Springtime signals the birth of many things. In the central part of the United States the months of April and May are notorious for turning out orphaned wild animals of many species, including the raccoon. Many kits are orphaned due to mishaps such as car accidents, hunting and careless cleanup efforts in which their homes in trees are cut down. A raccoon kit will usually have an average of 3 other siblings so be prepared to care for more than one. Also keep in mind that it is best not to raise a raccoon kit alone. Babies are the size of a newborn kitten when born, they are fully furred (except for the stomach) and their eyes remain closed until about three weeks old. A raccoon is born without the trademark mask and rings around its tail. It will develop these characteristics as it gets older.
Upon first receiving a raccoon kit, it is very important to understand that these animals are rabies vector animals, meaning that, although it is uncommon, they can carry the rabies virus. Additionally, a raccoon can carry raccoon roundworms. All raccoons being reared in captivity should receive rabies vaccinations as well as a worming regimen which can be recommended by your local veterinarian. These measures are for your own safety as well as that of the animal. It is highly recommended that you wear a protective glove when handling raccoons as well. As a kit, they pose almost no threat so rubber or latex gloves are sufficient. As the animal grows, you should purchase a heavy leather work glove for protection against bites and scratches.
A small kennel or pet carrier will work best as a home for kits under 6 weeks old. They will spend most of their time sleeping. You should use ravel free cloth or toweling for bedding inside the cage. Even as an infant, claws are sharp and can become entangled in a cotton towel. Hemmed baby blankets work wonderfully as bedding material. Never use grass, or plant material as these items draw heat away from the animal. You should also stay away from cedar shavings and other purchased bedding materials. Odors from these materials can be toxic to the animal.
Your raccoon kit will not be able to regulate its body temperature until after its eyes are fully open. A heating pad set on low works best to keep them warm. You should only place the heating pad under half of the bottom of your cage. This is recommended so that if it gets too warm, the baby can move away from the heat. Upon arrival, your first challenge will be to get the kit warm. If it has been left alone for very long, it will need to be slowly warmed before pneumonia and other respiratory problems arise.
You should next check to make sure the kit is not dehydrated. You will not be able to feed until it is properly hydrated. This is determined by pinching the skin between the shoulder blades. If the skin does not bounce back immediately, there is a possible dehydration problem. Other signs are sunken eyes and a yellow or gray tint to the mouth and tongue. If your kit is dehydrated, you will need to slowly feed it fluids with a pet nurser or eyedropper. Ideally, you should use a fluid called Lactated Ringers which can be ordered from a vet or pet supply company. In a pinch, you can use Pedialyte or even plain Gatorade to rehydrate the raccoon.
Once the kit is warm and hydrated, you can begin a feeding regimen. Raccoon kits eat best from a pet nurser with a full size nipple. You will be surprised just how big that mouth really is! Your raccoon kit will need to be fed every four hours to begin with. This means you will be getting up at night sometimes with your little one. A healthy raccoon kit will cry when it is hungry to let you know it needs to eat. There are differences in what professionals choose to feed their raccoon kits but most choose a high quality kitten milk replacer. KMR is a quality brand with excellent nutritional content. Your kit may only eat a tablespoon of food at a time to begin with which will change as it gets older. Be careful not to overfeed the kit. It should eat until its belly is well rounded. A raccoon will overeat if you let it so be careful when feeding. Overfeeding causes diarrhea and other intestinal problems can occur which can kill a small raccoon. You will also need to make sure that the raccoon does not suck so hard it pulls formula into its lungs. This is called aspiration and it usually happens when the nipple holes are too big. You will know if this happens because formula will come out of the raccoon’s nose and it will usually cough and gasp for air.
Feeding your raccoon may be tricky at first. You are getting used to feeding your new raccoon with a bottle and your raccoon is getting used to eating from a bottle. It may take several feedings for you both to get the hang of it. If the raccoon does not want to take the bottle, try scratching the top of his head at the neck and just behind the ears. It will stimulate the kits sucking reflex and give you an opportunity to put the bottle in its mouth. This will make your kit “purr”, so don’t be alarmed when it makes this “chirring” sound.
An infant kit cannot go to the bathroom on its own until after its eyes are open. You will need to act as the mother and stimulate your kits bottom until it uses the bathroom. This should be done before every feeding. A warm cloth, paper towel or baby wipes can be used for this. Raccoon stools should be solid and after a few feedings of formula will be yellow. The bedding in the kennel will need to be changed a few times a day because the kit will urinate in the kennel as well.
A raccoon will open its eyes at about 6 weeks old. At this point you can begin to wean it off the bottle. Applesauce is a good for starters and formula soaked dog food is a healthy meal. You may need to dip the raccoons face in the dish to show it in the beginning. The kit will lick its face and after a few times, will realize the food is in the dish. Only replace one feeding per day until the kit can lap on its own. You can then add additional feedings with the dish. You will also need to keep a dish of dry dog food in the kennel once your raccoon begins the weaning process. Dog food will be a staple food as the raccoon grows. Be aware that raccoons are very messy eaters when they are little so be ready with lots of wet cloths! Fresh water is needed in the cage as with any other animal but a raccoon will soil his water and then play in it so be prepared to change the bowl several times a day!
Now that your kit is getting older, you will need to consider whether it needs to be released back into its natural habitat or whether it will be kept as a pet. If you consider the latter, remember that a tame raccoon who has lived with humans is not likely to survive in the wild. If you raise your kit as a pet, remember that these animals can live as long as 15 years in some cases and require large pens to live in.
Your raccoon kit will teach you many things while in your care. They are curious and mischievous and each one has a personality of their own.