Raccoon: Species Profile

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Close up of a raccoon face

 Diane Shapiro / Getty Images

Raccoons aren't common pets for good reason. In some ways, they are a lot like a large ferret or puppy. They can be affectionate and playful with their favorite humans. However, most raccoons always seem to be full of mischief, too. They are extremely high maintenance and fairly unpredictable, which is why most animal experts advise against keeping them as pets. Many will damage your home and belongings as part of their daily antics. They're difficult to truly tame and are notorious biters when something bothers them. Plus, raccoons have dietary needs and health issues that can be difficult to manage. But if you have the knowledge and time to properly care for a raccoon, they can be fascinating and funny companions.

Species Overview

Common Name: Raccoon

Scientific Name: Procyon lotor

Adult Size: 16 to 28 inches and 7 to 20 pounds on average

Life Expectancy: Up to 20 years in captivity

Raccoon Behavior and Temperament

Raccoons are intelligent animals, known for their good memories and problem-solving abilities. Plus, these North American natives are nocturnal, meaning they're most active at night. And even when they're born in captivity or raised by humans, they typically retain their wild traits.

As pets, they don't do well in cages or even in small bedrooms. They need space to roam, climb, and explore to be happy. However, their sharp claws and teeth can easily destroy your property. If they don't have enough of their own toys to play with—or they're just curious or bored—you might find them chewing on your door frames, ripping up your bed sheets, knocking over decor items, and more. In addition, their "masked bandit" reputation doesn't just come from the dark markings around their eyes. Raccoons are quite adept at breaking through latches and other secured areas if their curiosity gets the best of them.

Thanks to their intelligence, most pet raccoons are able to learn their name and even a few commands, such as “sit” and “shake.” They also can be trained to use a litter box. But they are rather stubborn and selective about when they want to obey. 

Raccoons will bond with their humans, especially when raised in captivity from a young age. And many do become quite cuddly or playful at times. However, they also are generally quick to bite—even their favorite people—when something annoys or scares them. Plus, they might attack other pets in your home, especially small animals, as they are predators in the wild. 

While they do make some vocalizations, raccoons are generally quiet animals. But life won’t feel quiet with a pet raccoon. These animals require a lot of space, upkeep, and supervision.

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Could You Own a Pet Raccoon?

Housing the Raccoon

Some people who keep raccoons house them in a large dog crate when they aren't home to watch their pet. However, raccoons are too active to be content in a cage for several hours. So the majority of a pet raccoon's time should be spent roaming your house, playing, climbing on things, exploring, and being mischievous. That means your home must be raccoon-proofed. Raccoons are prone to chewing on cords, climbing on shelves, and knocking down valuables. So anything that might injure them or become damaged must be removed from their area.

If you have the space, it's ideal to provide a secure outdoor enclosure for your raccoon. This is a great option when you're busy or need to leave your home and want your pet to have a safe space to play. An outdoor pen should be as large as possible with walls and a ceiling that will contain your animal. Many people build their own pen from wood and screening. Inside, your raccoon should have access to food, water, shelter, and structures (e.g., large branches) for climbing and jumping. Include toys, such as balls and food puzzles, to keep your pet entertained.

Food and Water

Raccoons are omnivores, meaning they eat both meat and plants. Offer your pet a varied diet, including dog food, poultry, fish, eggs, insects, vegetables, and fruits. Treats, such as nuts and other fatty foods, should be offered sparingly to prevent obesity. A dish of clean water should be available at all times. Consult your veterinarian for the quantity and variety that is best for your animal, as this can vary based on age, size, and activity level.

Raccoons are messy eaters. They like to dunk their food in their water dish prior to consuming it. That means you'll need to regularly change their water and feed them in a location where it's easy to clean up. Most adult raccoons need two meals per day in the early morning and late evening, though follow your vet's advice on this. You can simply put their food in a bowl. But it's also ideal to take some of it to put in food puzzles or hide around their enclosure as a form of enrichment.

Illustration of pet raccoons and care tips

Illustration: The Spruce / Catherine Song


Common Health Problems

Prior to getting a pet raccoon, find an exotic veterinarian who is willing to treat the animal. Even where raccoons are legal it can be difficult to find a vet who specializes in them.

Raccoons can develop all sorts of medical issues. They are susceptible to skin infections and fleas, especially if they spend time outside. Look for skin flaking and excessive itching as a sign something is wrong. They also can acquire intestinal parasites, which might cause them to have abnormal feces, a loss of appetite, and more. Plus, some get urinary tract infections, which might cause excessive urination. And if your pet raccoon is overfed and/or doesn't get enough exercise, there's a good chance it will become obese, which can put all kinds of stresses on its body.

Furthermore, raccoons can acquire rabies. And though they can be vaccinated with a canine rabies vaccine, it is unknown whether this vaccine is truly protective for raccoons.

Raccoons born and raised in captivity are less likely to develop many of these diseases. But it's still very important to take your pet for regular vet visits.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet Raccoon?

Before even considering a pet raccoon you should be aware of your local and state/provincial laws. Pet raccoons are illegal in many areas, including Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, and Massachusetts. And there are specific laws surrounding raccoon ownership in most states. For instance, some states don't allow the importation of raccoons from other states.

In addition to checking the laws surrounding ownership, look carefully at regulations for raccoon owners. For example, what happens to your raccoon if it gets loose? What happens if it scratches or bites someone? In some areas, the laws are quite harsh regarding the treatment of wild animals kept as pets, and they might lead to your pet being euthanized if it's problematic in the community.

Purchasing Your Raccoon

Never take a raccoon from the wild to raise as a pet. That is typically illegal in most places unless you're a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. And captivity can greatly stress a wild animal even to the point of killing it. Plus, animals taken into captivity often can't be released back in the wild if you decide you can't keep your pet because they become too reliant on and comfortable around humans.

Thus, it's best to acquire a pet raccoon from a reputable breeder, and go to visit with the animal in person before you commit. Don't acquire an animal over the internet or via a classified ad. Expect to pay between $300 and $700 on average. A good breeder will be able to show you how they handle and interact with all of their young raccoons to help tame the animals and diminish their desire to bite. The breeder also should give you thorough information on the animal's origin and health history. Some red flags include a raccoon that is underweight with its ribs showing, as well as a very lethargic animal or one that is not interested in food. These are likely signs of a health issue.

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