Can I have a pet raccoon?
October 30, 2006 3:13 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know anything about pet raccoons?

I'm wondering if it's really possible to keep a raccoon as a domestic pet. I live in an area where they're fairly common, and I've always thought they were cool little creatures.

I know that raccoons aren't domestic in the sense cats and dogs are, but I've also heard stories about people with pet raccoons. I can't find much that's helpful on the internet, so I'm putting the question to you folks. Do people have pet raccoons? How common is this? What are the pitfalls?

And no, I haven't taken one in or anything like that. My current living situation makes a pet of any kind pretty much impossible, so this is just an idle thought.
posted by Yelling At Nothing to Pets & Animals (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
No idea how common it is, exactly, but: 20 Reasons Not To Have A Pet Raccoon.
posted by synaesthetichaze at 3:19 PM on October 30, 2006

In most/all states you have to be a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to posess a racoon.

Young racoons are loving/adorable/mischievious.

Once they hit puberty they can become nasty and are not something you would want to keep.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 3:23 PM on October 30, 2006

I don't have any direct experience with keeping raccoons, but I've heard about raccoons reverting (from the "20 reasons..." link above) from a number of people.
posted by lekvar at 3:25 PM on October 30, 2006

I had several pet raccoons. The trick is to get them when they are still young. We were given a mother raccoon and her three babies by the state to take care of when they were found in someone's garage. The mother was feral (obviously) and 6 years later their was no domestication even though we had tried very hard. She eventually escaped the cage when she was at least 7 years old and lived in the woods behind our house for a couple more years before we stopped seeing her. Several times she would break into the house (literally slinking in through an open window to destroy everything in sight.)

Her babies on the other hand; I raised one and kept it as a pet, the other two we gave away. He was amazingly similar to a cat in behavior. Very playful, very dextrous with his paws, and adored attention, including napping on my chest. They will get into everything! He slept in a pet carrier every night and we took him on walks during the day with a dog harness and leash. He was quite easily litter box trained. Our biggest problem was him thieving our jewelry and silverware (they LOVE shiny things and will hoard it in little hidden piles). They can be messy when they eat since they wash and "massage" the food first.

Overall, it was enjoyable to have one as a pet although it was kind of sprung upon us. Eventually, he got some sort of virus when he was 4 or 5 and died, but one of the siblings we gave away lived much longer in their owner's care. It may have been because we took in several different species from the state (deer, fox, confiscated exotic animals) and he contracted something from one of them.

I think if you are interested in having one as a pet, you should contact local wildlife officials and let them know that you would be interested in adopting an orphan. Purchasing one would only encourage the breeders (who sometimes kill mothers to steal their young) which is not something I would want to be a part of.
posted by Ugh at 3:36 PM on October 30, 2006 [2 favorites]

My family had a pet raccoon when I was 3 or 4 years old. My family got him when a coworker of my dad's killed a raccoon mom while hunting and felt bad about the litter (pride? passle? den?) of cubs he found.

I don't have any direct memory of Casey, but there are plenty of family stories, including those:

  • about his fondness for getting into cabinets and jumping out at mom first thing in the morning

  • about the time he got trapped in my grandmother's laundry room, freaked out, emptied detergent and bleach all over the floor, then ripped the pipe feeding her (running) washing machine out of the back of the machine, creating a bleach/Tide slurry all over the floor and ruining some piles of clothing

  • about how he would get out of the house, climb a tree, and pounce the Avon lady from behind, clawing her legs and chattering at her

  • about how the one time I grabbed him in an abrupt and inadvisable way, he looked me up and down, ran across the room, jumped in dad's lap and bit him hard enough on the arm to draw blood

  • how he finally died when he climbed up in dad's car's engine well one morning, and climbed down as dad was backing out, right underneath the wheels.

    It all sounds madcap and wacky, and I remember hearing those stories as a kid and wishing we still had him as a pet. Now that I have a toddler around the house, I wouldn't have a raccoon, both for my son's safety and because I suspect our childproofing wouldn't work on a raccoon. What sounded delightful to ten-year-old me mostly sounds nerve-wracking now.

    I guess it's telling that dad, who probably liked Casey the most, ends even the funny stories with "That stupid animal."

  • posted by mph at 3:39 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

    My dad kept foxes, racoons, opposums, alligator snapping turtles, etc. etc. I guess that means I have direct experience with keeping racoons.

    It made my teenage years a creepy place, fraught with danger and animal poop in the oven broiler at random times. It wasn't fun like in Pipi Longstocking. It was horrible and miserable and dirty. I never knew what would crawl into my loft bed and try to use my hair as nesting material or what kind of creature would nest in my dirty clothes pile to have a litter of babies. (God, I wish I were kidding.)

    My dad would say things like, "Look, he likes you" as said creature would attempt to swipe at me. My dad has a collection of facial scars that pirates would envy thanks to making kissing noises close up to any number of sharp-ended animals.

    Small, they're cute. Older, they're bossy, nasty, rough. I think even if you could make 'em super tame, they'd meet the same fate as my dad's opposum. She was a sweetheart, but smothered in her own fat because she didn't have to hunt for her food.

    My dad, with his broad definition of pet, still never kept anything for much longer than a year, as they got nasty.
    posted by Gucky at 3:41 PM on October 30, 2006

    You can overcome any interest in keeping a racoon as a pet, by spending an evening at the Lure Lodge overlooking Lake Campbell in KY. Visitors to the Lodge began feeding racoons there in the evening, years ago, and a "crowd" of several hundred racoons gathers around the Lodge terrace for expected treats every evening at dusk. Which is fine and "cute" when you're overlooking them from 15 up, on the Lodge veranda.

    But not fine at all, if you are staying out in one of the cabins, on a night when there aren't that many visitors in the main Lodge. Because then, you'll be chased by a pack of about 200 forty pound racoons that are all convinced you have goodies for them in your pockets, as you walk back to your room after dinner. Seriously intimidating, and something that will haunt your dreams for weeks. The only way to deal is to get several bags of the racoon feed mix they sell at the desk, and make some strategic distracting throws over their heads, which will divert some of them and scatter the pack. I still had a pair of pants pretty well shredded and some scratches on my legs, by the time I got in my room door.
    posted by paulsc at 4:02 PM on October 30, 2006 [5 favorites]

    When my wife and I were still dating, she was house-sitting at a place that had a couple of baby raccoons that they had rescued from a chimney. As such they were all named things like Ash and Soot, and the like.

    As babies they were adorable. Honestly, I think the pads on raccoon feet might be the softest thing I've ever touched.

    But you always have to remember that you are dealing with a wild animal. They may have been hand raised, but that doesn't totally eliminate their natural instincts. This is why you will see wildly different opinions on the subject, some take to being 'domesticated' better than others. You may get a sweet one, you may get that tears your house apart and develops a taste for human blood.

    It's primarily for this reason, that despite my conviction that a red tailed fox would be the perfect pet (come on, it's a cat-dog!) I've never actually pursued the idea beyond flights of fancy.

    There is some interesting reading on the subject of domesticating wild animals here. It will give you an idea of how far removed through breeding an animal has to be to be considered domestic.
    posted by quin at 4:54 PM on October 30, 2006

    If you do decide to look more into this, I would strongly suggest that you first volunteer at a local Humane Society, particularly one that does wildlife rescue. This will give you an opportunity to deal with raccoons in a not-outdoors and not-your-living-room environment. You can see how they react to you directly.

    If you are still enamored, follow MonkeySaltedNuts' advice and become a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. If for no other reason, you don't want the DNR to discover your sweet, well behaved, litter box trained raccoon. They will most likely determine that it can't be allowed back into the wild and have it put down.

    And that would just suck for everyone.
    posted by quin at 5:00 PM on October 30, 2006

    This question is addressed thoroughly in Red Panda adoption?
    posted by Chuckles at 5:06 PM on October 30, 2006

    Pet racoons don't "revert", they grow up. All mamals when young are "docile" because their parent(s) take care of them. They follow/imitate the leader/parent and can be made to do things.

    Domesticated animals have been genetically altered so that some docility carries on into adulthood. This is the main difference between dogs and wolves. Almost all performing chimps you see are juveniles that haven't matured. Many, such as Herb Simon regard humans as domesticated.

    I find it interesting that some wild species are more easily kept as pets than others. Why are most rodents (even ground hogs, beavers, porcupines) easy? Weasle members (such as ferrets and skunks) seem workable, as are elephants. But most other wild animals, once they grow up, will not respect your opinion and will probably want to take a chunk out of you if you bother them.

    Are their any other groups of wild animals that take to pet-hood?
    posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 5:50 PM on October 30, 2006

    "...Weasle members (such as ferrets and skunks) seem workable, as are elephants. ..."
    posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 8:50 PM EST on October 30

    Wow, MSN, you haven't been keeping up, if you think keeping elephants is, uh, "workable." There's actually such a pattern of human-elephant conflict developing worldwide, that some governments and NGO's interested in reporting and tracking it now refer to it as HEC, and a global working group has been formed to study the problem.
    posted by paulsc at 6:10 PM on October 30, 2006

    Reading some Sam Campbell or some Sterling North might help you scratch that itch while you live in a no-pets situation.
    posted by digitalis at 6:15 PM on October 30, 2006

    #paulsc: if you think keeping elephants is, uh, "workable."

    Huh? I said nothing about human vs. wild elelphant conflicts in Africa.

    Humans keeping elephants is obviously "workable" (in the sense that raised mature elephants won't automatically kill a human overlord) from even before the days of Hannible.

    My impression is the people in Thailand have the best relation with their domestic elephantsYou Tube. One big question is whether all elephants can make "good pets" or whether the Thai elephants have been bred to be more docile.
    posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:40 PM on October 30, 2006

    I've never had one as a pet, but have fed and rescued several wild ones, and had juveniles grow up at my house in the woods, many years ago.

    I warned my late wife not to feed the little guys, but she did anyway, and it always made me nervous as hell. I mean, the teeth on those guys are serious and I have seen them fight each other... nearly to the death.

    I'd never recommend having one as a pet. They also have a particularly nasty parasite (Baylisascaris) that loves human nerve tissue and can be fatal.

    I have caught dozens and relocated them... usually because they have been destroying my property. They intrude and wreck one's house. They have bad breath. They are a mean and nasty lot when adult and trapped. Make no mistake... they can hurt you quickly and seriously.

    I don't think it's a great idea. Most of the pets that are good for domestication have been. You may get lucky, of course, but the odds are against you.
    posted by FauxScot at 6:48 PM on October 30, 2006 [1 favorite]

    I feel about this like I do about monkeys as pets: don't you think lots of people would have pet raccoons if it were at all feasible? They're abundant in the wild, and cute as hell. Do you think you're the first person to think, hey, I'll try to keep one as a pet?
    posted by MrMoonPie at 7:30 PM on October 30, 2006

    "...One big question is whether all elephants can make "good pets" or whether the Thai elephants have been bred to be more docile. ..."
    posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 9:40 PM EST on October 30

    Thailand's elephants, in particular, aren't doing so well. But for a few thousand bucks, you can directly help Thailand's starving mahouts.

    But how a response to a question about keeping a pet racoon is informed by personal opinions regarding elephants in Thailand, I don't know, other than to say, FauxScot is right in saying "... Most of the pets that are good for domestication have been. ..."
    posted by paulsc at 7:56 PM on October 30, 2006

    Monkey, I've heard that man has been able to primarily domesticate only animals that had traveled in packs. Pack animals have an internally hierarchy and contain social structures for dominance and submission. Therefore, these mammals would take to pet-hood whereas another mammals which lives independently are unsuitable for domestication.
    posted by dendrite at 7:59 PM on October 30, 2006

    After speaking with the wife, who knows much more about this sort of thing, she denounced my earlier suggestion of becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for the purposes of keeping a raccoon as a pet. As a rehabilitator you will only keep the animal until it's fit to be released, if it's not fit, the DNR will expect it to be put down. The exception to this is if you are keeping the animal as an 'educational aid' (to show at schools, etc). But if you go that route, you had better actually be doing something educational with it. Apparently they do check up on these things.

    If you want to do it legally, and here is a pretty comprehensive list on the subject, one clever work around is to get a license as a furrier/ fur trader. It seems like sort of a dark way of legally getting the animal, but as near as I can tell, it doesn't require you to use the animal as a fur source. It simply states that you want the animal for it's fur. And I imagine that shedding counts :)

    Also, on the subject of raccoon breeders, there were some good points upthread about how sketchier ones might harm wild raccoons for the purposes of profit, but apparently there are legitimate ones who provide hand raised animals. I would imagine this would be no different from a dog or cat breeder. Any one who is on the level will be more than happy (and in most cases thrilled that you are showing an interest) to show you their full operation. Including introducing you to the animals parents.

    All that said, I stand by my first post, unless you are willing to make a huge commitment to an essentially wild animal, don't do it. They are really sweet as babies, but like all babies...

    They grow up.
    posted by quin at 10:04 PM on October 30, 2006


    paulsc, I don't have the numbers, and I know the new 'killer elephant' thing is all the craze (see my thought on that here,) but I'd be willing to bet that in the long view, horses have been responsible for far more human casualties over the last couple of hundred years.

    Basically any time you take an animal that is bigger than us, and make it do things that don't fit into it's word view, people will get hurt. The elephant thing is just particularly weird because they are normally so docile.

    I like to think that they are smart enough that they've realized the only way to win is to wage a guerrilla war on us. Before long, they will be employing baboons as front line moral destroyers and tigers as assassins.

    I'd pay to see that movie.

    posted by quin at 10:21 PM on October 30, 2006

    Sort of off-topic, but as I live in a a rural area, my DH, who used to coonhunt, has told me stories of a wild adult raccoon tearing open a coonhound. It's apparently not a pretty sight. The dog had to be put down. So just keep that in mind, if you think you really need one of those "cute critters" as a pet.
    posted by cass at 7:51 AM on October 31, 2006

    Heyo - dunno if you'll ever check this again, but I had two pet raccoons for 7 years (they were twins and I had to give them up when we moved) and they made great pets.
    Easily litter trained, though they climbed on stuff a bunch.
    Go for it!
    posted by Baby_Balrog at 5:20 PM on May 30, 2007

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