How to stop raccoons from taking over your home

By Sam Schipani, Bangor Daily News Staff

Raccoons can wreak havoc on your yard and house if they settle in. If you can resist the charms of these skyscraper-scaling “trash pandas,” there are a few simple steps you can take to preventing raccoons from coming to your yard, and then handling them when they do.

According to the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, the raccoon is a native mammal prevalent throughout Maine. Though they prefer forested areas near a stream or water source, raccoons have adapted to various environments throughout the state, especially in urban areas with restrictions on and trapping, lack of predators and food supplied by humans (living up to their “trash panda” reputation, raccoons will eat almost anything). 

“Raccoons are attracted to your home mostly due to food and shelter,” said Randy Canarr, owner of Maine Wildlife Management in Winterport. “What we see most often is either there is [a] ready food source such as bird feeders, garbage or pet food available.”

Raccoons do not truly hibernate through the winter, but as temperatures fall, they will seek shelter in dens, which they may make in attics, crawl spaces, chimneys and abandoned vehicles.

“Warm, secure locations like attics and garages provide excellent spots for overwintering, so raccoons may be attracted to a property if these locations are accessible,” said Griffin Dill, integrated pest management specialist.

Raccoons may be cute, but they can cause problems for homeowners.

“Raccoons are notorious for knocking over trash cans, pulling down bird feeders, and even ransacking gardens in their quest for food,” Dill said. “Raccoons living in attics, garages, or other structures can cause serious damage as they tear openings in walls and ceilings, rip up insulation, and even chew wires and other materials.” 

Raccoons also harbor health risks for people and their pets. 

“In addition to property damage, raccoons can pose health threats to humans and pets through the transmission of rabies, parvovirus and canine distemper,” Dill said. “Raccoons can also harbor a potentially harmful internal roundworm that is spread through their droppings.”

The best thing to do is to take preventative measures to keep raccoons away from your home. Remove food sources by keeping trash cans in garages or sheds or by tightly securing lids, removing bird feeders and pet dishes and regularly picking up fallen fruit from trees. Canarr also advised trimming back trees to make it more difficult for raccoons to access attics. Dill added the chimney dampers or commercial chimney caps may also keep raccoons from getting inside your home.

Raccoons also may be attracted to raised beds, so protective measures may need to be taken there as well.

“Building fencing around gardens is a good first step in keeping many types of pests out, however, since raccoons are agile climbers, a simple fence may not be sufficient,” Dill said. “Single or double wire electric fences placed roughly [six to eight] inches above the ground are generally effective at keeping raccoons from entering the garden.”

Sometimes, though, raccoons find a way despite homeowners’ best efforts. At that point you need to address it. If you have a den in your yard, addressing it might not be the way to solve the problem.

“In addition to the potential for denning inside homes and structures, raccoons will make use of hollow trees, brush piles, abandoned burrows, culverts, and other sites that offer protection from the weather,” Dill said. “[They] may also utilize multiple dens, so focusing on den removal may not be an effective method of dealing with raccoons.”

If a raccoon finds its way into your house, you can try to close surrounding interior doors, leave the room and let the animal find its way back out through the opening, perhaps coaxing it with a broom if necessary. Trapping and relocating raccoons yourself is not recommended.

“Raccoons have little chance of survival following relocation and could spread diseases to new areas, “ Dill said. “If all sanitation and exclusion methods have been attempted or if they cannot be adequately achieved, it may be best to call a professional.”

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