Raccoons are amazingly intelligent and adaptable creatures. Although classified as a carnivore, raccoons are actually opportunistic omnivores. As humans continue to take over their habitats, raccoons have been forced to try to live among us. Often humans become irritated by raccoons rummaging through their trash or eating their pet food. They seem to forget that the raccoon is simply trying to survive in a shrinking world.
Raccoons typically have their babies in April and May after a 63 day long gestation. However, we have received babies from early March through late August. The babies are born with their eyes and ears closed and are completely helpless. They open their eyes at around 3 weeks of age but don't start accompanying their mothers on foraging adventures until they are around 10 weeks old. Raccoons mature slower than kittens and puppies and aren't weaned until 12-16 weeks of age. They stay with their mothers well into the fall and often through their first winter.
Raccoons are orphaned for a variety of reasons, the vast majority of which are caused by humans. When their mothers are killed, babies will often remain in the den for up to two days waiting for their mothers to return. Eventually they become so desperate that they will plunge from trees. Small raccoons that are found on the ground crying usually need to be rescued and care should be taken to look for siblings. Raccoons are very good mothers and generally keep a close eye on their young.
If you find an orphaned raccoon, it is very important to contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible. There is nothing cuter than a baby raccoon, and it is very tempting to want to try and raise it. However, there are many factors that must be taken into consideration. Since it is illegal to keep a raccoon, it is impossible to find a veterinarian who is willing to work on wildlife. In Kentucky, a baby raccoon can not be taken from the wild and kept as a pet. It takes just one person to get you in trouble leading to an arrest, fines and confiscation of the raccoon. Most importantly, raccoons do not make good pets. They are so cute and cuddly when they are little, but they become destructive and aggressive when they become adults. It is very hard to rehabilitate an adult raccoon that has lived its entire life in the company of humans with no exposure to its own kind. Often, the "owner" will simply let the raccoon go when the situation gets tough. This is nothing more than a cruel death sentence since the animal lacks the skills necessary to survive in the wild.
It also must be stressed that the orphan must be rehydrated before any type of formula is given. It can be very tempting to feed a hungry baby, but it can do more harm than good. The baby must first be given fluids before formula can slowly be introduced. Also, you never want to give any wild animal cow's milk. They can not properly digest it, and it can lead to further dehydration and even death. We use a milk replacer that is specifically formulated for orphan raccoons.
In the rehabilitation setting, raccoons are raised in groups so that they can learn how to interact with other raccoons. Their caregivers are limited, and they typically are scared of most humans. We do not allow other people to pet or play with them. They get the best veterinary care and are released onto protected land. Rehabilitators are trained to meet the nutritional, medical, and housing needs of wildlife.
Raccoons can get a variety of diseases and parasites. Rabies must be mentioned as any mammal can get rabies. However, there has never been a case of the raccoon strain of rabies in Kentucky. This is not to say that a raccoon can not get rabies, but it is rare in Kentucky, and it is usually exposure to the skunk strain. They can also get canine distemper and raccoon parvovirus (which is actually very similar to feline panleukopenia). Raccoons can also carry baylisascaris procyonis or raccoon roundworm. This parasite can be deadly to humans if ingested. Kentucky Wildlife Center vaccinates the raccoons in our care for rabies, canine distemper and feline panleukopenia and deworms them regularly. We do everything in our power to ensure the health and well-being of the animals in our care.
Raccoons truly are one of the most endearing and charismatic animals in the world. Through understanding and tolerance, we can coexist with wildlife.
For more information on raccoons, please Click Here to read Raccoons: Living in Harmony with Your Wild Neighbors.
"Until one has loved an animal, a part of one's soul remains unawakened." Anatole France