Raccoon Poop: Why Identifying it can be Important

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Raccoon Poop: Why Identifying it can be Important

Raccoon Poop_What Does it Actually Look Like
Photo via David Slater/Flickr

If we are being honest, very few people probably think much about raccoon poop. Aside from biological scatologists – smart folks who study animal feces for a living – it’s one of those things that you don’t think about much unless you need to.

Also known as “raccoon scat” – a general term often used for various animal droppings – raccoon poop seems like a fairly innocuous part of nature. We know that animals eat, right? And animals who eat have to relieve themselves. For folks who have spent enough time in nature, this is no big deal.

Now, imagine you are out on a hiking trip or camping excursion. Maybe you’re out solo, or with friends, family, children, etc. Amidst setting up your site, rummaging through your gear, and enjoying the day, your biggest feces-related concern is probably going to be trying to avoid getting it stuck to the bottom of your shoe.

And that’s reasonable. A minor inconvenience usually, but you probably don’t want to track another animal’s dung into your car or tent. And cleaning your shoes can be a pain.

But there is a difference between raccoon scat and say, deer pellets. While both are “part of nature,” one could be potentially dangerous (and even deadly, in some cases). Many people worry about the raccoon’s aggressive nature, sharp teeth and claws, and propensity to carry diseases like rabies as the most prominent health risks. But raccoon feces can actually be every bit as dangerous.

Depending on the location, too, the type of scat you find could be indicative of a larger problem.

Let’s explore some of these potential issues (and solutions) below.

Raccoon Poop: What Does it Actually Look Like? Where Will You Find It?

During a recent weekend camping and fishing trip, a raccoon invaded our site and made off with a bag of potato chips. The next night, another raccoon found its way on to our boat and ate two packages of night crawlers that were left out.

Fortunately, we were only down a few dollars. After checking the site (and the boat), no raccoon scat was to be found – only a trail of crumpled chips and dirt from the destroyed Styrofoam worm packages.

Before we describe the potential dangers of raccoon poop, though, it is helpful to get a sense of what it actually looks like. Likewise, we will also look at some of the most likely places you might encounter it.

On the plus side, raccoon scat is fairly distinguishable from the droppings of other mammals and critters. While it can resemble that of others, there are some “giveaways” that can help you better identify if it was left by a raccoon or not.

Shape and Form

Often times, people confuse raccoon scat for that of dogs or even small bears. This is because the droppings are usually long with tubular or cylindrical shaped. Some pieces can be more rounded or spherical, however.

As you can see in the photo above, raccoon scat is also more brittle than the feces of a dog. It can even take on an appearance similar to tree bark. This is a good way to differentiate between raccoon droppings and those of other animals.

A third key identifier is the fact that unlike dog feces, which is usually consistent in its form and coating, raccoon poop will often have undigested pieces of berry in it. You may also find this is bear scat, but usually only in juveniles.

Location and Spread

When it comes to location and spread, there is a clear indicator that you may be dealing with raccoon poop.

Contrary to popular belief, many animals do not use the same spot for feces and urine. If you have had a dog (or, even more so, multiple dogs), this may be surprising. While the dog might be marking a specific spot in the house or attempting to mask a lingering scent (say, from another animal), this behavior is not entirely and uniformly common outdoors.

Raccoons, on the other hand, regularly visit the same spot. Biologists call this location a raccoon latrine. If you happen to find feces that meets the description listed above in your yard (or house) on a regular basis, you might have a problem on your hands.

In terms of physical geography, raccoons can be found in most parts of the United States, as well as pockets of Canada and northern Mexico. Unless you are living in the American Southwest (particularly Arizona, Nevada, and Utah), as well as certain parts of the Rocky Mountains, it is possible that feces matching these descriptions could belong to a raccoon.

Raccoon Poop: Why Is it Dangerous?

Berries in Raccoon Poop
Undigested berries in raccoon scat (Photo via J.S. Clark/Flickr)

Aside from a potential tip-off that you might be dealing with a raccoon infestation – more on this later – the actual feces can present a series of adverse health conditions if it is consumed by humans or other animals.

Now, for dog owners, we understand that our four-legged friends often choose questionable snacks. If you also have cats in the home, you probably know all about this.

But humans can unintentionally digest raccoon feces. And, perhaps surprisingly, it happens on a fairly regular basis.

This isn’t the result of people intentionally choosing raccoon scat as a meal, though. Instead, people often encounter the droppings while hiking or camping and, without knowing it, their food or drink makes contact with the scat. Sometimes the contact can also be second-hand. Microbes can land on your water bottle, sleeping bag, pillow, tent, clothing (like your hiking socks), tackle bag, or any other items.

Types of Diseases Your Can Contract

Aside from just being gross, there are a couple significant health issues that could occur as a result:

  • Giardia: Not entirely specific to raccoon scat, giardia is a small parasite that creates some nasty side-effects when digested. It can lead to giardiasis, a gastro-intenstinal disease that causes diarrhea.
  • Leptospirosis: While often contracted through animal urine, raccoon poop can also carry this potentially uncomfortable disease. Exposure can lead to flu-like symptoms, jaundice, headaches, muscle aches, skin rash, nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting.
  • Baylisascaris: A third potential disease, baylisascaris can carry some potentially lethal side-effect. It is caused by the parasitic roundworms in the raccoon’s scat. While the most common form of transmission is also digestion, the eggs of the roundworm can also be inhaled. The parasites’ hatched larvae (which can grow inside the human body once ingested) can become especially dangerous if they make contact with the eyes, brain, or other vital organs. This can lead to enlargement of the liver, loss of coordination and muscle control, and even blindness. Human infection is fairly rare (for obvious reasons), but it’s best to exercise caution anyway.

How to Dispose of Raccoon Scat Safely

As with any potentially dangerous items, simply chucking them in the garbage isn’t always the best or safest idea. Fortunately, you also don’t need specialized bio-hazard bags to discard raccoon poop. The handling of the waste, however, is a touchy subject.

Many wildlife experts believe that the safest course of action is contacting your local pest control specialists or animal control agency for specific information about how to handle your situation. You don’t want to risk an encounter with the raccoon who left the waste there to begin with. You also want to avoid spreading the scat’s microbres (which can be inhaled and have some nasty consequences).

Note: We are recommending that you use the option above. This might be a nuisance (and potentially expensive), but it also means trained professional are dealing with the issue and may be able to help prevent further issues. Even if you are tempted to use a racoon trap to “eliminate” the problem, it’s best to consult with an expert first. Choosing to remove raccoon scat (or an actual raccoon) yourself carries certain risks, so proceed with caution.

Steps for Home Removal: Use Caution If You Choose This Option

If you have consulted with a specialist and feel comfortable discarding droppings found in your yard (or house), there are three steps you can take to properly dispose of the waste.

  • Burn It: Incinerating raccoon scat is probably the most effective at completely eliminating the waste. Not only will the physical remnants be gone, but you will also prevent any parasites from moving on to other forms of waste. This helps cut down on your chances of contracting any of the nasty diseases mentioned above.
  • Bury It: If you have the space to do so, burying the scat will prevent the physical waste from moving from one location to another. That said, the raccoon may still use the original location as its latrine.
  • Trash It: If you plan on using this option, be mindful of where the waste may wind up. Sealing the droppings in at least two bags can help prevent the spread of parasites. It goes without saying that you probably shouldn’t dump this directly into your primary trash bag.
  • DO NOT FLUSH IT: Since we flush human waste in your toilets, it might not seem like a big issue if we flush raccoon or other animal waste. That said, for the same reasons we should avoid flushing cat feces (because of a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii), we want to keep raccoon poop out of our toilets as well.

Also, be sure to wear disposable gloves when discarding the scat. If you have two pair, even better. Using a disposable face mask may also be a good idea.

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