Raising Raccoons (it’s not for the faint of heart!)

Way back in my early days as a rehabber (when I was the opossum princess-raising all the baby possums) I had a volunteer who raised the baby raccoons for the center. She described the experience as “like having chimpanzees in the house “. Now that I have been the sole raccoon mom the last several years, I realize that she was right. Raising raccoon babies is an experience unlike any other. It is to their advantage that they are such cute babies (although some go through a period where they resemble mini werewolves)-otherwise we might never put up with their antics!
I have raised teeny tiny babies only a couple of days old, weighing a little more than 2 ounces. Upon admission to the Center, they first receive subcutaneous fluids, vitamin injections, probiotics, and other supplements. Once warmed they are then given oral electrolyte fluids in a baby bottle if they are suckling-otherwise we might tube fed them. After several feedings of fluids we start them on dilute raccoon formula, gradually advancing to full strength. They are fed every 3 hours-six times a day, so they have to come home with me each day.
Rehabbers look at things very differently. Most people who saw my master bathroom would see it as a very spacious 10×12 room with a separate toilet area. I saw it as an area large enough to hold several carriers of baby raccoons with a bonus “raccoon romper room” play area (the little toilet room!)
Right now I am caring for 12 raccoons of various ages and I have the scars to prove it. Even as little babies their claws are very sharp and feeding sessions end up with my arms and legs shredded.
For animals who as adults are expert dumpster divers, they have incredibly sensitive tummies as babies. They all need to be put on a course of antibiotics, and go through a lot of diarrhea meds as well. At this point it’s all about poop, how to get them to start, how to get it to stop, cleaning it, off their feet and heads, and doing 5 loads of raccoon laundry a day.
They are unbelievable little divas when it comes to their feeding bottles. The nipples must be to their liking (and do not EVER use different ones), the temperature of the milk must be just right, the bottle must be a certain shape, and the person feeding them must meet with their approval. If you get it all right they can suck their bottles down faster than a college student in a beer chugging contest.
At around 8 weeks of age we begin to add weaning food –fruit loops! Yes I know that doesn’t seem healthy as a first food but the object is to get them to accept solids and to want to put it in their mouths. (They are still getting bottles of nutritious formula during this time.) I have never had any problems weaning babies this way, but I do have a trail of fruit loops from my house to the nature center. They are in my bathroom, in my car, in my driveway, in the Center’s parking lot, in my office, and the rest end up in their bellies. At this age they begin to play with each other like puppies, and they scream and chatter sounding very much like chimps.
When they are down to 2 bottles a day they move back to the center in large enclosures where they can climb and sleep in hammocks that we fashion for them. From there they will transition to outside enclosures, will have limited contact with people, and will begin to get a wild diet including mice, acorns, fish, mussels in the shell, and raw eggs in little nests we make, and so on. We release at about 7 months of age and it is always bittersweet. These babies that came to me tiny enough to fit in the palm of my hand are now beautiful big raccoons ready for life in the wild. I always send them off telling them to stay safe and to have a wonderful life.
My volunteer was right-it is like having chimpanzees in the house-but raising these wonderful woodland babies is an experience I will carry with me for the rest of my life.   1405111316499