Raccoons in House - Get them Out


01.25.2008 - People always ask me how to get raccoons out of the house.  Raccoons are common nuisance critters in neighborhoods, and they often break into houses.  They have very little fear of people, and just want a nice place to live.  Unfortunately, they can cause quite a bit of damage, in addition to noise.  I've seen raccoons in many areas of homes.  They most commonly break in somewhere on the roof and live in the attic.  I've also seen them live in eaves, inside wall cavities, down in chimneys, and other parts of the architecture.  Sometimes they even go into the living space of the house in search of food.  They can get in through the pet door or just claw their way in from an attic or wall space.

There's several ways to get rid of raccoons in the house.  If the raccoon is visible, I can actually snare it with a special snare pole.  This works if the racoon is cornered in a garage or inside the living space, or if I can reach it in the attic.  If the raccoon is small, or if it's a mother with young, I can usually grab the young by hand.   That's what I'm doing in the above photograph.  Note that I'm wearing a headlamp so that I can see in the dark attic, a mask to prevent me from breathing in insulation and airborne raccoon diseases such as roundworm, and a tyvek suit so that I can crawl on the insulation, to the tightest corners, without getting insulation in my skin.

Most of the time, I set traps to remove the raccoons.  I've set traps inside homes and attics plenty of times.  However, it's usually more effective to set the trap outside, when the animal goes out to forage, near the entry holes.  In the above case, I can actually use the little raccoons to lure in and trap the mother raccoon.

Once I get the raccoons out of the house, it's very important to seal shut the entry points, so that no more raccoons or other animals such as squirrels or rats get into the house.  I also clean up the mess they've made, including their droppings, which can carry parasites and diseases.

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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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Where raccoons can get in your house - A raccoon, just like any other animal, can enter your home at any level. It only takes one damaged area, or an area where something has been left open or unfinished, for a raccoon to start ripping its way indoors. More often than not, this critter prefers to be up high in the building, setting up home in the attic, roof, chimney, or crawlspace. Most people find raccoons enter through eaves, soffits, and vents in the attic area. The ventilation material on eaves and soffits is often flimsy, and it doesn't take much for a raccoon to peel back the plastic or metal sheeting. A chimney without a cap is also a prime location to find a raccoon infestation. Don't think these animals can't climb down the flue; they most certainly can. Not only will they live in your chimney, the female will probably have her litter of kits resting just on top of the damper. This means you cannot, under any circumstances, start a fire until all the animals have been removed from the chimney. Not only would it be a cruel way to kill baby raccoons, you're more likely to have the adult come flying into the home instead of out the top at the roof.

A raccoon sheltering in your home can be not only a disturbance, but also a danger: raccoons have an inclination to chew electrical wiring, leave hazardous droppings, destroy HVAC systems, and damage insulation, all in pursuit of more comfortable quarters. Worst of all, in their recklessness, raccoons sometimes get themselves killed in an inaccessible section of a house, leading to an inescapable stench that is described in all accounts as incredibly vile. For these reasons, you should treat a raccoon as an urgent threat to your safety and comfort, and deal with it quickly. To achieve a raccoon-free home, you should first locate the part of the house the raccoon resides in, and make that spot impossible to live in.

Locating the raccoon
Usually, sounds that the raccoon makes betray its location most effectively: nocturnal noises of scratching, growling, chirping, and whining are all typical of raccoons, and raccoons' movements are usually denoted by thumping, as their large frame and flat-footed gait cause their steps to land heavily. If the noises are insufficient, paw prints and scat stations (places that raccoons dedicate to defecation) outside can clue you in on what entry points the raccoon is using. Look for holes or openings near these signs that are wider than four inches (10 cm), and use these openings as the primary candidates for the raccoon's location. Sometimes, raccoons enter through holes between roof joints, or through damaged roof tiles. If this seems to be the case, test whether the openings are being used by stuffing them with wadded newspaper and observing any disturbances to the newspaper over the course of several days.

Evicting the raccoon
Often, indirectly harassing the raccoon will make it leave of its own accord. Assaulting its sense of smell by leaving ammonia-soaked rags near its den, shining bright lights into the den's openings, and playing noises through a speaker are good ways of annoying the pest into moving out. Keep in mind to restrict these activities to nighttime, to avoid dazing the animal. Additionally, you should begin ensuring that the area around the raccoon becomes unsuitable for its continued survival: ensure the raccoon cannot access any water, food, or darkness in the vicinity outside your home, which means that you should drain all puddles and water containers, store your pet food and garbage cans inside the home, and flood your backyard and/or garden with potent motion-sensing security lights. Fortifying the residence Once you have evicted your trash-savvy tenant, ensure that it cannot re-establish itself in your home. You can do this by:

  • Filling any holes through which a raccoon could enter your home
  • Putting baffles or collars on your gutters
  • Inspecting and mending your roof tiles
  • Trimming nearby tree branches to stop raccoons jumping from trees onto your roof
  • Inspecting roof joints, especially where the eave meets the roof.
As well as taking these measures, make sure to sanitize the area that the raccoon had hitherto occupied; raccoons usually mark the area they occupied with their scent, which serves to both attract other raccoons and remind the evicted raccoon where his most recent hiding place used to be.

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