Raccoon Rehabilitation

Determining the Age

Raccoon kits or cubs are born lightly furred, with a faint mask. They normally weigh 3 to 5 ounces and 4 to 6 inches long with a 2 – 2 1/4″ tail. Pigmented tail rings will either exist or will appear at about 1 week of age. Their eyes are closed and so are their ears. The head seems large in comparison to the remainder of the body. When starving, cold, or not in contact with another warm body, the children will begin chattering, whine, or twitter like birds. They can crawl in a spider-like fashion with all four legs in extension, but can not climb or stand and support their full weight. The eyes open at about 2 to 3 weeks, the ears shortly afterward. They now average 7 – 10 inches long. They will be very vocal at this age. They will churr, grumble, hiss, and provide an alarm snort. By 4 weeks they are about 12 – 13 inches long. When 5 to 6 weeks old, the majority can walk, run, and climb extremely well. 7-week old children will engage in active fighting defined by roaring, screeching, biting, wrestling, and mimicking adult defense postures. They stay in their birth den until they are 7 or 8 weeks old, at which point their mother moves them to a series of alternate dens. After about 8 to 9 weeks of age, they start eating solid foods in the wild and by 10 weeks they are traveling with their mother. By 4 months old, they will be entirely weaned and rather independent. Raccoon mothers with infants take pleasure in a privileged position in the raccoon hierarchy as long as the infants stay with their mom. Other raccoons will accept a female with children in feeding circumstances. For rehabbers, the proper age for releasing hand-raised baby raccoons back into the wild is 16 to 24 weeks. This of course would go through the season of the year and the preparedness of the animal. Wait until they are at least 20 – 24 weeks. At this age, they are still young enough that their instincts take over and they become truly wild following their release.

Feeding Infant Raccoons

If they are dehydrated when you get them, feed a rehydrating formula for the first 2 – 3 feedings and ease slowly into a routine formula. You must feed them 5 times a day, including the middle of the night, for the first 4 weeks. Use an eyedropper, or a bulb syringe if they don’t take to the bottle yet.

At 4 weeks, about a week after their eyes open, they ought to be taking at least 2 ounces or more from a bottle – start including some baby rice cereal into the formula, cut it down to 4 times a day. At 6 weeks begin adding canned kitten food in with the formula.

Baby raccoons will nurse for approximately 8 weeks and you can wean them off the bottle onto a gruel of formula, baby cereal, and canned kitten food. Slowly work them up to dry dog kibble as the primary staple, together with a variety of fruits, vegetables, and any of nature’s yummies and yuckies like minnows, etc.

Feeding Juvenile Raccoons

Once they are completely weaned at around 8 – 10 weeks, you ought to slowly develop from a soft gruel to a high-quality dry dog kibble as the main staple. To this, you can include whatever meals, treats, and snacks you wish. What one raccoon likes, another may turn his nose up. A lot will feast on raw corn on the cob and have fun shucking it themselves but this is not a good idea if you will be releasing them in an area near corn farms. Raccoons tend to enjoy dog biscuits and grapes and they can be really useful as bribes. Raccoons have a sweet-tooth so use any sweets sparingly. They also enjoy digging for grubs and other tidbits and the nuts and berries that our trees present. Generally, a raccoon will put anything it discovers into its mouth. If it tastes great to it, they will consume it.

Potty Training Raccoons

When a raccoon can walk, it is old enough to start training it to use a litter-box. If you use a water bowl instead of a water bottle, the raccoon will eliminate in the water bowl. He will then proceed to “clean” his food with the exact same water. Get rid of the water bowl and put a litter box in the raccoon enclosure. If you are still in the weaning to solid food process, position a small tin with cat litter beside the feeding area. If the raccoon starts to eliminate, immediately position him in the litter. This will help accelerate the procedure and keep him from using his food bowl as a toilet. Raccoons will share a litterbox. Unlike felines, they do not bury their feces. And they will knock the litter box over just for the fun of it. Weigh it down with a piece of concrete under the litter.

Raccoons are the regular host for the parasitic roundworm known as Baylisascaris procyonis. This roundworm is zoonotic, meaning it can pass from animal to animal (or humans). It can cause a very rare disease called visceral larva migrans in human beings and other animals. The disease is spread through the eggs contained in the feces of a contaminated raccoon. If consumed by an irregular host (an animal other than a raccoon), it undergoes an aberrant migration through the body. The eggs hatch and the larvae move to the brain, eyes, and other organs. This condition can trigger death or paralysis depending on the location in the body and quantity of worms. Prevention includes never ever touching or breathing in raccoon feces, using rubber gloves and a mask when cleaning up cages (or attics, and so on) which have been occupied by raccoons, burying or burning all feces, keeping children and family pets away from raccoon cages and enclosures, and sanitizing cages and enclosures between litters. All cages and nest boxes used for housing raccoons should not be used for any other animals. They must remain strictly for raccoon usage. Do frequent fecal screens on all raccoons in your possession. If positive, your wildlife vet may advise treatment with Panacur at .1 cc per pound of body weight each week until release. Keep in mind that raccoons may have feces on their paws and bodies so take appropriate safeguards. As a safety measure, all raccoons taken into rehab should receive de-worming under a veterinarian’s guidance.

Housing Young Raccoons

Make sure that they are warm enough. If needed, a heating pad wrapped in towels might be used at this age but cautious. There is a non-electric heating pad that you just heat in the microwave for around 4 minutes and, slip under the bedding. This supplies up to 12 hours of safe, gentle, warmth.

Newborn to 5-week old raccoons can be housed in a cardboard box or, better yet, a small animal carrier. It will be warmer for them and easier for you. Raccoons will curl together into one furry lump for sleeping. If your raccoon does not have littermates, provide an appropriate stuffed toy as a substitute. As raccoons grow, so must their enclosure but constantly keep a bed or den area in it. Cardboard boxes sized to the raccoons work well for the bed for young raccoons – line the bottom with towels for warmth. Juvenile raccoons will make short work of the cardboard box. At that age, begin using a little animal carrier as their bed. Depending on the number of raccoons in the litter, you might need a small dog carrier. Remove the door from the carrier and place it in their enclosure. Clean and check the carrier daily. One benefit of using the carrier as their bed is that it makes it a lot easier when you take a trip with the raccoons, either for vet check-ups or their final release into the wild. Since they feel safe and secure in their “bed”, automobile trips are a lot easier on everybody.

Housing Juvenile Raccoons

The type of outside enclosure you use for your raccoons will depend upon your rehabbing methods. Up to 4 raccoons can be put in a cage measuring 24′ x 8′ x 8′. Numerous raccoons will stay within this type of enclosure until their last release.

Dealing With Imprinting and Other Problems

While bottle feeding does make raccoons bond with you, when they are being rehabbed with littermates they do not imprint as heavily on their human surrogate mother as a single orphaned one would. If at all possible, try to never rehab a single raccoon.

Physical affection should be lavished upon nursing raccoons. Once they are weaned, you need to begin distancing yourself from them, to break the human bond. Begin restricting their human contact to simply yourself.

As they get older they will get rather playful, which increases the chances of you being bitten. Use precaution and heavy gloves and make it clear that they are not to rough house with you. Sharply state “NO” and grumble or hiss at them. If they are by you at the time, carefully shake the scuff of their neck while you do this. The scuff of the neck works well with raccoons – their mothers carry them by it, shake them by it and pin them down by it when they really tick mom off. They can’t turn their head around enough to bite you and if you pick them up that way they typically hang there rather docile. This must never be tried with wild or adult raccoons.

Preparing a Raccoon for Release

At about 10 weeks of age, start taking the raccoons for daily adventures. At this age, they will follow like little ducklings but as they get older the bravest of any litter can quickly lead the others astray – so be prepared.

Lead them to smaller sized isolated trees where they can be more easily recovered or coaxed down with a bribe. The very first couple of times, they might be a little leery and you might need to help them up and down. After that, they find all the good things about trees and you’ll find them making a run for the trees.

Then start to let them out by themselves, gradually building up from a few hours every day to half a day, to overnight for a day or more at a time. Each time they visit their food bowl less and less, sustaining themselves on nature’s offerings instead. And in some cases, they start to turn practically nocturnal. It is then that time to make the last catch and launch them into non-hunting locations in the areas where they were born.

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