Raccoons and Rabies: Very Little in California!

A Better Solution to Trapping and Relocating

How to Solve Raccoon/Human Conflicts

Myths and Facts about Raccoons

Raccoons and Rabies: Very Little in California!

The California Department of Public Health tracks rabies cases by county in our state. Raccoons accounted for FIVE of the approximately 2800 cases of rabies reported in California in the past 10 years. The sole raccoon case in the Bay Area occurred in Novato last year as a result of a rabid bat biting the raccoon. Bats, skunks, fox, and domestic animals each account for more cases of rabies than raccoons.

Thankfully, there is very little raccoon rabies in the Western United States. The Surveillance Data from the Centers for Disease Control indicate the East Coast of the United States is the area of main concern for raccoon rabies. That being said, any mammal can get rabies, and prevention is key to protecting ourselves.

Rabies is usually passed to humans via the bite of a rabid animal. Occasionally it can be transmitted if the saliva of an infected animal gets into a fresh scratch, break in the skin, or contact with mucous membranes (eyes, mouth, nose).

Never touch or approach a wild raccoon, and always wear gloves if you must handle any wild animal, even if it is dead. Use a shovel or cardboard to move dead animals. Be careful with all animals, as they can harbor diseases and parasites other than rabies.

If you see a raccoon that looks sick, (runny eyes and nose, dragging legs, weak, seeming “tame,”) call our hotline at 510/421-9897, your local Animal Care & Control Department or Vector Control for advice. Note: canine distemper, a virus common to raccoons, that is NOT transmissible to humans, can have similar symptoms to rabies.

Enjoy wild animals from a distance. Do not handle, feed, or attract them. Place trash in secure garbage cans.

Never adopt or bring wild animals into your home. Teach your children not to handle unfamiliar animals, wild or domestic, even if they appear friendly. Keep rabies vaccinations up-to-date for all cats and dogs.

Prevent bats from entering areas where they might come in contact with people or pets.

Check out the California Department of Public Health website for current California-specific rabies tracking information:

And if you want specific statistical numbers, check out the latest Annual Rabies Report in California:

A Better Solution to Trapping and Relocating

Dear Rancho Raccoon: I recently trapped a pesky raccoon who has been using the cat door. I dropped it off in a nice park, with trees and a lake. Now I find out this is illegal. What’s the problem? The common idea that removing one or a few animals will resolve a wildlife issue is a myth. Removing one particular animal that is causing a problem simply makes room for another animal to continue the behavior. The effective solution is to remove the attractant, or the method of entry. Pet food, pet doors, new grass, ponds, open windows, uncapped chimneys, all invite wildlife to come on in and share the wealth!

California Fish and Game Code (CCR 679) states that trapped wildlife may not be relocated. Trapped wildlife must be killed or released in the immediate area – defined in CDFG policy as the property on which the animal was trapped.

Moving wildlife from one location to another is not as humane as you might believe. Much of our local wildlife lives in family groups for a large part of the year, and has dependent juveniles into the fall and winter. It can be fatal to remove a wild animal from its territory into another. Wildlife is very jealous of the resources in their territories, and do not welcome new members. In their home territories, most animals have enough knowledge of the area and of the other animals in it to avoid difficult situations if they want to. Not so in an entirely new territory.

Finally, removing an animal who is bothering you is usually not a long-term solution to the problem. Wildlife is attracted to properties for food or nesting purposes. If you remove the food attractant, and close off the opportunities to nest in structures, your wildlife problems will be over.

Please, do not trap and relocate wildlife! Call our hotline at 510/421-9897 for advice on dealing with wildlife conflicts.

How to Solve Raccoon/Human Conflicts

10 Ways to Prevent Wildlife Problems:

  1. Don’t leave pet food outside.
  2. Don’t leave bird seed in feeders or on the ground overnight.
  3. Don’t put unsecured garbage outside at night.
  4. Close and lock pet doors at night.
  5. Trim overhanging branches that provide easy access to your roof for squirrels, raccoons and rats.
  6. Cap your chimney.
  7. Inspect roof, eaves and siding for damage.
  8. Make sure vent covers are not broken or missing.
  9. Install L-shaped wire barriers to prevent animals from digging under decks.
  10. Share this information with your neighbors!

Raccoon Myths and Facts

If you see a raccoon out in the daytime, it is probably rabid.  MYTH!
Here in California there is little raccoon rabies.  Most cases of raccoon rabies are found in the Eastern half of the United States. While any mammal can contract rabies, usually through bat bites, raccoons are not among the animals likeliest to get or spread rabies in California. There have only been three reported cases of raccoon rabies in the state of California in the last 10 years.  Rabies vector species here are bats, skunks and fox.

If you see a raccoon out in the daytime, it is either hungry (much like humans, raccoons occasionally arise from sleep for a snack), injured or ill, or has been disturbed from its sleeping site.

As with all wild animals, don’t approach it, but there is no need to panic.  If it appears sick or injured, call your local Humane Society or wildlife rehabilitation center.

Raccoons are cat-killers.  MYTH!It would be foolish to state that a raccoon would never kill a cat, and it has happened on occasion.  However, raccoons and cats generally co-exist in peace, usually ignoring each other completely.  Cats often hiss and growl at raccoons, and raccoons usually back off.  Of course, when food is involved raccoons spring into action, and will always reach an arm past even a hissing cat to get into the food bowl. To avoid cat/raccoon conflict and fighting, do not feed animals outdoors, and keep cats in at night.

I have seen many a cat attack a raccoon attempting to sneak into a house, and every time the raccoon has skulked away looking embarrassed. My female cat, Missy, used to find raccoons had entered my house at night through an open deck door, and chase them through the entire flat and out the back deck where they scrambled down the deck posts as fast as they could.  Missy died of heart failure at a natural cat age, secure in the knowledge that no raccoon had ever made it past her vigilant guard.

It’s always a good idea to keep all pets inside and lock cat doors at night to protect your pet and avoid unwanted houseguests. If you must leave a cat door open at night for your cat, be sure to pick up any cat food left out in the evening so that raccoons, skunks, and other night-time visitors will not find a lovely midnight buffet awaiting them.  Never leave food outside for animals, as that is an open invitation to all local wildlife to join the feed!

Raccoons are exceptionally loyal.  FACT!

Raccoons stick together in tight mother and offspring groups for most of the babies’ first year. The mother and siblings will not leave a family member who is caught in a trap, stuck up a tree or otherwise unable to go with them for some time, and try everything they can to free their family member.

Over and over I’ve seen young orphan raccoons learning to climb large trees, become frightened and cling to high branches crying as their siblings descend. Invariably one or more siblings scurry all the way back up the tree and surround the frightened one, chittering, nosing and sometimes butting it gently to encourage it down the tree.

A mother raccoon who gets locked out of a den site in a home will claw and bite at the blocked entrance for hours, sometimes for several nights, to get to her babies. If a baby is found in a home where the mother has been locked out, it can usually be reunited with its mother for the next couple of nights by placing the baby in a box outside the entrance the raccoon has been using, and placing a towel the baby has been sleeping in just outside the box for the mother to smell. When attempting to reunite a mother and baby, it is most important that someone stays to watch and ensure the baby isn’t taken by a predator (human or wild), and that the baby is warm and safe while the attempt to reunite occurs. For more advice on reuniting mothers and babies, call Rancho Raccoon or your local wildlife rehabilitation center.

Raccoons must wash their food because they produce no saliva.  MYTH!

Raccoons love water, and will almost always put their hands into water if it’s available. The nerves in raccoon hands, which are as sensitive as those in human hands, become even more sensitive when wet.  When raccoons put food in water, it isn’t to clean it, or because they need the moisture, but to feel it with their wet paws.

Raccoons are great fishermen as well, and crayfish are among their favorite foods, along with crabs and other shellfish.

Raccoons can eat almost anything.  FACT!Raccoons are among the most omnivorous and adaptable of animals. They’re able to digest and use all kinds of foods from grasses to vegetables to acorns, bark, rodents, shellfish, fish, frogs, legumes, birds, eggs and most of all, delicious insects! That’s why we seldom see thin raccoons unless they are ill or orphaned.

Raccoons are opportunistic feeders, in fact raccoons in general embody the ideal of opportunism. Therefore it’s important to keep pet food and our human food and garbage out of reach of raccoons (and other wildlife) to avoid wildlife/human conflicts. While feeding wildlife is a lot of fun for humans, because we get to see them up close, it is not good practice for the animals.

Once they become used to getting food from humans they don’t know that they should not:

– be greedy (greed is a positive for wild animals),

– break in when no food is put out,

– have loud, occasionally bloody, fights over food,

– make their nests in the crawlspace, and

– invite all their friends

Raccoons make good pets.  MYTH!

Raccoons are highly intelligent, independent, instinctive, adaptable, determined and above all, wild. Once they’re past the baby stage, they become more solitary than when young, and if given the choice, will go off to live their own lives.

If they are forced to be pets, they are moody and destructive of property. Even the sweetest “pet” raccoon cannot be trusted not to bite its caretakers or other humans. Biting is a fact of life among wild animals, and is perfectly natural. It is not an attractive attribute in a house pet. Please do yourself and raccoons a favor, and don’t try to keep them as pets.

Like all wild animals, raccoons should be allowed to live their natural wild lives and not be forced into domestic arrangements they would never choose for themselves.

It is illegal to keep raccoons or any other wildlife as pets in California.

Raccoon roundworm can be passed to humans.  FACT!Raccoons harbor a parasite called Baylis ascaris procyonis, or raccoon roundworm. The parasite is passed to humans ONLY through ingestion of raccoon feces that contain the eggs (it is not passed through the air). It can cause eye and central nervous system problems in humans and animals other than raccoons.

It is most dangerous to small children or people with weak immune systems. There have been cases of small children eating raccoon feces found outdoors and ingesting the eggs. Raccoons generally have latrine areas outdoors, and contracting the parasite can be avoided easily by watching small children outdoors and careful hand-washing.

Those who work around raccoon feces, like wildlife rehabilitators, take extra precautions to avoid the parasite, such as wearing masks when cleaning raccoon pens and giving foster care raccoons a wormer while they are in care.

Moral: Don’t eat raccoon poop!

Raccoons’ hind feet that can turn backwards to climb down trees head first.  FACT!Raccoons are able to climb head first down trees because their hind feet naturally turn 180 degrees to allow them to cling with their claws.

Baby raccoons don’t realize this at first, and will climb down trees backwards, peering nervously down over their shoulders (and past their fat tummies). Their first few forays headfirst down a tree trunk are a nervous thrill for them! After a little while, they can be seen zipping headfirst down smooth-trunked trees, only using their hind feet to help steer and “brake.”

Raccoons aren’t harmed by cat or dog diseases.  MYTH.Raccoons can get many of the same parasites and viruses that domestic pets get.  Two of the most common killers of raccoons are feline panleukopenia (feline distemper or parvo), and canine distemper.  These diseases are passed among many kinds of wildlife, and occur from time to time in most areas.  Canine distemper in raccoons is often mistaken for rabies, because it can have similar neurological symptoms in its late stages.

Humans should always protect both pets and wildlife by ensuring domestic animals’ vaccinations are up-to-date.

Raccoons do nothing helpful for humans, just eat up our garbage and nest in our houses!  MYTH!

While it’s true that raccoons can be rather pesky neighbors, until we learn to keep them out of our garbage cans (2 bungee cords crossed on any garbage can lid will keep the masked banditos out) and from under our homes (close up entrances when you know the raccoons are gone), very few people know that they delight in eating up every yellowjacket they get between their jaws!  Yes, they do get stung, but the swelling only lasts an hour or two, and they don’t seem to mind when the reward is another delicious insect meal.

They are also good little rodent-frighteners, and will eat rats and mice whenever they can catch them.

Written by Megan Isadore

1 Comment

  1. Please do NOT leave a comment here with a wildlife emergency. No one will read it in time. Please use the information above or on our emergency page to solve your problem or call the appropriate place for help. Thank you.