fiercer, but they also rolled in packs, like big, sort-of-cute, furry gangs.
Hopefully, most cats have similar reactions to raccoons—they do the Aikido thing and "get off the line" and out of harm's way.
What can I do to protect my cat from raccoons?
If you have raccoons in your area, make sure that, if allowed to go outside, your cat is never kept in a cage or other enclosure that might trap it and prevent it from getting away (raccoons might come into said enclosure to eat its food, and the cat would have nowhere to hide).
Also be sure to get a locking cat door, and to make sure that your cat is inside each night before locking it.
If your cat ever gets in a fight with raccoons, you might consider making the cat an indoor cat—at least until the raccoon issue is handled.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.