With more than 200 raccoons per square mile, our city is rightfully called the raccoon capital of the world. Omnivorous, intelligent, curious, and highly adaptable, the masked bandits are turning out to be adept at overcoming every obstacle Torontonians put in their path.
A family of raccoons
that chooses to make a property their home can move in unannounced into the attic, shed, basement, crawlspace, garage, or anywhere else on your property where they can sneak without being seen. They are aggressively territorial and attached to their neighborhoods, and if your property offers them the food and water they need, there’s little chance to ever see them leave.
And they don’t even need a lot of space to thrive. In the wild, raccoon ranges can be as much as 20 miles for males, while those living in urban environments will settle for a home range of about three square blocks. They rarely venture to cross major roads, usually spending their entire lives where they're born. For hyper-adaptive animals such as raccoons, the city is a safe haven, free of dangers and predators – and this often causes them to become a tremendous hazard to pets, people, homes, gardens, and other wild animals.
Just How Big of a Threat Are Raccoons to Your Health?
Raccoons are natural-born scavengers and love to root around for food in the city’s garbage bins, using their finger-like paws to open the lids and their body weight to tip them over. They not only make a lot of mess and quite a racket, they also pose several health risks to humans and pets.
Being scratched or bitten by a raccoon can be bad enough
, but an even bigger concern is having direct contact with raccoon feces and urine, which unsuspecting homeowners and pets often do. Raccoons are well-known carriers of Baylisascaris procyonis
, a roundworm that lives inside raccoon intestines and sheds eggs into their feces. While the parasite has little or no harmful effect on its host, the eggs turned into larvae can rapidly spread into urban and suburban environments, where they can survive physical or chemical cleaning and live for many years.
It takes about 2 to 4 weeks for eggs to complete their development, after which they become infective, putting at risk humans or animals that come into contact with active or abandoned latrine sites. Once ingested, the eggs can infect the eye (ocular larva migrans), different body organs (visceral larva migrans), or even the brain (neural larva migrans), causing “multiple organ damage, severe neurological impairment, and even death.” Young children and developmentally disabled individuals are at highest risk for infection due to their propensity to put contaminated soil or objects into their mouths.
There are also other dangers associated with raccoons and their environment to keep in mind, including:
- Rabies. Wild animals account for the majority of reported cases of rabies (92 percent in 2010), and raccoons continue to be the most frequently reported rabid wildlife species. The virus is spread by contact with the saliva of an infected animal or by being scratched or bitten by a rabid animal.
- Leptospirosis. Leptospirosis is a common bacterial infection caused by a strain of Leptospira, a bacterium living in raccoons, rats, skunks, opossums, foxes, and other wildlife. Transmission most often occurs when people with open wounds come into contact with water or soil that has been contaminated with animal urine or other secretions.
- Giardiasis. Humans can contract giardiasis, a protozoan infection transmitted by a wide variety of animals including raccoons, by ingestion of contaminated food and water.
- Other diseases. People who handle, feed, or clean up waste of raccoons are at risk for other potential health hazards, including bacterial diseases such as Salmonella and E. coli.
How Can You Protect Yourself?
Homeowners try all sorts of methods to get rid of raccoons, and most of them prove to be unsuccessful. From mothballs and rags soaked in ammonia to strobe lights and ultrasonic noise machines, nothing seems to deter the tenacious creatures from setting camp on your property. Attempting to trap and remove the wild animals yourself is very dangerous – the animals may bite or scratch you to defend themselves – and can even result in a criminal charge
Getting rid of raccoons and preventing their return takes an integrated approach, and it’s best handled by a professional wildlife control operator, who can offer assistance with:
- Habitat modification. Raccoons are attracted to certain properties because they offer plentiful food sources and suitable den sites. Efforts to reduce the presence of raccoons on your property can include removing trash and securing garbage bins, cleaning up fallen fruit and leftovers, removing materials raccoons can den in or under, etc.
- Exclusion. Exclusion is key to reducing raccoon populations on your property. Most effective methods include: installing a chimney cap, screening porches, decks, and garden sheds with galvanized hardware mesh, installing electrified wire fencing, etc.
Professional raccoon removal services should be contacted as soon as a raccoon issue is identified. With the assistance of an experienced pest control operator
, you will be in a better position to stop them from causing damage to your home and garden and injury to your family.
About the Author
Daniel Mackie, co-owner of Greenleaf Pest Control, is a Toronto pest control expert well-known as an industry go-to guy, an innovator of safe, effective pest control solutions, and is a regular guest on HGTV. Mackie, along with business partner Sandy Costa, were the first pest control professionals in Canada to use detection dogs and thermal remediation for the successful eradication of bed bugs. In his free time, he is an avid gardener.