Why is it important not to start a fire when raccoons are denning in a chimney?

Since hollow trees are not common in suburban communities raccoons have taken a liking to denning in chimney flues particularly because chimney flues resemble hollow trees. They enter through the top of the flue on the roof and den on the smoke shelf which is located on top of the firebox behind the damper. Wildlife control technicians report that over 90% of the annual calls for raccoons in chimneys are females with babies.

Wildlife control technicians and professional pest control companies use a variety of different techniques to evict raccoons from chimney flues. However they all agree that starting a fire in the fireplace is a very bad idea and it almost never works out in a good way. Starting a fire will cause the raccoon to become overwhelmed with smoke and heat causing them to panic and die in the chimney flue or causing them to run out into the house. It is very difficult and expensive to extract a dead animal from a chimney flue. A horrifically bad odor will saturate your home for weeks if the animal is burned even after the dead body is removed.

A chimney cap installed on top of the flue is an inexpensive way to prevent raccoons from entering the chimney flue. Chimney caps also keep other wildlife such as birds and squirrels from getting in. Leaf litter and debris are also prevented from getting into the flue and becoming a fire hazard.

What are the mating habits of raccoons?

Like most wildlife raccoons do not stay with a mate for life. The length of time a male raccoon stays with a female after mating may vary depending on the number of females in the surrounding territory. Mating between a male and female generally takes about one hour. Typically after mating a male raccoon may stay with the female for a few days then the male will move on to other females. Four to eight male raccoons will congregate in a group within the same territory to keep outsiders at bay particularly at mating season. The number of females in the surrounding territories has a great deal to do with the territory a male raccoon chooses. However, even males within the same territory will compete for mating rites with a female. Larger males are more dominant and account for 60% to 75% of the mating. During oestrus (while a female is in heat) a female raccoon may seek out the most dominant males in a territory to ensure the superior genetics are passed on to her young. A litter of young may have different fathers because a female will mate with up to four males during one oestrus cycle.

Females over a year old will mate sometime between April and June while younger females may mate in late summer or even early fall. If an adult females babies die she will go into heat (oestrus) and mate again. In some cases males will kill a litter of babies so they can mate with that female. If a female suspects a larger male is lurking around the den site where here young are she will move them to a secondary den site.

When are baby raccoons born and what do they look like?

Female raccoons are pregnant for 9 weeks (63 days). The overall health and the amount of food consumed by a female before becoming pregnant determines the size of the litter she will give birth too. The healthier and heavier the female the larger the litter size. Females give birth to between 1 and 8 babies however 3 to 4 are most common. The health of the female and the amount of food a female consumes while nursing her babies will determine the health of the babies as well. If a female does not consume enough food to support the babies that are nursing off of her then she may abandoned the weakest baby in the litter and focus on providing for the healthier or stronger babies.

At around 7 to 9 weeks old the young start to venture out of the den with their mother. At this time the mother will typically have the young follow her to a new den site that is in close proximity to the old den site. The mother moves her litter to a new den because the old den is probably full of urine and feces.

At around 8 to 10 weeks of age the young start to intergrade solid food into their diet but still nurse on the mother. Around 11 to 12 weeks they become fully weaned from the mother and make nightly trips with the mother in search of food. This is a dangerous time for the young raccoons even though they are in the company of their mother. Their small size and inexperience make them vulnerable to predators, getting hit by cars and becoming trapped in dumpsters and trash cans.

Young born in April or May typically move out on their own in September or early October. Young that are born in June or July or August will stay with their mother until the following spring.

Do raccoons only come out during the night time?

Many people think if you see a raccoon during the day then the raccoon must have rabies or be sick however this is not true. Raccoons are a nocturnal species but they will occasionally venture out in the day time. Pregnant or nursing mother raccoons may sometimes roam during the day in search of food. If a raccoons den site has been compromised during the day they may retreat to their secondary den site.

How long do raccoons live?

Raccoons live up to 3 years in the wild however due to the harshness of living in the wild and the many life threatening elements such as getting hit by cars and predators they typically only live between 6 months to a year and 6 months. As pets and in zoos raccoons can live up to 20 years old.

What diseases do raccoons carry?

Rabies

Rabies is a deadly virus that is spread through the saliva of infected animals. It is spread by an infected animal biting another animal or person. It can also be spread through an infected animal’s saliva. From example if an infected animal licks the open wound of another animal or licks a mucous membrane such as the eyes or nostrils or mouth of another animal.

Animals that are sociable or congregate in groups tend to be at high risk of the rabies virus. Raccoons are one of the most common carriers of rabies along with bats, skunks and fox. Feral domestic cats also have a high risk of carrying the rabies virus however they are considered domestic animals and not wildlife. There is only one rabies related human death linked to raccoons in the United States most likely do to the overwhelming information and warnings made public by the Center of Disease Control and other government agencies.

Signs a raccoon is infected with rabies are if the raccoon is staggering or is walking like it is intoxicated or if it is acting like it is lost and oddly wandering around or if it has a discharge from the mouth and eyes or if it is biting and mutilating its self. They may also loss their fear of humans and other predators or they may become friendly and walk up to people like a pet. Any animal including humans will have the same symptoms and signs when infected with the rabies virus. A raccoon infected with the rabies virus is usually dead within 1 to 3 days after being infected.

The last report publicized by the Center for Disease Control on raccoons with rabies was in 2015’ which stated that raccoons accounted for 29% of all rabies cases in the United States. If you see a raccoon or any animal showing signs of rabies contact your local animal control or police department. For more information about the rabies virus contact the Center for Disease Control.

Distemper

The leading cause of death in raccoons is humans however the second leading cause of death in raccoons is the distemper virus. Both the canine and feline distemper virus plague raccoons causing severe illness and death. Both strands of the distemper virus are very contagious and quickly spread especially in areas with a large raccoon population. Juveniles and elderly raccoons are prone to death when infected with distemper.

At first the distemper virus in a raccoon starts off slow and may appear with a runny nose and watery eyes. Eventually pneumonia may occur. Many of the symptoms and signs of distemper in raccoons resemble the rabies virus. A raccoon infected with distemper may lose their fear of predators and humans. Brain damage will occur do to high fever and a raccoon may appear confused and aimlessly wandering around in circles. They may gag or cough a lot and their eyes and nose may have a heave gooey mucus discharge. They may become so aggressive that they start to chase down and attack other animals. They may have extreme diarrhea and excessive vomiting. Trembling, paralysis, seizures and odd behavior such as self-mutilate by biting will also occur.

Distemper is very contagious and is spread through contact with body fluids such as saliva, urine, and feces. Airborne droplets from coughing or sneezing may be breathed in causing transmission from an infected raccoon to a non-infected raccoon. It is also possible for fleas, ticks and flies to spread distemper. The virus will only live outside the infected raccoon’s body for a few minutes however a raccoon that recovers from the virus may still shed the virus between 60 and 90 days. Even though the virus is short lived outside the host body it is a good idea to disinfect the surface with high heat or a 1.30 bleach water solution to reduce the potential risk of spreading the virus.

There is no treatment for the canine distemper or feline distemper so unfortunately the virus must run its course till the end. Juvenile and elderly raccoons usually succumb to the virus and die however some healthy adults may survive. Animal control facilities always euthanize infected raccoons they pickup.