CARE FOR ORPHANED RACCOONS
IS THIS RACCOON TRULY
When people find young raccoons, whether tiny eyes-closed infants or slightly older eyes-open (but un-weaned) babies, it is usually due to one of 6 scenarios:
Obviously the first scenario
means the young are orphaned and in immediate, often desperate need.
Eyes-closed infants will be dehydrated and starving, usually having
waited for their mother for a day or more before wiggling out of the
nest. Slightly older eyes-open babies may be scared and wary or
they may be desperate enough to approach and follow people. Baby
raccoons rely on their mother for a long time. They wean gradually
after about 12 weeks in the wild, but remain with her for close to a
year, and den with her over their first winter. So, a fluffy little
8 week old, eyes-open baby, although mobile, is still totally dependent.
In the second, third and fourth
(but only occasionally fifth and sixth) scenarios, the young may still
be reunited with their mother, so long as they are not injured (unless
the injury is superficial). One thing to note is that eyes-open
babies who have been missing their mother for only hours rather than
days (i.e., mom is still nearby) will be more wary than in the first
scenario, and not likely to approach people, because they will not yet
The reason the fourth and fifth
scenarios only occasionally lead to a reunion with the mother is that
predators are often attracted to unguarded den sites, where the mother
has already gone missing (trapped out and removed, or killed), or predation
itself has caused an injury, and an injured baby should not be returned
to its mother.
“creating” orphans: Raccoons choose warm protected places
to have their young (usually in March, April, or May), sometimes in
and around our dwellings – in attics or chimneys for example.
Baby raccoons are often “created” orphans when homeowners hire pest
control companies to remove the mother. The best solution for
babies and usually the homeowner as well is to leave the mother raccoon
alone for a grace period of a few weeks – she will move her young
herself once they become mobile and start to venture out with her on
her foraging rounds. At that point it is safe to exclude the entire
family and make repairs so the situation does not repeat itself the
following spring. If you have found very young babies (with scant
fur and eyes closed) and their birth nest has been destroyed or the
mother barred entry to it, she may not be able to take the babies elsewhere.
She may not have another den site safe and warm enough to keep such
fragile infants alive. Therefore if this is the case, if at all
possible, try to restore the birth nest in hopes the mother will be
able to continue to care for the babies there. Older, mobile and
fully furred youngsters are hardier, and the mother is more likely to
have an alternate den site that will suffice for them in an emergency
– and she will often choose to move older babies if the birth nest
CAUTION about kidnapping
raccoon babies: As mentioned above in the fourth scenario,
later in the season, after a prolonged heat spell, older eyes-open young
may occasionally be compelled to leave a too-hot den during daylight
hours. If you think this is the case it is best to wait and watch.
If the young seem at risk of straying off too far gather them into a
cardboard box or pet carrier for the day – set in a safe comfortably
cool place in the shade nearby. Also, baby raccoons do not venture
far out of their birth den until they are about 8-9 weeks old, but at
that point they start to follow their mother on her foraging rounds
after dusk. They will still be un-weaned and totally dependent on her.
At this stage, the mother sometimes chooses a safe tree and instructs
the young to remain there while she continues to forage – and occasionally
the impatient babies will come down and play around, crying for mom
to come back. It will be hard for you to tell if babies are orphaned
in either of the cases above, but if they look well, it is best to wait
and watch for several hours before taking any action. Be very
careful not to scare them away since the hope is that mom will be back
for them soon.
NOTE: if the mother
is still there she will take her young back, given the opportunity,
even if you have touched them. If they are old enough to follow
her she will encourage them and lead them and if they are small she
will pick them up one at a time and carry them off to safety providing
she has a safe and warm enough den site to take them to.
READ ON TO FIND OUT HOW
TO DO THIS PROPERLY
THE FIRST ORDER OF BUSINESS:
WARM THE BABY
THE SECOND ORDER OF BUSINESS:
CHECK FOR INJURIES
1. In a safe
spot, with good light – in a small washroom for example, unwrap the
baby and check it all over for injuries. Wear latex exam gloves
or rubber gloves. It is handy to have a few more clean cloths
and a basin of warm water and a washcloth (white is best so you can
see any blood) to clean away dirt from a suspected injury. At
this stage it is important for an adult to carefully assess the raccoon
in a quiet room without children or pets present. The washcloth
should be wrung out in warm water and then made to mimic the mother
gently licking the baby clean – all over. Try to use a light cloth
like those used for human babies so that you can feel the orphan through
the cloth. Go slowly and take your time, and this will help to calm
the baby and make your examination easier.
2. When cleaning
the baby, please pay special attention to the face, checking for dried
blood in the nose, and mouth, to make sure it can breathe easily.
Also pay attention to the genital area – try to see if the baby pees
when gently stimulated with the soft warm cloth or a Q-tip or tissue,
and note the colour of the urine. On males stimulate the penis
– a small nub an inch or two above the anus (half way to the navel);
on females stimulate the little nub very near the anus. Stimulate for
a full minute or two using light feathery strokes.
ATTEMPTING TO REUNITE
WITH THE MOTHER
The raccoon is NOT a candidate for attempting to reunite with mom if it:
If you believe the mother is
still around, and you attempt to return the young to her, please be
patient and very vigilant. Since the mother raccoon will be most
active after dark, put them out at dusk as close as possible to where
you found them or where you know the den to be (mom will not know to
look anywhere else). Improvise a way to illuminate the spot, such
as an extension cord and “trouble” light or powerful flashlight
that will last for hours – so that you are able to monitor from a
distance or from inside a building. The young need to be kept
safe and warm. Place them in a sturdy box or pet carrier in a nest of
soft non-ravelling cloth. Put a hot water bottle well wrapped
in a cloth in the box for them to snuggle against. You will need
to refill it every few hours, but if you add a couple of pop bottles
filled with hot water beside it and wrap it all in an old wool sweater,
the heat will last longer. Make sure there is room in the carrier for
the babies to wiggle away from the heat if they get too hot.
Remember, mother raccoons do not seem to recognise a baby as their own
if its body temperature is not normal.
Prop the door of the carrier closed with something heavy enough to keep the babies in, but not so heavy that the mother can not move it to take them out. The mother may come, and check, and then leave only to come back in several hours for them. She may be off preparing a new den for them or simply anxious, cautious and scared. She can pick up and move only one baby at a time, so unless the babies are old enough to be able to follow her, the process will take hours. You will need to watch very carefully and protect the ones remaining (propping the pet carrier closed again each time after she leaves) while the mother relocates each one in turn. Please do not leave them unmonitored, they will be vulnerable to predation, and need you standing by to intervene if a predator discovers them. If the mother comes and takes some but leaves one or more behind, bring them inside at dawn for care and try again the next day at dusk. You can try a third night also, but after that it is unlikely the mother is still around.
IF THE BABY IS AN ORPHAN THAT NEEDS TO REMAIN IN CARE, READ ON
When a wild baby loses its mother it is in desperate trouble. Its best chance for survival will be for a rescuer like you to find a wildlife rehabilitator. Wildlife rehabilitators are community volunteers, often licensed by government wildlife agencies, and they will know how to raise your rescued baby so that it is releasable back into the wild. They will buddy it up with other orphans of its species and provide expert care. Your search for a wildlife rehabilitator may take you several hours and many phone calls, but try not to give up – they are usually unpaid volunteers and there are not nearly enough of them to provide this service in all areas or for all orphans. Try calling local humane societies, animal rescue groups, vet clinics and pet stores for contact information in your area, or try searching the Internet by typing in “wildlife rehabilitation” or “wildlife rehabilitator” and your location.
If you need to care for the baby while you are searching for a wildlife rehabilitator, or if you are unable, despite your best efforts, to find one in your area, please read this entire article now before beginning the care. It will help you avoid simple mistakes that are easy to make, and could result in injury or death to the baby and heartache for you. It’s a good idea to also print it out, so it’s handy to check details as questions arise when you are caring for the baby.
In some jurisdictions it
is illegal to keep wildlife without
a license, even small babies that need care. Carefully research
the situation in your area.
Please keep wild babies separate from your pets and quarantine them for at least two weeks.
Orphaned raccoons can have
parasites and are susceptible to several illnesses:
1. As noted above, debilitated
little ones may have fleas, ticks, fly eggs or hatched larvae.
2. By the time their
eyes open, raccoon kits can have intestinal roundworms (baylisascaris
procyonis) that have matured enough to start shedding eggs in their
feces – eggs that if ingested can infect other species including humans.
Assume for your sake as well as theirs that baby raccoons have these
parasites and de-worm them once they are stable (hydrated and eating
well) if their eyes are open. If they are tiny when you find them,
wait and de-worm them the day after their eyes open. Regular de-worming
during the time they remain in your care is also highly recommended.
3. Raccoons are susceptible
to Canine Distemper and three closely related parvoviruses: Feline
Panleukopenia (a parvovirus sometimes referred to as “cat distemper”),
Raccoon Parvoviral Enteritis and Mink Enteritis Virus.
4. Raccoons are characterized as a “high risk” rabies vector species. A baby raccoon that scratches or bites or sometimes even touches a neighbour’s child, or anyone for that matter, can end up confiscated by your government wildlife agency to be killed for rabies testing. Like any mammal raccoons can contract the rabies virus, but despite the “high risk” classification given this species, rabies incidence in adult raccoons is low and in babies rare. A raccoon must be sick with rabies to spread the disease, there is no “carrier” state. During the time it is “incubating” the virus, i.e. the time between exposure to the virus (rabies is almost always contracted via a bite from an infected animal) and onset of symptoms of illness, it is not yet sick itself, and is not infective to others. Once an animal is sick with rabies it will die within a short time.
Like a puppy or kitten, your
rescued baby raccoons may become sick if they are not vaccinated and
treated for parasites, so it is important to try to find a veterinarian
who is willing to cooperate with you while you care for them until they
are big enough to release back into the wild. Veterinarians will
have de-worming medications and vaccinations formulated to protect pets
against distemper, parvovirus and rabies, and these vaccines can be
administered “off-label” to raccoon kits to protect them as well.
At the end of this article you will find a list of vaccines and de-worming
medications that wildlife rehabilitators have used for raccoons, and
links to on-line sources.
BABY RACCOONS NEED TO
BE RAISED WITH OTHER BABY RACCOONS
If you determine that the raccoon
is orphaned, it will have littermates
that also need help so please continue to check the area frequently
for a week or more. If no siblings are found contact local humane societies,
animal rescue groups, vet clinics and pet stores to try to find a baby
raccoon buddy. Please make every effort to search out a buddy,
but when introducing a new baby raccoon to ones you have already quarantine
it for two weeks first in case it is incubating an illness. Young
raccoons are very social, hate to be alone, and readily accept other
baby raccoons, even if their ages are not exactly matched.
Baby raccoons raised with other baby raccoons bond to each other, learn
from each other, and rely on each other for warmth, play and companionship
not only during rehabilitation but after release as well – young raccoons
in nature will stay together and den with their siblings and mother
until they are about one year old. Please understand that it
is vitally important to the raccoon’s proper socialization
and eventual release into the wild that it be raised with other raccoons.
It must learn the social “etiquette”, the “language” of being
a raccoon. A baby raccoon that is raised alone without other baby
raccoons has a greatly reduced chance of a successful release, and will
be very difficult for you to keep happy. It will feel insecure
and cry when left alone.
RACCOONS DO NOT MAKE
Please think ahead and focus
on the fact that by the end of the summer or early in the fall the small
baby you have rescued will need to be set free into the wide world.
Raccoons belong in the wild, and do not make pets. Once they are
no longer babies, they are active, and independent – and yes, if their
natural independence is thwarted they will become very destructive and
bite the hand that feeds them. Spend a few minutes thinking about
the deprivation of a life in a cage or a house for such a wild animal.
RAISING A SINGLE RACCOON
If it seems impossible to
find a buddy – try not to give up, but continue looking, because
even older youngsters will still accept other young raccoons without
much fuss, and it is very important to release hand-raised raccoons
in late summer or early fall in small groups of 3-6 animals to mimic
a family size unit, so that they can den together for warmth over their
first winter. While continuing to search for buddies, make every
effort to raise a single orphan (as you would a group of orphans) so
that it retains a healthy fear of pets (particularly dogs) and other
humans. When it is released its very life will depend on such
On the other hand, a single
orphan will bond to you as its mother substitute because like other
species of mammals, a baby raccoon’s psychological well being depends
on the feeling of security it will get from loving attentive care. Thus
you will need to handle, cuddle and play with it, to provide comfort
and some of the tactile stimulation it will miss from not having a mother
or siblings to sleep and play with every day. Interaction with
other people should be minimal – the ideal being that only one
person ever handles it.
A single baby raccoon is nothing
if not demanding and needs lots of care. Raccoon kits hate being
alone and a single will cry a lot if left on its own. For them
it is a deprived situation, because as noted above, in nature they would
spend their first year of life constantly in the company of their mother
and siblings. However, please remember that if the baby scratches
or nips someone it could end up paying with its life. Therefore,
except for the times when you interact with it, keep it confined safely
in a room away from high traffic human activity. Do not treat
it like a pet, in the sense of getting it used to free run inside the
house, or habituating it to other people or species it should fear (such
as dogs) since this will increase the likelihood it will get into trouble
with people or pets once it is released.
NEED TO BE REHYDRATION SOLUTION
Orphans that have been without their mother will be suffering from chill and dehydration.
They must be thoroughly warmed
first, and then, although they are starving, they must be given warmed
rehydration solution before any milk formula is offered. Their
dehydrated little body is simply unable to digest food (i.e. the milk
solids in formula) and if given formula or other food before they are
rehydrated it can kill them, or cause debilitating diarrhea.
Pedialyte is a rehydration solution made for human
babies, and is available in drug stores – it often comes fruit
flavoured, but if you can find the unflavoured kind that is best for
wildlife babies. It should be heated to body temperature and offered
frequently: every 30 minutes to babies that will take only a small
amount, or every 2 hours to those that take a larger amount. Feed
only Pedialyte for the first several feedings– as much as the baby
wants until it is rehydrated and producing lots of light yellow urine
when you stimulate it. Stimulate it at each feeding using light
In an emergency, a homemade
rehydration solution can be made by mixing: ½ teaspoon salt + ½ tablespoon
of sugar + 2 cups of water – warm slightly to dissolve sugar and salt.
Use this homemade solution only until you can get to a drug store.
Pedialyte is a balanced electrolyte solution, much better for the baby.
Once Pedialyte is open refrigerate between feedings, and discard any
unused portion after 72 hours. It can be frozen in an ice cube
tray and the cubes stored in the freezer for use within a couple of
FEEDING TOOLS FOR BABY
At first, use a human baby
nipple, pushed onto the end of a 10cc syringe.
Once feeding is well established graduate to a human baby bottle and
nipple (see photo of feeding tools). Please do not
use the small pet nursing bottles available at pet stores.
It is critical for YOU to control the flow of fluids, and with the
little pet nursing bottles you cannot do that – nor will the baby
raccoon be able to nurse from them anyway. The short stubby nipples
on these little bottles seem to look “right” to our eyes but they
are next to useless for feeding baby raccoons. For the first few
feedings it is best to use a 10cc oral feeding syringe (graduating later
to a human baby bottle). You can find syringes at a vet clinic
or drug store – ask for o-ring syringes rather than the single use
ones which will stick after only a few uses. A human baby bottle nipple
(try to find the ones made for premature babies since they are a little
softer) works well for baby raccoons, and can be pushed onto the end
of the 10cc syringe. If the fit is not tight enough you can use a wire
twist tie to hold it on more securely (see photo of feeding tools).
If you find that a human baby
nipple is too big for a very tiny newborn raccoon, PetAg makes a replacement
nipple that is about the size of a woman’s baby finger, and although
it fits their little pet nursing bottles, please use it instead pushed
on the end of a 3cc oral feeding syringe (see photo of feeding tools). To make a perfect
hole pierce the nipple with a darning needle and then boil it and cool
it with the needle still inserted. If the resulting hole is too
small do this again with a larger needle or toothpick. If the
hole is a little to large, it will shrink slightly if you soak the nipple
in boiling water again briefly.
Practice with the syringe and
nipple by expressing liquid into a cup before trying to feed the baby.
For the first few feedings when the baby is debilitated or desperately
hungry it may be difficult to establish a smooth, gentle feeding regime.
The baby may fight against accepting the nipple or be frantic and want
to suck the fluids too quickly (risking inhaling fluid into its lungs,
which must be avoided), or weak and need you to slowly drip small amounts
of rehydration fluid into its mouth. The first feedings may feel
a little like a raccoon wrestling match. You will likely have to clamp
your hand gently but firmly around the baby’s muzzle holding its mouth
over the nipple at first while you drip formula into its mouth, until
it understands what this new feeding regime is all about. Some baby
raccoons are very opinionated and need a lot of encouragement to start
nursing from the nipple while others catch on easily. Try massaging
its back from its neck down to the base of the tail to stimulate its
“purr” and sucking reaction.
KMR OR ESBILAC ARE MILK REPLACEMENT FORMULAS FOR BABY RACCOONS
KMR is a kitten milk replacement formula, and Esbilac is a puppy milk replacement formula, that you should be able to purchase at a vet clinic or pet store (both products are made by PetAg). KMR is closer in terms of fat-protein ratio to the mother raccoon's milk. Even if staff at a clinic or store claim they have a product that is "just as good" (for example, those little boxes of cat milk for adult cats) to substitute please do not accept it, but call around until you find either KMR or Esbilac. Get the powdered product rather than the liquid, and keep it refrigerated after opening. Cow's milk, goat's milk, soymilk, human baby formulas, and most other pet products are not suitable and will likely cause severe diarrhea/dehydration, malnutrition or death for the baby, and a great deal of heartache for you. Likewise, the homemade recipes for wildlife formulas that are posted to the Internet are often referred to as "death formulas" by experienced wildlife rehabilitators, so please do not use them. Again - your baby raccoon's life depends on you getting the right formula - if you get the wrong formula both the baby and you will undoubtedly suffer.
Another Option but it must be ordered: Fox Valley Animal Nutrition makes milk replacement formulas specifically for wild orphans, including baby raccoons. If you have more than one baby raccoon and, if they are very young and will require formula feeding for some time, you might want to look into this option. It is available online at http://foxvalleynutrition.com or call 800-679-4666 (in the U.S.) or 815-385-6404 (outside the U.S.). You will save on the cost of formula by ordering it because pet store prices are usually higher. The Fox Valley formula for baby raccoons is 40/25.
If you order the Fox Valley formula, once it arrives it is a good idea to gradually change over from the Esbilac or KMR you have been feeding: Mix 3 parts Esbilac or KMR with 1 part Fox Valley for a few feedings, then mix the formulas half and half for another few feedings, then 1 part Esbilac or KMR with 3 parts Fox Valley for another few feedings, and then go to full strength Fox Valley. HOW MUCH TO FEED IS BASED
ON THE BABY RACCOON’S BODY WEIGHT
KMR is a kitten milk replacement formula, and Esbilac is a puppy milk replacement formula, that you should be able to purchase at a vet clinic or pet store (both products are made by PetAg). KMR is closer in terms of fat-protein ratio to the mother raccoon's milk. Even if staff at a clinic or store claim they have a product that is "just as good" (for example, those little boxes of cat milk for adult cats) to substitute please do not accept it, but call around until you find either KMR or Esbilac. Get the powdered product rather than the liquid, and keep it refrigerated after opening. Cow's milk, goat's milk, soymilk, human baby formulas, and most other pet products are not suitable and will likely cause severe diarrhea/dehydration, malnutrition or death for the baby, and a great deal of heartache for you. Likewise, the homemade recipes for wildlife formulas that are posted to the Internet are often referred to as "death formulas" by experienced wildlife rehabilitators, so please do not use them. Again - your baby raccoon's life depends on you getting the right formula - if you get the wrong formula both the baby and you will undoubtedly suffer.Gradual introduction of milk formula, following rehydration: After the baby has had several feedings of rehydration solution introduce milk formula gradually using the following 4 steps:
Another Option but it must be ordered: Fox Valley Animal Nutrition makes milk replacement formulas specifically for wild orphans, including baby raccoons. If you have more than one baby raccoon and, if they are very young and will require formula feeding for some time, you might want to look into this option. It is available online at http://foxvalleynutrition.com or call 800-679-4666 (in the U.S.) or 815-385-6404 (outside the U.S.). You will save on the cost of formula by ordering it because pet store prices are usually higher. The Fox Valley formula for baby raccoons is 40/25. If you order the Fox Valley formula, once it arrives it is a good idea to gradually change over from the Esbilac or KMR you have been feeding: Mix 3 parts Esbilac or KMR with 1 part Fox Valley for a few feedings, then mix the formulas half and half for another few feedings, then 1 part Esbilac or KMR with 3 parts Fox Valley for another few feedings, and then go to full strength Fox Valley.
HOW MUCH TO FEED IS BASED
ON THE BABY RACCOON’S BODY WEIGHT
Make every effort to weigh
baby raccoons in grams so you will know how much formula to feed them.
Many people have kitchen scales that will weigh in grams, or postal
scales, and certainly vet clinics would be able to weigh your baby raccoon
for you. An underfed little one will be deprived of enough calories
to thrive or sometimes even survive, whereas overfeeding can lead to
a host of problems, including digestive upset, diarrhea, bloat, and
in some cases, death. Carefully measuring the amount of formula
your baby raccoon should take at each feeding will also give you insight
into whether it is doing well or not. If its appetite is poor,
or it obviously wants much more than you calculate it should have, please
take it to a veterinarian for an assessment. Keeping a record
of its weight gain over the weeks of formula feeding will help you feel
assured that it is gaining appropriately.
One way to temporarily estimate gram weight: A human body (and presumably a baby raccoon’s body as well) has a density very similar to that of water. In an emergency, in case you are unable to find a gram scale right away you can temporarily estimate the baby raccoon’s weight by comparing it to the weight of water. To do this you will need two identical light plastic containers. Place the baby raccoon in one and fill the other one with water. Hold the container with the raccoon in one hand and the container with the water in the other, and add or delete water until you judge that both containers are the same weight. Tip: close your eyes, and switch containers back and forth between your left and right hands a few times. Then measure the amount of water in ml’s by drawing it out with a syringe (1ml = 1cc). Since 1ml of water = 1 gram, the number of ml’s of water you draw out will give you an estimate of the raccoon’s weight in grams. You can do this exercise a few times and average your results if you wish.
“rule”: Please do not over-feed formula to baby raccoons!
A good rule of thumb is to feed eyes-closed baby raccoons 5% of body
weight at every feeding, with eyes-open babies comfortably taking between
5% and 7% of body weight at each meal. If the baby is weighed
in grams, to calculate number of cc (1cc = 1ml) of formula per feeding,
simply divide the weight by 100 and multiply by 5 to get 5%, and by
7 to get 7%.
Examples of formula amounts for each feeding, calculated at 5 - 7% of body weight:
60 gram (eyes closed baby): 3cc per feeding
100 gram (eyes closed baby): 5cc per feeding
200 gram (eyes closed baby): 10cc per feeding
300 gram (eyes closed baby): 15cc per feeding
400 gram baby: 20 – 28cc per feeding
600 gram baby: 30 – 42cc per feeding
800 gram baby: 40 – 56cc per feeding
1000 gram baby: 50 – 70cc per feeding
1250 gram baby: 63 – 80cc* per feeding
*By the time baby raccoons
are taking 80cc of formula they should be eating some solids, and you
should not continue to increase formula amounts past 80cc per feeding.
Be very careful not to allow
baby raccoons to take too much formula! Once feeding is well established
and your baby raccoon is doing well, after its eyes are open, it can
usually take a bit more formula than the 5% rule dictates, and you can
be a little flexible at that point, going to 7%. However, baby
raccoons have a strong need to suckle, and many will continue to suck
if allowed to do so, long after they are full, taking much more formula
than they should. It is safer to slightly underfeed than to overfeed.
After a feeding, a baby should be comfortable, with a little plump tummy,
soft and round, not a tight, bloated or distended abdomen. Overfeeding
can be a very serious problem with nursing baby raccoons that can lead
to death, so is it important to always measure formula at each feeding.
Baby raccoons love to suck,
and what they really want, much like human babies, is more sucking rather
than more formula. In nature they would have their mother with
them almost all the time and would spend long periods of time nursing,
much more than the few minutes it takes them to finish a bottle. Most
will not accept a human pacifier, (occasionally they will however, so
try if you wish by sewing one or two onto their bedding or a plush soft
toy you give them in their nest). However they will often readily
suck on their surrogate mother’s thumb and fingers. If you wear
latex exam gloves over the light little cotton gloves you can find in
drug stores (made to keep cream on hands overnight), it will allow you
to spend 10 or 15 minutes after each feeding, comfortably satisfying
the baby’s need to suck. The gloves protect your hands and also
protect the baby’s pallet from your hard fingernail. Note:
Because young babies love to suck, they will sometimes suck on each
other’s ears or other parts of their bodies, even another baby’s
penis. If this happens watch closely for any redness or swelling
and be prepared to separate the babies if need be, until they are a
little older and this need to suckle lessens. Try feeding baby
raccoons that are sucking on each other smaller amounts more frequently
– and allow them to suck on your fingers after each feeding for as
long as you can spare the time.
If your baby raccoon is
not taking the amount of formula you calculate it needs:
HOW OFTEN TO FEED WILL
DEPEND ON THE RACCOON’S AGE
Raccoons have one litter of
young a year, usually born in the spring, in March, April or May –
but there are exceptions and wildlife rehabilitators have seen young
baby raccoons from early March to the end of August. Newborns are small
and helpless, weighing about 60-70 grams at birth, with eyes and ears
tightly closed. They can not walk or stand, but wiggle around
with all 4 limbs spread-eagled. They are very vocal babies, making
lots of noise from happy purrs and churrs to anxious squeals and alarm
cries. Eyes open at about 3 weeks of age (19-24 days), and the first
baby teeth erupt at about 4 weeks. If eyes are open but the baby
has no teeth or you can just feel teeth beginning to erupt, then it
is not much more than 4 weeks old. By 6 weeks they can walk,
and climb, and are becoming very playful. Number of formula feedings
per day decreases while amounts fed at each feeding increase as the
baby gets older. Weighing your baby in grams and consulting the
chart below as a guide to stage of development will help you decide
how old your baby raccoon is, and how often to feed it.
There is a geographic difference
in size for raccoons in North America. Body mass increases as
you go further north, so young born in the north will likely be bigger
on average than those born further south – although features of each
age (for example time when eyes open, or teeth erupt) will be the same.
The chart below uses weight data based on the experience of wildlife
rehabilitators in the northern part of raccoon habitat. Weights
for young at the same stage of development will vary not only between
individuals but across regions as well. Therefore it is best to
decide how much formula to feed based on individual weights using the
chart below as a general guide only. At the end of this article you
will find links to several Internet sites. One will take you to
a manual written by a California wildlife rehabilitator that has pictures
of raccoon babies at each stage of development, to help you determine
how old your orphan is.
FEEDING A BABY RACCOON
As mentioned above, choose
a quiet room with no distractions. Hold the baby raccoon in an
upright position (not on its back). Allow it to push against the
end of the syringe or bottle with its forepaws.
A hungry baby raccoon can sometimes
suck very quickly and take too much formula if you are not in total
control. If this happens it will bubble formula out of its nose.
Immediately stop feeding, lower the baby’s head to allow formula to
run out of the nose, and gently wipe the excess formula from its nose.
Repeat this for about 5 minutes or until the nose is clear and breathing
returns to normal. If this aspiration problem is severe and
fluids get into the lungs, it can cause immediate death or pneumonia
on a longer-term basis. That is why it is so important for you
to control the flow of fluids for the baby, and why using a feeding
syringe and nipple is best at first. Make sure the hole in the
nipple you use is small and does not allow rehydration solution or formula
to flow too quickly. Take your time, and go slowly, carefully
watching both the raccoon and the feeding syringe. If air bubbles
appear in the syringe it is an indication the baby is sucking fluid
more quickly than you are depressing the syringe plunger. If the baby
is doing fine and just wants the formula a little faster, then try to
accommodate, (perhaps even graduating to the human baby bottle at that
point), but if it is bubbling fluid from its nose, stop feeding, and
expel the air from the syringe before continuing. When you resume feeding
if the baby continues to suck too strongly, try to hold the syringe
plunger back a bit rather than depressing it. You should also fit a
new nipple to the syringe – one with a smaller hole.
After every feeding thoroughly wash the baby raccoon’s face, neck
and under its chin with a warm washcloth. Formula dries like glue
and turns hard, sticking the fur to the skin, which must be very uncomfortable,
and results in fur loss. In nature the mother raccoon would lick
her babies clean all over many times a day.
BATHROOM BUSINESS #1:
FLUIDS IN THE TOP, OUT THE BOTTOM
It is critical that baby raccoons
are stimulated to urinate at every feeding. They may be peeing a bit
on their own, but this can simply be overflow from a distended bladder,
and if they are not stimulated the bladder can rupture. Inside
their den they do not pee on their own, the mother raccoon licks away
the urine and thus keeps the nest clean. To stimulate a baby raccoon
hold it over a small bucket, and dip your finger, a Q-tip or soft cloth
in warm water and then light feathery strokes over its genital area
will cause the baby to urinate and/or defecate. On males stimulate
the penis - a small nub an inch or two above the anus (half way to the
navel); on females stimulate the little nub right near the anus. Once
the raccoon starts to pee don't stop stroking until it is finished or
it will stop without finishing emptying its bladder.
BATHROOM BUSINESS #2
The first stool you see from
a rescued orphan will usually be dark in colour, but once the baby is
digesting milk formula, the stool should be firm and a golden brown
colour. Always wear latex exam gloves or rubber gloves to handle
feces and practice proper hygiene since as noted above, raccoons can
carry intestinal parasites. Overfeeding can cause stool to be
loose and paler in colour. If the baby has loose stools or diarrhea
dilute the formula half and half with plain water for a few feedings
and try to feed smaller amounts more frequently. Work back up
to full strength formula gradually as the problem resolves.
Overfeeding and other digestive
upset can also lead to bloat. Bloat can sometimes be relieved
by massaging the abdomen while holding the baby with the bottom half
of its body submerged in a basin of warm water. Sometimes a small
dose of a human pediatric colic medicine (symethicone) will help relieve
bloat in a baby raccoon, and sometimes a dose of stool softener (such
as lactulose syrup or docusate sodium “Colace”) will help. Do not
feed the baby formula if it is bloated, offer Pedialyte instead, and
if your best efforts do not resolve the problem within a day, please
take the baby to a veterinarian for an assessment. Digestive upset
is often a feeding problem (wrong or too much formula, or formula feeding
before the baby is fully rehydrated), but occasionally it results from
intestinal parasites or a coccidia infection, and your vet will be able
to treat for these conditions.
HOUSING – BIRTH TO ABOUT 6 WEEKS
Housing requirements change
as baby raccoons grow and develop. Keep very young eyes-closed
orphans in a warm room away from drafts and noise in a small enclosed
box (with breathing holes) or a pet carrier with a towel draped over
it to keep it cozy. Create a nest with several layers of soft
cloth, flannel or polar fleece bedding. Make sure this bedding
has no holes and is non-ravelling since wiggly little animals can quickly
become strangled in hanging threads. Avoid using terry cloth towelling
with very small or weak babies because their claws are easily snagged
and stuck in the fabric loops – which can result in twisted limbs.
Change the bedding twice a day and launder it without using fabric softener
or softening sheets in the dryer since these leave scents that are hard
on the babies’ respiratory system. Likewise, wood chips release
aromatic oils, and are thus not good to use for bedding, nor do they
provide insulation and warmth in a nest.
Provide external heat by setting
the box or pet carrier half-on, half-off a heating pad covered with
a towel, and set to low, or put a hot water bottle well-wrapped in a
soft cloth in the box beside the babies so they can snuggle against
it. Make sure there is enough room in the box/carrier for them
to wiggle away from the hot water bottle (or to the part of the box/carrier
not on the heating pad) if they get too hot. Cover them over, head
and all, with soft cloths. Refill the hot water bottle at every
other feeding (or when it is no longer warm enough) and also check that
it is not too warm for them and does not leak. Some wildlife rehabilitators
use a “rice sock” instead of a hot water bottle – made by half-filling
a cotton sock with dry uncooked rice, tying the top, and then heating
it in the microwave for a few minutes, reheating it at every feeding.
After baby raccoons have had their eyes open for a week or two, they
will be peeing on their own sometimes, and you can start to litter train
them to paper towels in their carrier. Stimulate the baby to pee
over paper towels and then use the paper to line the front section of
the carrier (or a cat litter pan if it will fit in the carrier) –
to give them the idea this is where they should go. Once they
are using the paper, monitor often, and if you notice any feces remove
it promptly, since you do not want it tracked around. Some wildlife
rehabilitators start to use sand or kitty litter in a litter pan, once
baby raccoons are trained to know where to go. Wear rubber gloves
to clean the carrier and litter pan, and always wash hands thoroughly.
When you are raising a group of raccoon babies, they will cry mightily
when you take one out for its bottle and leave the others behind.
After they have all learned to nurse well from the bottle, you may want
to improvise a way to hold all the bottles at once and allow them to
nurse together, since it will be much less stressful for you and for
them. See photo of one such improvised bottle holder, made by
attaching a strip of plastic mesh to a small piece of wood trim, and
then threading thick elastic through the mesh, creating loops to hold
– 6 WEEKS TO ABOUT 12 WEEKS
By about 6 weeks of age baby
raccoons become more active and need more space to play and exercise.
Housing should still be kept in a quiet room, but you will now need
to provide them with more space. If you can give over a little room
to them for a few weeks at this point, (small bathroom, laundry or utility
room) you can use a very large dog-size pet carrier (33” x 22” x
28” high) as their nest, but remove the door so they can come and
go from it. Start to remove their supplemental heat source gradually
now, (except with single babies or those that are not well) starting
with a few hours a day – removing their night heat last. Use
a well wrapped hot water bottle in the carrier under their bedding if
they are allowed out in the room since it will no longer be safe to
use a heating pad; they could damage it and hurt themselves.
As they get more playful they
will appreciate toys. Natural items are best – acorns, pinecones,
small branches, bark, limestone pieces, stones/pebbles, shells, maple
keys, flower seed heads, etc., but sturdy dog chew toys, cat toys, human
baby toys and empty boxes are also good. Be careful to provide
natural objects from areas that have not been sprayed with pesticides.
The housing and litter pan will need to be cleaned often, and the bedding
Teach respect for the surrogate
mother: As raccoon kits become more mobile and start to play
rambunctiously, they need to be taught to treat you (their mother substitute)
with respect. Encourage them to engage in their rough-house playing
with each other rather than with you (much as their own mother would
do in the wild – she has little time for play). If raised in
litter-size groups of 3 – 6, which is best, this will be easier for
you to accomplish than if you are trying to raise a single kit.
You should always be gentle but consistently firm about the fact that
they are not allowed to play rough with you – i.e. no biting, nipping
or scratching the “mother”. When one of them does play fight
with you just scruff him (by the fur and skin at the back of the neck)
and hold him off the ground briefly in a firm no-nonsense way and then
put him down directing him and his energy off to a sibling. Most
youngsters will go limp while held this way, and then comply.
Raccoon kits are very intelligent and if you are consistent in this
approach it will usually work. Of course it only works with your
own hand raised babies; do not try it on wild youngsters or adults!
Weaning baby raccoons:
Raccoon kits are demanding babies, and do not fully wean in the wild
until they are 12-16 weeks old (permanent teeth do not erupt until about
14 weeks of age), but at about 8-9 weeks they start to venture from
the den with their mother on her foraging rounds, and thus start to
eat some solid food. In captivity they can be hard to wean, since
most love their bottle, so it is best to start introducing solids a
bit earlier, at 6-7 weeks. Start with a good quality puppy chow
and chopped fruit (grapes and bananas are favourites). At first,
you can moisten the kibble with formula and mix mashed banana into it
to entice them. If you microwave this dish for about 5 minutes
it will allow the kibble to soak up the fluids (so the youngsters do
not just lick the yummy stuff off the kibble). Do not use an adult
dog or cat chow since an adult diet will not be rich enough in some
of the nutrients young growing animals need. Once the babies are
weaned, fresh fruit and some vegetables should make up about 1/3 of
the diet, and puppy chow the other 2/3. Raccoon kits have a sweet
tooth, so you must limit sweets for the same reason you would do so
with a human child. They can have an occasional arrowroot cookie
or fig Newton, but will be happy with treats such as: berries,
nuts (almonds are a favourite), eggs, cheese, and dog biscuits.
At the same time as you introduce
solids, add a source of fresh drinking water to their housing as well.
Water bowls are problematic for raccoons since they will often pee in
them, or spill them while playing in the water. Some wildlife
rehabilitators have success keeping drinking water clean in water containers
made for pigs or lick bottles made for dogs or rabbits (much larger,
sturdier versions of the familiar hamster water bottle) affixed to something
solid. Others provide water in a small bucket (too high and not
comfortable for babies to perch on to pee in) with a big rock in it
to weigh it down so it does not spill. Bacteria multiplies surprisingly
quickly in water, especially in warm temperatures, so always keep drinking
water fresh and clean by emptying, washing, and refilling the container
often – several times a day.
Walks in the woods:
what is good to eat out there? After raccoon kits are mobile,
if you are able, they will benefit greatly from daily walks in the woods
or other secluded safe places outside, where you can point out edibles
such as raspberries, help them dig for grubs under fallen logs or let
them wade at waters’ edge. Raccoons do not have to be taught to eat
natural food items, they are very adaptable and opportunistic foragers
and if something tastes good they will eat it (live food in their cage
is inhumane to the prey, and teaches them nothing about finding such
food in the real world). Although classified as carnivores they are
really omnivores, eating more plant than animal food in the wild:
fruits, berries, nuts, acorns, corn, seeds, shoots and buds, insects,
carrion, crayfish, snails, frogs, turtles, fish, small rodents, and
birds’ eggs – not to mention human leavings such as garbage and
outdoor pet food. Tip: take a couple of pet carriers with
you on these walks because although baby raccoons happily follow you
out to the woods, they often want to stay out longer than you have time
for on any given walk, and then you will have to gather them up into
the carrier and tote them back home. Raccoon kits hate to be alone
so if only one is lagging back, or has decided the tree he has climbed
still needs more exploring, he will come down in a hurry if he thinks
you and the other babies have left him behind – so faking an exit
will usually do the trick. If there are two or more brave ones
up the tree though, you will usually have to just wait them out –
they will come down in due time, don’t worry. Pack some treats
to take on these walks if you wish to use as bribes.
– 12 WEEKS TO ABOUT 16 WEEKS
After raccoon kits are weaned
they should be housed outside in a large pre-release cage before being
released at about 16 - 18 weeks of age. The cage should be as
spacious as you can manage, but at least 8ft x 8ft x 6ft high and made
of 1” welded wire mesh on a wood frame. Do not use “chicken
wire” because it is much too light and easily torn by predators or
the raccoons themselves. The floor can be patio stones or a plank
“deck”. Provide a secure wooden nesting box (24” x 24”
x 20” high) or a larger version (24 x 30 x 20) if you have more than three raccons and have to over winter them, attached to a top corner platform, and accessed by ramps.
Give them clean straw or dried grass in their box as bedding, and check
it daily to make sure it is staying dry – you do not want any mould
inside their box. The cage should have a roof to protect it from
the elements and large tarpaulins can be draped around most of it –
to provide the youngsters with the feeling they are hidden and safe.
Some wildlife rehabilitators construct very large outdoor cages for
juvenile raccoons, with kiddie wading pools, trees, toys and other enrichments
– at the end of this article you will find an Internet link to some
The size of the outside enclosure you need will depend on your situation. If raccoon kits must be caged all the time, try to make the enclosure as large as possible and add as many interesting climbing opportunities as you can think of. Furnish it with fresh hardwood branches with leaves and as many natural elements as you can gather, such as rocks, pebbles, acorns, maple seed keys, pine cones, flower seed heads, bark, mosses etc. Create hanging “hammocks” from tough fabric and thick rope, provide a tire swing, and put a big hardwood stump or large hollow log in the bottom of the cage. If you are able to take them out for daily walks (even for one hour a day) where they can exercise and climb trees, you may be able to make do with a smaller outdoor cage – but it still must be big enough to provide some play/exercise room, and comfortably house their food and water containers, litter pan and a wooden nest box. Raccoon kits are extremely active in this 6 – 8 week period and need to exercise and grow strong. This is a very messy stage, so the cage will need to be hosed out and the litter pan cleaned at least twice a day. Empty any play pools you use after a few hours to prevent raccoons from getting water borne illnesses, and pay special attention to keeping their drinking water fresh and clean.
Feed juvenile raccoons all they want to eat, twice a day – your goal is to help them put on weight to see them through their first winter. In the northern part of raccoon habitat they will likely lose 50% of their body weight over winter so you want them going off to den nice and fat. In these regions baby raccoons born in the spring (March – May) should weigh about 15 lbs by the time they are 16 - 18 weeks old and ready for release in late August or September.
RELEASE WHERE THEY WERE
RAISED AND HOUSED OUTSIDE THEY WILL BE BONDED TO
PERSON AND PLACE
Your raccoon kits will have
bonded to you as their main caregiver, and to the place where they have
been housed in their outdoor cage before release. They should
therefore be released on your property near where they have been raised,
where you can monitor their post-release integration into the wide world.
This will improve their chances of survival. However, if that
is not possible (your property is unsuitable or neighbours are trapping
or harming raccoons), they will need to be placed with another willing
caregiver who has a suitable property, and can accommodate their pre-release
cage. The placement would need to be for at least three weeks
before their release so they can become accustomed to the new site,
and their new caregivers. If necessary they can be kept an extra
few weeks (until they are about 20 weeks old) to accomplish this, so
long as release is not delayed past the end of September. They
need time after release to integrate into the wild population and establish
a good den site before going off to den in November.
If you have been able to take
them for walks, release will be a “soft” gradual process whereby
time inside the cage becomes less and time outside the cage more . .
. until finally the cage door is secured open all the time. After
release the cage simply acts as a backup shelter for them if they need
In some situations (for example
with late born kits that are not old or big enough for release in the
fall) it may be necessary to keep raccoons over their first winter,
with release the following spring. In that case they will need
a well insulated nest box, and their outdoor enclosure should be set
up inside a garage, barn or shed to protect them from the elements.
They will need food and water (prevented from freezing) provided daily.
They do not hibernate in winter, but slow down, eat and drink less,
and sleep a lot.
For raccoon youngsters, released
in late August or September, provide food and water every day until
they go off to den in November. A good staple to provide post-release
is the puppy chow they are used to. At first provide their food
within sight but some distance from their familiar cage and nest box.
Do not leave food inside the cage since you do not want to attract other
animals into it – however you can continue to provide fresh drinking
water there, as usual, until you are sure your youngsters have scouted
out a source for themselves. Once post-release feeding is established,
your feeding “station” can be slowly moved to any convenient place
– perhaps to a spot that is visible from your kitchen window so you
will see them when they arrive in the early evening. This way
you can go out with food when they arrive, and target feed them. Some
youngsters will disappear for several days or even a week or two when
they are first released, as they explore their new world, and some are
wilder and more wary and you will not see them after release.
Please continue to religiously stock a feeding station daily even
if you do not see them, because they need your support over their
first fall of life to attain a body weight that will see them through
their first winter.
Immature young raccoons are
“boss” in the raccoon social world, and your hand raised youngsters
will likely not encounter any serious aggression from the resident raccoon
population – especially since they have already gained their acquaintance
through the outdoor caging. Mother raccoons are fiercely protective
of their young and when an adult raccoon encounters a youngster they
usually defer to it, assuming its mother is right there ready to rush
to its defence.
Since transitional care is required, especially in northern climates, the raccoons must be released on private property, where caregivers they recognize are present.
STAGES OF DEVELOPMENT AND CARE GUIDE FOR RACCOONS
BASED ON EXPERIENCE OF WILDLIFE REHABILITATORS
IN THE NORTHERN
UNITED STATES AND CANADA
There is a geographic difference
in size for raccoons in North America. Body mass increases as
you go further north, so young born in the north will likely be bigger
on average than those born further south – although features of each
age (for example time when eyes open, or teeth erupt) will be the same.
This chart is based on the experience of wildlife rehabilitators in
the northern part of raccoon habitat. Weights for young at the
same stage of development will vary not only between individuals but
across regions as well. Therefore it is best to decide how much
formula to feed based on individual weights using this chart as a general
**In some jurisdictions it
is illegal to care for wildlife and you should consult your government
Some vaccines wildlife rehabilitators
have used for raccoon kits:
*Biovac-D vaccine (United Vaccines)
consists of 2 components: a dried (modified live) Canine Distemper
vaccine (Distemink) and a liquid inactivated Mink Enteritis Virus vaccine
There is no right age to give
vaccinations, since it will depend on the individual animal and on how
protected from exposure you can keep it before vaccination. If
the risk of exposure is high, baby raccoons can be given their first
distemper and parvovirus vaccinations at 5-6 weeks of age or even earlier
if the risk is very great (if possible, allow 4-5 days between the first
distemper and the first parvovirus shots). In this case they will
need two boosters of each, at 3-4 week intervals to remain protected.
If the risk of exposure is low (you are careful to keep them absolutely
isolated from exposure), and you wait until they are 8-9 weeks old to
give them their first distemper and parvovirus shots, they will need
only one booster of each at 12-13 weeks of age. The rabies vaccine
is usually given only once, after they are 12-14 weeks old.
Some de-worming medications
wildlife rehabilitators have used for raccoon kits:
1. Pyrantel pamoate (Strongid
2. Fenbendazole (Panacur)
Baby raccoons should be de-wormed as soon as they are stable (hydrated and eating well) if rescued when their eyes are open. For tiny eyes-closed babies wait until the day after their eyes open. Regular de-worming every 3-4 weeks during the entire time they remain in care is also highly recommended.
INTERNET SITES:There is some good information on the Internet, but other sites give advice that will kill the animals you are trying to help – please be very careful.
1. A discussion about vaccinating wild orphans written by a veterinarian can be found at:
2. On-line sources
of supplies for raising baby raccoons:
One on-line source to order de-wormers and medications is:
Fox Valley Animal Nutrition milk replacement formula for baby raccoons (40/25) can be ordered at:
Abbott makes human baby nipple and ring sets that fit any human baby bottle – their beige standard nipple (#00079) and red premature nipple (#00094) are good for baby raccoons:
of raccoon babies from birth to release age, to help you age your orphan,
are posted by a California wildlife rehabilitator, in a detailed manual
on raccoon rehabilitation, (which is filled with other good advice)
that can be found at: http://www.animaladvocates.us/
4. A short video published by the Boston Globe showing a Massachusetts wildlife rehabilitator including shots of a tiny eyes-closed baby housed in an indoor pet carrier, being bottle fed and “pottied” (stimulated to pee), and other shots of older juvenile raccoons in a large welded wire pre-release cage, can be found at:
5. Photos of outdoor enclosures for raccoon rehabilitation (posted to an internet group that normally discusses squirrel rehabilitation) can be found at:
6. Lastly, more
good information about raccoons can be found at the following links:
An article written by a Texas wildlife rehabilitator:
Information from a Kentucky wildlife rehabilitation facility, which also provides a link to the HSUS article “Raccoons: Living in Harmony with Your Wild Neighbors”:
More information from a Virginia wildlife rehabilitation group:
A short piece written by the Fletcher Wildlife Garden in Ontario, Canada: