Can Raccoons Be Pets? Challenges, Risks, and Legalities

Raccoons are adorable animals, but you need to check your state and local laws before adding a pet raccoon to your family.

This expert guide to ‘Can Raccoons Be Pets?’ was written by the Petful team and last reviewed and updated on May 8, 2024. In this comprehensive article, we cover the legalities, health risks, temperament, and challenges associated with raccoon ownership to help you make an informed decision.

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Rabies isn’t the only thing you have to worry about when taking a raccoon on as a pet. Photo: shawshank61

Keeping wildlife as pets is controversial — and often illegal.

Some people swear by these pets. Others caution against keeping wildlife as pets because, unlike dogs and cats, these animals do not have a long history of domestication.

Raccoons fall into the category of wildlife kept as pets. And it’s certainly not unprecedented: Even U.S. President Calvin Coolidge and his wife had 2 pet raccoons during his time in the White House.

But raccoons are wild animals, so there are several challenges when considering whether raccoons can be pets in your house, including legality and whether they are friendly or good pets.

Health Risks: Rabies and Other Illnesses

Raccoons are susceptible to a few zoonotic illnesses, meaning they can be passed to humans. One of the most serious and deadly of these is rabies.

According to the World Health Organization, rabies is “almost always fatal following the onset of clinical symptoms.” This presents serious concerns when you’re keeping a raccoon as a pet.

Dr. Ned Gentz, DVM, DACZM, writing for VetzInsight, says: “Raccoons are the most common wildlife species to become infected with rabies. Rabies scares me a lot.”

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Most people know better than to hand-feed a strange raccoon outside. Photo: Ntr Htp

There may be a vaccine to prevent your pet raccoon from contracting rabies, but Dr. Gentz cautions that some vets may not agree to vaccinate your pet raccoon against rabies.

“Use of these vaccinations are what is referred to as off-label,” he says. “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.”

Other Illnesses
Raccoons can carry the worm Baylisascaris procyonis, an intestinal roundworm that humans can contract.

“People become infected when they accidentally ingest infected soil, water, or objects contaminated with raccoon feces,” warns Margi Sirois, CVT, in Principles and Practice of Veterinary Technology.

“Once ingested, the eggs hatch into larvae and travel throughout the body, affecting the organs and muscles. This infection can be fatal,” she says.

Other illnesses that raccoons can carry (and pass on to you or your other pets):

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Bringing home even a baby raccoon has its risks. Photo: pacificairforce

Are Raccoons Friendly? Temperament and Behavior

Raccoons display a wide variety of temperaments. Some are aggressive and territorial; others are friendly and curious; and still others may turn and flee at the first opportunity.

“Once they hit sexual maturity at about 6 months of age, they are no longer gentle and cuddly,” says David Seerveld, a wildlife expert, who warns that “suddenly and without warning” your formerly friendly pet raccoon could “bite your face off.”

He adds: “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. But you should not take a chance with a raccoon as a pet.”

Raccoons are intelligent animals — how else would they manage to get into so many “animal-proof” trash containers?

Their dexterous, long-fingered paws allow them to perform many tasks, such as opening latches and doors, unscrewing lids from jars, and more. You can imagine the havoc a raccoon can wreak on an unsuspecting household.

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Kitchen renovations complete. Photo: Raccoon Willie

“Everyone agrees that this is the messiest pet alive,” says Seerveld. “Raccoons don’t just eat their food or drink their water — they spread it all over the place. They climb, and they pry open cabinets and take things apart.”

“It may sound cute,” he adds, “but it means that if a raccoon is in your house, it will destroy a lot. They are best left in a large pen with lots of toys and things to climb.”

Finally, raccoons are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night.

And, being omnivorous, they may attack your other pets. “Raccoons are potential predators of domestic pets, including small cats and rabbits,” warn Stanley Gehrt, Seth Riley, and Brian Cypher in their book Urban Carnivores.

Can Raccoons Be Pets? (Legally)

Because raccoons are carriers of rabies, more than 20 states ban pet raccoons.

Some states require a permit to keep raccoons as pets, while others, like Arkansas, allow you to keep up to 6 raccoons.

If you have a pet raccoon in a state that prohibits this, authorities may remove the animal from your home and issue a fine. This puts the animals at a disadvantage — having been at least partially domesticated, they will unlikely be able to fend for themselves in the wild.

Before taking a pet raccoon into your home, be sure to thoroughly investigate your state’s laws.

And please, never bring home a wild raccoon — even a baby one. The animal will be unvaccinated, untested, and unused to human contact — and, again, potentially dangerous.

If you come across an injured raccoon, contact your local wildlife care center for assistance.

This rescued pet raccoon fits right in with his dog family:

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Final Thoughts on Keeping Raccoons as Pets

When you’re deciding whether or not a raccoon is a good pet for you, ask yourself these questions:

  • Legal Considerations:
    Is it legal to keep a raccoon as a pet in your state or country?
    Do you have the necessary permits or licenses required for owning a raccoon?
  • Health and Safety:
    Are you prepared to take all precautions for yourself and your household regarding disease transmission?
    Do you have a qualified vet ready to take your raccoon on as a patient? If so, does the vet have a vaccination plan in place?
  • Household Preparedness:
    Are you prepared to not just child-proof but also raccoon-proof your home?
    Will you be able to prevent the pet raccoon from getting into chemicals, trash, the refrigerator, and other dangerous items?
  • Behavior and Lifestyle:
    Can you handle an animal that is mostly active during the nighttime hours?
    Do you have young children or other pets who may not get along with your raccoon?

“Raccoons are big biters,” says Dr. Gentz. “They are prone to biting whenever they feel threatened, so be prepared that this may happen, because it will.”

He suggests plenty of socialization early on. “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,” he says.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Can raccoons make good pets?

While raccoons can be affectionate, their wild nature makes them unpredictable, and they often pose challenges in terms of behavior, legality, and health risks.

Are raccoons friendly to humans?

Raccoons can be curious and playful, but their wild instincts often make them unpredictable, and they may not always be friendly toward humans.

What to do if a raccoon approaches you?

If a raccoon approaches you, avoid direct contact, back away slowly, and make loud noises to scare it off. If the raccoon seems disoriented or aggressive, contact local animal control, as it could be sick.”