Raccoons In Garbage Can


06.19.2008 - Raccoons are very urbanized animals.  Studies reveal that raccoon population densities are about ten times as high in urban areas than in wild areas.  Cities and suburbs simply have more of the resources needed for raccoons to survive - shelter in our attics and under our buildings, and food from pet dishes, handouts, and of course dumpsters and trash cans.

I frequently get calls about raccoons that are causing problems around dumpsters and garbage cans.  Raccoons are very strong and crafty, and they make a big mess.  They love to tip over garbage cans to find food.  A homeowner wakes up and finds a mess of garbage strewn across the yard.  Thus, I get called to come out and trap the offending raccoons who are creating the mess of garbage.  Oftentimes, the removal of just one or two "trouble raccoons" who have begun to engage in a destructive behavior will eliminate the problem.

However, when it comes to trash, there's a few things that the average homeowner can do to prevent the problem.  First of all, don't waste food and don't throw out food.  Second, don't leave the garbage outside for a long period of time.  If possible, keep it in a garage or shed until garbage pickup.  Also, sturdy cans help, especially with a locking lid.  You can drill a few holes in the lid and sides of the can and affix the lid shut with bungee cords.

In the above photo, I was called out for two small-sized raccoons that were stuck inside a dumpster.  It was easy to climb in, but not easy to climb out.  I used my snare pole and grabbed them out of the dumpster and relocated them about 15 miles away.

Do it yourself: Visit my How To Get Rid of Raccoons page for tips and advice.
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Raccoon animal control in the city - Most cities have a good number of raccoons, and that might surprise you. The raccoons that live in a city setting like that of a city are adapted to living in very close proximity to humans. Many of these animals are no longer nocturnal, adjusting their eating habits to times when garbage is set out for the landfill. Because of the limited number of trees to provide shelter, it's not uncommon to have a raccoon invade a home. In most other situations, the raccoon in a home would probably be a female looking for a good place to have her babies. In an urban area, a male raccoon can be just as likely to enter a building for protection. If the raccoon is without babies, trapping involves securing a cage trap to the door to the raccoon den and scaring the animal out, into the device. Critters with infants can be lured into cage traps if you sneak the babies out and use them as bait in the trap. Once the mother enters the device looking for her young, you will then be able to relocate them all at the same time. Trapping the mother first and finding the babies later brings about the potential for the mother to abandon her litter.

The raccoon (Procyon lotor), is a unique animal native to North America. It's not closely related to any other animals, with distant relatives such as bears and weasels. Coons are easy to recognize, with a black mask and ringed tail. Raccoons tend to weigh between 10-20 pounds as adults. They are mostly nocturnal, and are omnivores. Racoons average a lifespan of about 5 years in the wild, and have a litter of 3-6 young each spring. They are very strong, excellent climbers, very intelligent, and they are very skilled with their hands. Raccoons have learned to thrive in urban areas, and live in very high densities in cities, where they eat garbage and pet food. They commonly break into homes and attics, where they cause considerable damage, and they also destroy other property, and thus racoons are considered pest animals by many people. Raccoon control and removal, especially from inside homes, is best left to a professional.

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Raccoons are born to dumpster-dive: their low center of gravity makes it easy for them to topple garbage cans, and their intelligence makes short work of any obstacle between them and your leftovers. As such, a garbage can located in a suitable area is a prime target for most raccoons. To prevent raccoons from targeting your garbage cans, you must make the area around them unsuitable for raccoons. What makes an area suitable for raccoons? Raccoons prefer areas that contain food, water, shelter, and darkness in close proximity to one another. In terms of food, raccoons will look for anything remotely edible, such as:

  • Food waste in garbage cans
  • Bird feeders
  • Pet food
  • Fallen fruit
  • Fish in ponds
Clearing your backyard and garden of any potential food by nightfall, tightly shutting garbage can lids (preferably secured with rubber bands), and frequent deodorization of the cans should throw off any prospecting raccoons.

In terms of water, undrained depressions in the ground where rainwater can pool or open-ended water containers make excellent drinking and food-dunking stations for raccoons. (Side note: contrary to popular belief, raccoons dunk their food in water not to wash it or to simulate saliva, but to get a better feel of what they are holding). Installing drains or ensuring that any possible puddles are exposed to the sun should make your backyard unattractive to raccoons.

In terms of shelter, accessible trees, attics, basements, and rodent burrows make for excellent raccoon shelters. Cutting off access to these will not only protect your garbage can from raccoon raids but will also mitigate other negative impacts of a raccoon infestation, such as their hazardous droppings and the property damage they cause in pursuit of nice bedding.

Finally, in terms of darkness, raccoons will only raid your garbage can when they are concealed by darkness. Security lights make good deterrents and should be used liberally around any waste container.

What if a raccoon nonetheless invades my garbage can?

Raccoons are aggressive animals, as well as the most frequent vector of rabies in North America, and as such your first port of call should be an animal control professional who is suited to deal with raccoons. However, if the situation requires an immediate solution, there are several methods by which you can safely coax a raccoon out. First, you may try to lure a raccoon out by making it aware of a bait substance. Raccoons are most attracted by:
  • Fresh, intact eggs
  • Fresh fish
  • Sweet confections, like marshmallows
  • Shiny objects, like tinfoil.
An egg makes for the most suitable bait, as it is both visually and aromatically attractive to the raccoon. Placing it in the raccoon's line of sight, away from the garbage, should buy you enough time to re-secure the garbage can. If the raccoon is stuck in the garbage can, placing a long wooden branch (though not a birch branch, which raccoons cannot climb) down the can should provide a pathway that the raccoon will use to leave of its own accord.

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