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Living In Harmony with Wildlife - Skunks & Raccoons

Living in a suburban environment one of the most common wildlife interactions for me has been with skunks and raccoons. I have even encountered raccoons in my house on a few occasions. How the young one ended up on the second floor remains a mystery. These critters are highly adaptable and exceptional scavengers. Not only do they make a mess of our trash, assault our noses, and spray our pets, they also wreak havoc on our yards and can be harmful to our health and the health of our pets.

How do you know if that damage in your yard is from a skunk or raccoon? Take a close look at it. Are they shallow cone-shaped holes about 2-inches in diameter? If yes, you have a skunk on your hands. Is the grass or sod torn up with large areas of the soil exposed or is something digging in your planters? If yes, you probably have a raccoon. Damage such as these examples is often observed in the spring and summer when these critters are hunting for insects and worms. Youngsters are also learning how to forage for themselves at this time.

There are several steps that you can take to avoid conflicts such as these. First and foremost, DO NOT attempt to handle a skunk or raccoon. They are cute, but they are wild animals and can get very vicious when trapped or cornered.

  • Ensure that you have chimney covers installed. This not only keeps out raccoon, but other wildlife as well such as birds and flying squirrels (I know from personal experience). DO make sure that the areas are empty prior to sealing off in order to avoid accidentally trapping adults and babies. Late fall is the best time to seal openings as the babies should be gone by then.
  • Monitor pet doors or avoid installing them in the first place. There are some pet doors available that operate on a sensor worn by your pet which will only allow that pet to enter.
  • Do not leave pet food outside or feed wild animals. This is an easy free meal for skunks and raccoons.
  • Put trash in secured garbage cans and/or secure them in a garage or shed.
  • Monitor your pets while outside to avoid violent confrontations or spraying which could result in hefty vet bills and/or a stinky pet and house. There are various shampoos and home remedies available for getting rid of skunk spray. However, from my own experience, both personal and professional, even after several rounds of washes they won't get the smell completely out and it will still take a week or so for it to finally dissipate. Also, in addition to rabies, raccoons can transmit canine distemper and the parvo virus to your pets.
  • DO NOT rely on your pets to deter skunks and raccoons as this could lead to confrontations or they may not care about their presence and do nothing to deter them.
  • Remove lumber, debris, and rocks from your yard (and junk cars if you have one). These provide attractive living spaces for these guys.
  • Important: If you find raccoon feces in your garage or home clean it up with caution. Wear disposable gloves and eye and face masks as parasites and diseases can be transmitted from the feces to humans and pets.

What do you do if you have a nuisance raccoon or skunk or find one in your house?

  • DO NOT attempt to catch them yourself. Raccoons will violently defend themselves and skunks will spray you, often after warning you by stomping their feet. Skunks have teeth and claws too if spraying isn't enough to deter you. There is always the possibility of rabies, especially if the individual is acting abnormally.
  • You can attempt to properly trap the animal or contact your local Nuisance Wildlife Animal Control Trappers. A list of trappers by county can be found here.
  • However, trapping these animals comes with a set of rules. Legally skunks and raccoons can be trapped, but due to the risk of rabies it is illegal to relocate them. They must either be released on site or euthanized.

Luckily, in my own indoor encounters were resolved peacefully by opening windows and recapping the chimney.

For more information on these sly critters check out:

As always, remember everything is connected and everything we do affects something else be it near or far, small or large.

Blog Author: Kelly Parker, Urban Conservationist

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