May 26, 2011
The late night ruckus coming from the back porch may not be a
robber or even the friendly neighborhood cat. Raccoons love
to filter through the trash and can frequently be seen doing so
during the late hours of the night.
However fascinating this may be, experts advise people to stay
away from cute little Rocky the Raccoon.
"Homeowners should use caution when they see raccoons in their
neighborhood," said Dr. Alice Blue-McLendon, a professor in the
College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas
"Although they are not inherently vicious, they can carry a
number of diseases, including rabies, and can attack humans and
pets if provoked," explained Blue-McLendon.
Raccoons are one of the most recognizable creatures in the
United States and are found in almost every major habitat.
They have the unique ability to adapt to the changing environment
and to navigate through storm sewers that lead to residential
By surviving on a highly diverse diet ranging from acorns to
fish, they often cause problems for fruit and vegetable
Their characteristic "bandit" mask may be the least visible sign
of their troublesome behavior. Raccoons have been known to
rummage through trash cans, pillage gardens, and even enter
households through pet doors. They have been seen taking up
residence in barns, attics, chimneys, and the crawl spaces under
buildings and homes, often leaving a mess and destruction
"Aside from the property damage they cause, raccoons can carry
rabies as well as an intestinal parasite that can cause serious
brain damage and death if ingested," said Blue-McLendon.
This zoonotic parasite called Baylisascaris procyonis or,
"raccoon roundworm," is contracted through feces. If
ingested, larvae can hatch, migrate through tissue, and can invade
the brain and eye area, causing serious injury.
Young children who still orally explore their surroundings, or
those simply playing in areas where fecal matter may be
accidentally ingested may be affected.
Blue-McLendon advises against keeping raccoons as pets due to
the increasing prevalence of rabies.
"Aside from the risk of disease, it is incredibly hard to tame
these animals; they have sharp teeth and claws that can inflict
pain and injury," explained Blue-McLendon.
For people who live in areas frequented by raccoons, making sure
family members wash their hands regularly when playing or working
outdoors is a good precaution to take. To protect a home and yard
from the destruction left behind by raccoons, trash cans should be
secured and if possible, kept in the garage or shed until the
morning of removal.
Chicken wire can be used to close crawl spaces under homes and
entries into attics. Locks can be placed on pet doors and
caps can be installed on chimneys.
"The nuisance and damage caused by raccoons can be minimized
when homeowners understand the behaviors of these animals," said
Blue-McLendon, "Like other urban wildlife species, raccoons are
very mobile and will usually move on in a few weeks."
However, if homeowners find their patience growing thin,
raccoons can be safely encouraged to relocate with the help of an
animal control specialist.
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