Keeping wildlife as pets is a debatable topic. Some people swear by their exotic 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. Fun fact: President Calvin Coolidge kept 2 raccoons named Rebecca and Reuben during his time in the White House.
But raccoons are wild animals, so there are some unique challenges to having one in the house.
Like other mammals, raccoons are susceptible to several illnesses, some of which are zoonotic in nature, 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.” Obviously, this presents serious concerns when keeping a raccoon as a pet.
There may be a vaccine to prevent your pet from contracting the disease, but understand that raccoons can act as a reservoir for rabies. Discuss your options with a veterinarian at the first opportunity.
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 in Principles and Practice of Veterinary Technology — E-book. “Once ingested, the eggs hatch into larvae and travel throughout the body, affecting the organs and muscles. This infection can be fatal.”
Other illnesses that raccoons can carry (and pass on to you and/or other pets) are:
- Canine and feline distemper
- Trypanosoma cruzi, more commonly known as Chagas disease
- Rickettsia rickettsia, or Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever
Temperament and Behavior
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 a multitude of tasks, including opening latches and doors, unscrewing lids from jars and more. You can imagine the havoc a raccoon can wreak on an unsuspecting household.
Raccoons are nocturnal, which means they are most active at night. And, being omnivorous, they may also attack your other pets. “Raccoons are potential predators of domestic pets, including small cats and rabbits, and may be attacked and injured or killed by dogs,” warn editors Stanley D. Gehrt, Seth P. D. Riley and Brian L. Cypher in Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict, and Conservation.
These creatures display a wide variety of temperaments. Some raccoons are aggressive, and others may turn and flee at the first opportunity. “Anyone who says a fox, raccoon, possum or groundhog always acts in a certain way has simply not done enough digging yet,” says Patrick Burns in American Working Terriers.
Raccoon personality depends upon the individual raccoon. Some may be easygoing, inquisitive and friendly, while others are aggressive, territorial and on edge.
Because raccoons are carriers of rabies, many states have laws prohibiting you from keeping one as a pet. Alabama, Maryland, Massachusetts and many other states outright prohibit it. Some states require a permit to keep raccoons, 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 raccoon 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 raccoon into your home, be sure to thoroughly investigate your state’s laws. Never bring home a wild raccoon — even a baby one. It will be unvaccinated, untested and unused to human contact — and potentially dangerous. If you come across an injured raccoon, contact your local wildlife care center for assistance.
This rescued raccoon fits right in with his dog family:
Keeping Raccoons as Pets
When deciding whether a raccoon is a good pet for you, ask yourself these questions:
- Are you prepared to take all precautions for yourself and your entire household regarding disease transmission?
- Do you have a qualified veterinarian ready to take your raccoon on as a client? If so, do they have a vaccination plan in place?
- Are you prepared to not just child-proof but also raccoon-proof your home? You will need to take extreme measures to prevent raccoons from getting into chemicals, trash, the refrigerator — you name it.
- Can you handle an animal who is mostly active during the nighttime hours?
- Do you have small children or other pets who may not get along with your raccoon?
It takes a tremendous commitment to take care of a raccoon. Most people aren’t capable of doing so — and there is no shame in that. After all, raccoons are still very much considered wild animals.