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Raccoons: The Masked Bandit

How a book prompted getting raccoons for pets and changed a boy’s life.

By Jerry Murray, DVM
Posted: January 12, 2011, 5 a.m. EST

raccoon
© Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
Rodney was one of two pet raccoons that Dr. Jerry Murray owned when he was a child.

Way back when I was a young child, I read a book called Rascal by Sterling North. It is a fascinating story of a young boy growing up with his pet raccoon. This bestseller was eventually made into a major Walt Disney movie. The same author wrote a follow-up bestseller called Raccoons Are The Brightest People. These two books led me to have two pet raccoons (Bandit and Rodney) when I was a kid, and they would influence my career choice too.

I still get to treat the occasional pet raccoon, so I thought I would cover some of the basic care of these fascinating critters.

Raccoons are very intelligent and live throughout America. They only live for two to three years in the wild, but captive raccoons can live up to 20 years. They eat just about anything in the wild, but pet raccoons do just fine on a dry dog food with a small amount of fruits, veggies and cooked meat as a treat. Adult raccoons weigh from 10 to 20 pounds and can become rather aggressive when sexually mature. Thus it is highly recommended to spay or neuter a pet raccoon at 6 months of age to help tame them. Typically a female raccoon has two to five babies that are born in the spring. These babies are called kits. The kits stay with the mom until the fall when they must survive on their own.

Pet raccoons should be de-wormed, because they can have a roundworm (Baylisascaris procyonis) that is dangerous to people. They should also have a fecal exam done, because they commonly have Coccidia. Raccoons are very susceptible to canine distemper and rabies. Raccoons also have a parvovirus that they are susceptible to. Raccoons can even get heartworms in areas with canine heartworms. Your exotic veterinarian can recommend vaccines and heartworm preventives for pet raccoons.

raccoon
© Courtesy Jerry Murray, DVM
Although they're cute, be careful around wild raccoons because they could carry disease.

Raccoons are very smart animals, and they require a lot of attention and playtime. They will also get into everything. Thus they do not make good pets for most people. Plus some states and cities have laws against having raccoons as a pet, and other areas require a permit to keep wildlife as a pet; check with your local game warden before deciding if a raccoon is the pet for you.

One thing to remember about wild raccoons is their potential to have rabies (especially along the East Coast and eastern Canada), so be very careful around wild raccoons.

See all of Dr. Murray's columns>>

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Raccoons: The Masked Bandit

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Reader Comments
I see raccoons sometimes when I walk about 11pm or so where I live at. Which is 1 block from a large park. They tend to travel from about from 3 to 5 in a group. If you do not bother them, thy will not bother you. They have a cute little way of walking that I like to see. One large house on the corner where I live, they often slip in through openings to that place.
William, San Francisco, CA
Posted: 2/26/2013 7:43:38 PM
Thanks for writing about raccoons. I have seen them often, as I live 1 block from a large park. They are in the yards here, also late at night, see them on the sidewalks moving along.But didn't know much about them, just common by parks.
William, San Francisco, CA
Posted: 10/30/2012 8:02:40 PM
It's interesting to see raccoons that are domesticated and happily chirping to be around people. However, where would one suggest getting a raccoon from?
Kiki, Napervillle, IL
Posted: 1/17/2011 3:55:49 PM
very interesting info
Ryan, Chicago, IL
Posted: 1/17/2011 12:52:18 PM
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