Give the mother raccoon a chance to come back for her baby
A baby raccoon’s best chance in life is ALWAYS to stay with its mother. It is very important to give mother raccoons every opportunity to find and continue to care for their babies. If the baby raccoon seems healthy, it should be left out for the remainder of the day and one full night (when raccoons are most active) for the mother to claim.
You’ve probably heard that if you touch a baby raccoon, their mother will smell your scent and reject it – but this just isn’t true! Raccoons are excellent mothers, and will come back for their babies even if they accidentally become separated.
Steps to reuniting a baby raccoon with its mother
Step 1: Contain the baby raccoon
Wear heavy gardening gloves just in case. If the baby is small and quiet, scoop it up with a towel and place it in a cardboard box just big enough that it can’t climb out. Leave the towel in the box with the baby.
If the baby is bigger and growling or trying to get away, place a laundry basket upside-down over the raccoon. If you weigh the basket down with a rock or a brick the baby can’t get out on its own, but the mother raccoon should be able to flip the basket over to retrieve her baby!
Step 2: Give the baby a heat source
Baby raccoons succumb to hypothermia easily, especially in early spring when night-time temperatures are still chilly. The cold can easily kill small babies, and mother raccoons may not retrieve cold, inactive young. For young babies, a heat source is crucial even on warm nights.
The best thing to use is a heating pad set on LOW under half of the box, because it provides a nice consistent source of heat. You may have to run an extension cord to the area. If you don’t have a heating pad, you can use chemical hand warmers (commercially called “Hot Paws” or similar) or microwaveable heat bags instead. Tuck these under the towel in the box with the raccoon. As a last resort you can fill a plastic bottle with hot tap water and place it in the box. The hot water will need to be replaced frequently as it cools.
For babies bigger than a football, a heat source may not be necessary unless nighttime temperatures are very cool.
Step 3: Leave the container in the area where the baby raccoon was found
Put the box as close as possible to where the baby raccoon was found, as the mother will be most likely to look for it nearby. Place a flat piece of cardboard over half of the box to give the baby raccoon some shelter from sun or light rain.
What to do if it’s raining
In heavier rain, try placing a plastic bin on its side, and tucking the box inside for shelter. In case of stormy weather, bring the box inside until the weather clears—mom won’t be looking for it in the middle of a downpour. As soon as the weather clears, put the baby raccoon back out where it was found.
What to do if the baby raccoon is in a busy area
If the baby raccoon was found in a high-traffic area, put a sign on the box letting people know that it is being left out for its mother and asking them to leave it alone. Indicate when you will be returning to collect the baby if it is not found by its mother. Download a ready-made sign that you can print out!
Step 4: Check to see if the mother has retrieved the baby raccoon
Baby raccoons should be left out for one full night (dusk until dawn), even if found during the day, since their mothers are most likely to retrieve them when it is dark and there are fewer people around. Stay far away from the box so as not to scare the mother. With any luck, the mother raccoon will return and take her baby back to the den! Remember that mother raccoons can only carry one baby at a time, so it’s normal for the babies to disappear from the box one by one.
If the baby raccoon has been out for a full night and the mother has not retrieved it, contact a wildlife rehabiltator. Keep the baby in a securely closed container with air holes and continue to offer a heat source, but no food or water.
Why you shouldn’t feed an orphaned baby raccoon
It’s a natural instinct to want to feed a baby animal in distress, but you may do more harm than good.
When a baby raccoon is hungry, it cries – these cries will alert the mother raccoon to the baby’s location if she is looking for it. It’s better for a baby raccoon to be hungry while trying to reunite.
If you’ve already tried to reunite overnight, it’s still important not to feed the baby raccoon for the following reasons:
What can go wrong if you feed a baby raccoon
- If the baby raccoon is dehydrated, emaciated, hypothermic, or suffering from trauma, it won’t be physically able to digest food. If you feed it anyway, it could bloat or go into shock – both of which can be fatal.
- An inexperienced hand trying to feed a baby raccoon can cause it to aspirate, or inhale food or liquid into its lungs by accident. Aspiration pneumonia can be fatal.
- Foods that are not a normal part of a baby raccoon’s diet (like bread or cow’s milk) can cause serious digestive problems.
Speak to an expert before offering a baby raccoon any food or water
Call a wildlife rehabilitator and leave a message if you have to. Most will call you back within a few hours (or the next morning if you call in the evening), and they can help assess whether the baby is in need of food or water and instruct you on next steps. In the meantime, keeping the baby raccoon warm, dark, and quiet is the most important thing you can do to help it.