Human/Animal Bond

Raccoons make lousy pets. Really.

Nothing stops them from chomping flesh when they want to

Published: February 01, 2016
By Ned Gentz, DVM, DACZM

These kits spent the night before being released back into the wild. Photo by David Seerveld

You may think you would like a raccoon for a pet. Trust me, you would not. If you really, really want a pet raccoon, get it from a licensed breeder. I don’t know where any are but I know that they’re around. In most places it is illegal to keep a wild raccoon. Heck, in any number of places keeping any raccoon may be illegal, especially if you live in a rabies-endemic area like the U.S. eastern seaboard.

Speaking of rabies – and you always do when you’re talking about these guys - raccoons are the most common wildlife species to become infected with rabies. Rabies scares me a lot. Zombies scare me too, but rabies even more so. Raccoons also are susceptible to canine distemper as well as feline parvovirus, so captive raccoons should be vaccinated for these diseases. Some veterinarians might not agree to do this, however. Use of these vaccinations are what is referred to as off-label. What this means is that even though a raccoon may be vaccinated for rabies, if the raccoon bites somebody, the legal authorities will not consider it to be vaccinated and the raccoon will have to be euthanized and tested for rabies.

While we’re talking about raccoon health issues, let’s talk about the raccoon roundworm, Baylisascaris procyonis. This parasite doesn’t bother the raccoon too much, but if this worm gets into other species, including people, it can wreak havoc. This evil worm likes to crawl around where it shouldn’t, like in brains. Badness ensues. Blindness and coma are just two symptoms seen in people; others include loss of muscle control, liver enlargement, and nausea. There’s more, but you get the idea.

I ran a wildlife hospital for four years and treated numerous raccoons for various medical complaints. Veterinarians who do not specialize in wildlife may spend an entire career without encountering a raccoon, which may be just as well. You may have to search for a veterinarian who will work with one.

Many veterinarians don't understand wildlife laws. They think that they need a special wildlife license to treat injured wildlife. This is not the case in almost all circumstances. In most instances I am aware of, ordinary veterinarians are allowed to treat sick or injured wildlife in their veterinary clinics until that animal is stable or well enough to be released into the care of a licensed wildlife rehabber. Now, if a veterinarian practices in an area where it is legal to have pet raccoons, then it would perfectly fine for that vet to treat, neuter, and vaccinate (albeit off-label) a pet raccoon. However, if a raccoon was taken out of the wild illegally, then that would be a whole other ball of wax. Most vets would not be willing to risk the loss of their veterinary license in getting involved in such a situation.

Veterinarians aren't the only ones who work with raccoons: so do nuisance wildlife control operators. They remove baby and adult raccoons from homes. One such operator is David Seerveld, who has a terrific blog about the wildlife he removes from homes. He takes the raccoons and returns them to a wildlife spot over 10 miles away so they cannot find their way back to that house.

Seems that many people ask him for a baby raccoon so they can have them as a pet – he is sometimes offered a lot of money for one, but he won't do it. That's because he also thinks they make lousy pets.

On his blog, Seerveld says:

"I handle a lot of baby raccoons that I get out of attics, and they are just about the cutest animal alive - cuter than kittens or puppies, and they make the most darling noises. Just look at it cuddling on my lap. Irresistible. Great then! Just the pet you're looking for.

"Until it suddenly and without warning bites your face off once it reaches six months old. Raccoons are wild animals. There's a reason they are not commonly made pets. Believe me, if they could be domesticated, they would be, because they are very pretty and smart animals, and they have distinct personalities and a lot of fun traits. But they are wild animals through and through. Once they hit sexual maturity at about six months of age, they are no longer gentle and cuddly. I've heard of many cases in which people keep pet raccoons and suddenly find themselves under attack without warning one day. Yes, there are exceptions, and some raccoons are simply more aggressive than others."

The typical reality of adult raccoons is a desire to chomp flesh. Photo courtes of Bigstock

Male raccoons are said to not reach full sexual maturity until they are around two years old, but they start the hormonal slide much earlier. In order to head off unwanted behavioral changes associated with sexual maturity - aggression, for instance - having a veterinarian perform sexual sterilization surgery well before this point would be a really good idea.

In captivity, raccoons also tend towards obesity, which can lead to various health issues. This situation should be avoided.

Raccoons are big biters. They are prone to biting whenever they feel threatened, so be prepared that this may happen, because it will. The more raccoons get used to being handled a lot from an early age, the more it will help make them more social and less likely to bite. But really, nothing is going to stop them from chomping down on flesh. Kind of like zombies.

It’s best to keep your new pet raccoon away from your kids and the neighbor kids too, because of that chomping flesh thing. Raccoons are mischievous, by which I mean they are troublemakers. They get into everything. It is best that they are not given free run in your house. Baby-proofing a house is child’s play (ha!) compared to trying to raccoon-proof one. Babies don't run up into cabinets.

The bottom line here is that you don’t really want a raccoon for a pet. Trust me on this one.


Julie B
November 25, 2022

I live in a beach community and did a double take when I saw this raccoon on a leash. I asked the woman holding its leash, "Is that a pet raccoon?"  She said "No, he's a big boy." Not only did she contradict herself but yikes... what a weirdo.  Please stay away from me crazy lady.

Roberta L Collins
September 1, 2022

@Bill Morris, contact a wildlife center or rescue near you that care for raccoons. Explain the situation and they can teach him/her how to be a raccoon again. If you do not and decide to let him stay you you feed him, go to a local Tractor Supply Plus and get a dewormer for round and hook worm that has pyrental in it and gove it to him every 3-4 weeks. That will protect him and all people from the illness that can be transmitted to people. If someone is feeding a raccoon they cannot just up and move without taking then with. And whoever says raccoons are lousy pets, I love my coonies!!!

Phyllis DeGioia
June 1, 2022

Hi Bill, I checked with one of our wildlife/small mammal experts, and unfortunately he said there really isn't a humane way to deal with this situation. He suggested finding a wildlife center that can give the raccoon a permanent home; perhaps they could assist you in live trapping them. I am as sad as you are that this poor little raccoon is suffering from human intervention when the animal would have foraged naturally if left alone. Are the two cats feral? There are feral cat societies that can help. Good luck with them all

Bill Morris
May 29, 2022

My neighbor fed a raccoon and recently moved. He did this for at least five years and he also left 2 cats behind out of 10! Now the raccoon with his cat buddy are at my back door looking for cat food. He gets on his hind legs and begs. We feed him but we are concerned for him. This is why you shouldn’t feed wild animals. In this case it’s too late. Now we are afraid he can’t forage. Any ideas on how to humanely deal with this situation?

Kip A Torres
November 22, 2021

I was given 4 new born raccoons that still had wet umbilical cords. Their mother was killed right after giving birth. The person who shot their mother didn't know she just had babies. The mother raccoon was living in his attic and destroying everything. He tried many times to catch her but had no choice but to shoot her. When he picked her up he could tell she just had babies. He found them, gave them to me 2 males and 2 females. I raised them without an issue. The all had free rang as they grew. I saw the males about 3 times a week. One female came and went every day. They let me pet and play with till they past on. But one female named Charlie girl wouldn't leave my step and would never go more the 20 ft from my backdoor. She was tearing up the outside of my house to get inside. Finally after 5 months with constant repairs I finally gave in and let her come inside. She never wanted to go outside again nor would allow me to take her out, she was petrified of the outside. When I tried to take her for walks she would stand up, grab my leg, dig her claws into my leg and wouldn't let go till we were back inside. She was litter trained and had a cage inside that also opened up to the outside (which she never used the outside part). She would only go in her cage when I was not home. She never left my side, slept beside me every night inside her pillow case with her plush tiger. She did get cranky during her heat cycle but other than that I never had an issue nor did she ever bite me. I did keep her claws trimmed because they were like razor blades. She did get into stuff but never destroyed anything. She was a full-time job and I wouldn't recommend anyone getting a pet raccoon unless you can be with them 24-7. I was able to care for my Charlie because I was disabled. If I wasn't disabled there is no way she would have been a happy Charlie girl. She passed away at the age of 16. I saved her life and her siblings but what she did for me is save my life. When I got her I was giving up on life do to my illness. So in return she saved my life! She was the best pet ever! I would definitely would never have another one again because they are 24-7! The entire time I had Charlie I never went on vacation or stayed one night away. She was use to me for everything and I wouldn't want anybody to be hurt trying to care for her. After all she was a wild raccoon. Plus raccoons just don't trust anybody and sometimes not even their owners. For her safety and every body else's safety I stayed home. After she passed I felt like I lost a child. She was very very smart, almost like having a 3 to 4 year old child!

Skylar Hurt
October 27, 2021

Hello! I found a baby Raccoon, in a river, covered in maggots, alone, wet, etc. He is now 8 week's old, and he is better than any Cat, or animal I've owned. He has been wormed, and working on shots ETC. This was very helpful! I've had 2 before, we rescue and release. But they were much older! I'm worried since he was found so young, he won't be rehabilitative. I know they get aggressive when puberty starts, and I'm pretty read up on him. Decent experience. But basically, I'm asking what are the odds of successful rekey and adaption when found this young? I'm not sure if you can reply, any info would help! Thanks! We are extremely bonded, he never leaves my side. He get's along with other animals, and no HARD biting yet. I've been waiting

Phyllis DeGioia
August 17, 2021

Hi Craig, Thank you for writing. I'm always happy when someone involved in my article topic agrees with what's said. Raccoons are so sweet as kits, and can be so aggressive as adults.  Thank you for the care you provide for these beautiful wild animals. Wish I understood the emotions behind having such an exotic "pet." I suppose it confirms to someone how unique they are, and what kind of amazing animal person they are, but appropriate veterinary care is much harder to find than it is for dogs, cats, and "exotics" like rabbits. Too often people think they can provide a healthy lifestyle for whatever unusual species they have when they don't have enough understanding of the animal's needs. But I am preaching to the choir with you, Craig. Thank you, again, for all you do for these gorgeous animals.

August 16, 2021

We have read every post here relating to raccoons as pets, and as pets go, agree they are wild animals, and rarely work out well long term when you compare them to domestic animals. We have been involved with the care and custody of many raccoons as well as many other wild animals brought into a wildlife rehab center we volunteer for. Raccoons have become our primary focus , simply because there are so many brought in by “good samaritans “ who felt they were abandoned….. when most were temporarily separated from their mothers ( fathers do not raise young! ). Years of doing this, has taught us a lot about the importance of rehabbing and releasing all wild animals back into the wild, and most of those that survived our care , made it back to where they belong… but not all. Some …. albeit very few though… we’re not releasable mostly because of a disability/injury that would have made survival hard…. So they became full time residents of the center if quality of life was possible. We cared for many, and loved each and every one of them, and as much as we enjoyed being a part of their lives, we tell everyone that asks, they do not make good pets! They should not be caged once they are old enough to be on their own ( 7 to 8 months ). A compound is still a cage, and in time, healthy animals will usually let you know they want out!… and yes… deserve freedom if they are healthy enough to fend for themselves! Now I know there are examples of people having them long term without aggression, most we raised were never aggressive ( other than food aggression which is important for them to have ) and as mentioned, it has a lot to do with how young they were when obtained, and how they were raised. …..As much as we love them, we cannot tell anyone to obtain one as a pet…..

August 4, 2021

The best pet I ever had was a raccoon. They are not for everyone. You cannot just release them if you're tired of them either. It is a lot of responsibility. Mine never got agressive, but they weren't kept in a small cage with no socialization. Eventually they all decided to go on their own, but they were ready to. When I had them they learned to fish, I taught them to forage for food and insects, I did not feed them raw eggs so they wouldn't be attracted to farmers eggs. If you're not up tot he responsibility of an exotic pet then don't get one. If you do get one, don't be a jerk and do right by the animal.

June 11, 2021

I raised a female raccoon from about 4 weeks old until she turned 3 1/2years old. She never once turned aggressive and she loved children. She slept with me and we played all the time she was the sweetest little girl. It's like raising your own child. I believe animals wild or not turn out how ever people teach them to it's not the animal that make them mean it's the people that radie them

Virginia Pusateri
March 8, 2021

Raccoons are NOT PETS. There is NO SUCH THING as a ¨Pet¨ raccoon, except to the ignoramus who captures and confines his victim. Raccoons are wild animals. They are wild life. They BELONG in the wild. Mother Nature INTENDS for them to be wild. They are NOT domesticated. Domestication take MANY CENTURIES to occur, as with dogs and cats. Im not saying that I agree (or disagree, for that matter) with domestication, but with raccoons it isnt happening!Especially in the few MONTHS most people keep raccoons; as soon as they become adults, people lose their so called love for them when they see how destructive they are inside of a home. Those still dumb enough to keep them often keep them in little prisons and overfeed them grotesquely. I know all this to be true because I am a TRUE raccoon lover. I am a wildlife rehabilitator and have been working with raccoons for years. We take care of orphans and sick raccoons, and we release ALL of them to the wild...with the rare exception of a truly unreleasible animal. We deal with people ALL THE TIME who insist they can do it! Their experience will be differnt! They will have this wonderful, great, easy peasy time!! But inevitably, EVERY SINGLE TIME it does not work out and the people are back at the wildlife center with an animal they have deprived of aquiring animal that has been eating cookies,,,,an animal that is running animal THEY NO LONGER WANT. We rehabbers then have to spend MORE MONTHS getting them ready for release, a task that would have been much easier the first time!!!! EVERY single raccoon I have EVER helped was a victim. Every single one hurt by humans. Every single case, a human is involved. For the sake of animals everywhere...if you want to help raccoons, work with a rehabber. STOP MAKING OUR JOBS HARDER. WILD ANIMALS DESERVE A LIFE IN TH WILD. NO ONE HAS THE RIGHT TO STEAL THAT!!!

Lloyd Clary
March 4, 2021

A teenage friends dad shot a mama racoon.  She had two kits, a boy and a girl.  My friend kept the girl and I kept the boy.  He was a fun pet for the next year - I fed him a bottle and then solid food.  Once he was full grown and it was mating season he got very aggressive (teeth like razor blades) and would bite and claw at night to get out.  I finally had to release him and never saw him again.  They can't be tamed once hormones kick in.  He was a real conversation piece when he was small and was fun for that time.

Phyllis DeGioia
October 21, 2020

HI Jill, Yes, they are docile as babies and unbearably cute! Please be careful when they hit sexual matiurity, which they will relatively soon. Almost everything about their behavior may change. Be prepared for Plan B.

Jill A. Coulter
October 21, 2020

In April I received Two baby coons, landscapers had cut down their home my son showed up with the heavy equipment and they offered him a kit. He got one for me and his cohort also took one. After reading about it, I found that it is far better to raise two at one time so, I ended up with both. They had just opened their eyes and they did need to be bottle-fed. For me that was a nightmare. As soon as one bottle was fixed I had to fill another. Not only that but I had to mix my own formula. It's a good thing I breast fed, otherwise, I'd have one dead child. They slept with me from the get-go. They never had an accident on the bed. They sleep with me now that they're approximately 6 months-old. They have a huge floor to ceiling cage but I  cannot bare to put them in it. In my wildest dreams I could never imagine them being so sweet and docile. Kittens and puppies nip and scratch. Not raccoon kits. They are so sweet. They haven't hurt me yet and I can't imagine them ever doing so. Perhaps it's because they've never been locked up. They are Loves but, the most destructive animal I've ever seen. While I'm cleaning up one mess, one raccoon starts a new mess and the other waits until I finish cleaning so they can go tear it up again. They are busy little animals and do require a great deal of time. I think they make terrific pets but only if you devote yourself to them.

Frances Butler
October 9, 2020

I’ve raised three raccoons ,  I think they are adorable.  They each had different personalities. I raised them from tiny babies eyes still closed. I would love to have another one but hard to find them while very young.  Older ones do not make good pets.  They always have a bit of wild nature.

September 12, 2020

FYI, raccoons aren't as bad pets as what you make them out to be, but whatever.

Jeffrey D Conner
November 22, 2019

I only had one sort of bad situation. i raised many baby Racoons as a kid. Mostly so young I had to bottle feed them.And most around a year old just left on their own. One however loved me. And when it was young it liked to jump out of a tree on me. Was ok until in weighed 20 pounds. My Dad had to drive it 50 miles away.But never had anyone of them bite me.And most slept with me in my bed.And yes mess up my room on occasion.

Christy Corp-Minamiji, DVM
July 27, 2019

Hi Paz, One of our wildlife consultants recommended this information guide.

Paz Flores
July 14, 2019

Thank you for your good common sense advice. I trap and release feral cats.  Now I have mama & 4 babies I think living behind storage unit. Baby kittens have disappeared. I feed five feral cats in bk yard. I have read tat relocating raccoons minimizes their life expectancy. What is the most humane thing to do for all involved?  Trap / release spaying... or relocating with a reputable trapper tat won’t destroy them. Please advise me.  Where are you located?  Thank you,Paz

Phyllis DeGioia
October 12, 2018

Hi Patricia, It's impossible to know, really.  She may drop by for visits, but as she is a wild animal, it may be that she simply prefers to be in the wild.

Patricia Newton
October 11, 2018

I have raised my baby raccoon since he was 2days old . I have never confined her. She turned 3 months an hangs around our farm all day everyday an in the evening I take her 4 wheel riding. But I haven't seen her at all today. I have called her name an nothing. Do you think she will come back?

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