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Raccoons

Introduction
The raccoon’s mischievous looking black mask is well deserved. Raccoons are very common in urban areas where they often gain entry to houses and sheds which they use as a den site. They are quite strong for their size and have great manual dexterity allowing them to break in to houses in a variety of unlikely spots. They are generally very unaggressive towards humans, dogs or cats unless obviously sick. Raccoons are highly adaptable and even survive the harsh prairie winters although population densities are much higher in southern urban areas. Densities in urban areas may sometimes reach 100 animals per square kilometer.

Physical characteristics
A medium sized, omnivorous (eats both plants and animals), intelligent mammal, native to North America. Adult weights vary in Ontario from about 8-12 kg. In winter raccoons are much less active than in summer but they do not hibernate. The amount of snow and temperature appear to determine activity level. The coat is thick grizzled grey in colour with black mask on the face and ringed tail. They have a stocky build with relatively short legs.

Habitat
Outside of urban areas raccoons prefer hardwood forests in an area close to water. Its den is most often in hollow trees or ground burrows but it is not a strong digger. Home range or territories are generally 4-10 sq km in southern Ontario however may be much larger in other parts of the continent where food is not abundant. Many females will live in overlapping territories however males do not.

Life cycle
Raccoons in southern Ontario mate in late Jan through mid March. This is the only time of year when male and female adult animals will cohabit. Gestation is 63 days and babies are generally born after the 8th of March. At Aanteater we have seen litter sizes vary from 3-8 babies or kits. Usually kits are at least partially weaned at about 8 or 9 weeks and begin venturing out at night with their mothers. Young raccoons usually stay with their mothers until the following winter and may stay with siblings for even longer.

Damage and disease risks
Raccoons most often break in through the roof which means there is a possibility of water damage from leaks as well as roof repairs. Blown insulation which is present in most attics is quite delicate and may be damaged if raccoons have lived in the attic for any length of time. Odor problems may require removal of attic insulation as well as deodorizing fogs.

Raccoon rabies has increased significantly in recent years. Raccoons may not show any symptoms of the disease but are still able to infect people and pets. Raccoons also commonly carry a parasite called Baylisascaris roundworm which may be passed to people or pets through the animal’s feces. Although raccoons themselves are immune to the effects, raccoon roundworm can be very serious and may result in liver failure and death to people and pets. More than once Aanteater technician have encountered dogs killed by contact with raccoon roundworm through feces. Unfortunately, there is currently no effective treatment method available to counter the infection of raccoon roundworm. Hence, it is important to prevent exposure so as to avoid the danger of getting infected with this parasite.

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