Effect Measure

Raccoon latrines? Not in my backyard!

If you are a paranoid hypochondriacal person with young children who lives in a suburb, you’ve come to the right/wrong place (take your pick). Because now you get to hear about Baylisascaris procyonis. What’s that, you ask? The procyon part should be the tip-off, but I suppose not that many people know that Procyon is the genus to which raccoons (Procyon loto) belong. We’re going to talk about raccoon latrines.

Yes, raccoons have latrines. Who would be crazy or stupid enough to build a latrine for raccoons? Other raccoons. Raccoons have communal defecating sites called raccoon latrines where they deposit their feces and read the paper. Let me describe raccoon feces for you. Please. It’s no trouble. I want to. Fresh raccoon feces are tube shaped and have blunt ends (you’d think that would make their anuses slam shut, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem). Raccoon feces are usually dark colored (but the nature of the meal might influence this) and about the size of nickel or dime. They like to locate their latrines in existing structures, either natural or manmade. In cities or suburbs that means rooftops, attics, protrusions around roofs or chimneys, stumps, woodpiles, decks or on your lawn near your beautiful prized tree, especially in a big fork or crotch above the ground. You want some pictures?

i-4d5c1c058336cb52c99b6b60583089b6-raccoon latrines.jpg

Figure caption: Typical raccoon latrines found in urban/suburban environments. (A) Latrine on a chimney ledge, illustrating the climbing abilities of raccoons and their tenacity in maintaining latrines. (B) Large latrine in the crotch of an oak tree approximately 3.5 m (15 feet) above ground. The sides of the tree were visibly stained with fecal residue that rain had washed down the trunk, contaminating a child?s play area below with Baylisascaris procyonis eggs. (C) Large latrine, in use for years on a house roof, unknown to the home owner. (D) Latrine site on the ground near downed timber and rocks in a suburban yard. Note the variety of fecal materials (including seeds, crustacean shells, and human refuse), reflecting the diversity of the raccoon diet. The homogeneous-appearing fresh scat in the center is composed of digested pet food. (E) Latrine on a stump in a suburban park with plants sprouting from seeds in the scat. Granivorous birds and mammals are attracted to such locations, as are curious children. (F) Raccoon scat hidden in leaf litter in a suburban back yard, indicating how occult contamination may be.

Source: Roussere et al., “Raccoon Roundworm Eggs near Homes and Risk for Larva Migrans Disease, California Communities,” Emerging Infectious Disease, 2003 Dec

This is pretty unpleasant but of course animals have to go to the bathroom — I mean, visit the latrine — somewhere. Of course there is plenty to be paranoid about when it comes to raccoons. There are rabid raccoons, for example. And let’s face it, they are nasty creatures. We used to have them come onto the deck late at night at a place we rented at the beach years ago and if we tried to shoo them away they’d stand up on their hind legs and hiss at us. Brazen bastards. And they were all wearing masks, so I couldn’t identify them in the police line-up after they stole our garbage.

But the latrine thing isn’t just an aesthetic problem. Because raccoons are also frequently infected with round worms, the aforementioned B. procyonis. And if we ingest a lot of these eggs, we can get infected, too. And human infections with B. procyonis are very bad news. You can end up dead or with serious brain damage. Very young children are most likely to do this and several cases have been described that ended tragically. Human raccoon roundworm infection has been very rarely diagnosed — only 14 cases in 30 years, but 5 cases were fatal — but this is partly because extraordinary efforts are made to diagnose serious encephalitis when there are additional signs (e.g., certain blood tests) which suggest a parasite might be involved. How often less serious or even subclinical infection occurs we don’t know, but with raccoons in densely populated areas increasing, this is an emerging zoonosis (a disease spread from animals to humans) to keep an eye on.

Reported cases have been widely distributed geographically (California, Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Oregon, and Pennsylvania) and surveys in urban/suburban areas have shown that raccoon latrines are anything but rare. A recent survey in suburban Chicago near a forest preserve and a marsh found latrines in half the yards and a quarter of the latrines had B. procyonis eggs in them. The farther from the forested area the better and having a pet in your backyard was also a good thing, although I can’t imagine our arthritic ten year old Shih-Tzu being a match for one of these guys.

Not long ago we had a raccoon in our postage stamp sized paved over backyard in the middle of the city. Mrs. R. espied it and stated quite clearly it was the size of a miniature horse. I think she may have been exaggerating slightly but it’s hard to distinguish nuance when someone is screaming. I have yet to find a raccoon latrine in the backyard, but I have applied preventive measures by removing all reading material from the area (although I understand this only works for male raccoons). If I did find a latrine, I’d want to clean it out immediately and detailed instructions how to do it can be found here.

Comments

  1. #1 melbren
    August 14, 2009

    Kudos to Revere–some epidemiologists/public health professionals just TALK about the health risks associated with overeating–but Revere actually DOES something about it! Armed with his pictures of raccoon latrines fresh in my mind, my caloric intake this morning was significantly reduced–and lunch isn’t looking real likely at this point, either. Effect Measure community–this man truly cares about us.(Tear.)

  2. #2 joannalh
    August 14, 2009

    Well who knew about the latrines?

    I actually looked after the little boy with raccoon roundworm encephalitis mentioned in this article:
    http://www.cmaj.ca/cgi/content/full/174/10/1410
    Unfortunately he was severely brain-injured as a result. There was an extensive story about him in the newspaper at the time, which interestingly enough became the inspiration for this episode of the television show “House”:
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0836216/

  3. #3 Snowy Owl
    August 14, 2009

    Bon petit déjeuner Reveres.

    You focussed description of racoon waste remind me of the focussed detail of an old Chines Herborists that once told me;

    See this, (it looked like a worm), this is, we believe, a plant that long to become first a worm and then a butterfly so this plant could be amongs those that can fly. Except in high altitudes of Tibet, Nepal, Pakistan, etc.. the plant only became a sort of worm, but the higher you go the plant sort of became Chrysalide, ours Experts said, this plant is good to Un-Grip.

    Sadly, Harvester that adventure to harvest cordyceps in high Altitude get killed becausa a smal bag of High Altitude Cordyceps worths tousand of dollars.

    A Risky job indeed.

    Snowy Owl, have Sea Breaths

  4. #4 Curious
    August 14, 2009

    Well, I don’t live in the suburbs, but I am a paranoid mother of young children. We’ve never seen a raccoon in our neighborhood, but in college, they lived between our floorboards (in our very old rental) one winter. I don’t even want to think about where their latrine was then.

  5. #5 Julie, RN
    August 14, 2009

    A big, heartfelt thank you for this post! Several weeks ago, I noticed piles of scat in my garage. I’ve been meaning to clean the garage but now, armed with the how-to and safety precautions, I can do it without harm to myself.
    The coons get in through a hole in the side of the garage so I’ll have to fix that too.

    Again, thank you so much for this post.

  6. #6 glock
    August 14, 2009

    Here in Florida we’ve had problems with them picking a spot on the edge coping of our pool, as well as IN THE POOL…on the first concrete step where it’s only 6″ deep.
    I suspected multiple animals and your post seems to confirm that suspicion.
    I was never 100% sure if the equally disgusting local ‘possums might be responsible because the scat had a musky smell as well.
    Setting a HavaHart trap and then having the bait stolen more than once is the MO of a coon, i never got him but someone else must have cause it stopped all of a sudden.

    Do you think the eggs would survive the pool water?(about 17k gallons)if so for how long?

  7. #7 revere
    August 14, 2009

    glock: Yes, the eggs will survive in pool water but my impression is that you need a pretty big dose to get infected and the dilution in the pool probably would do the trick.

  8. #8 Burnet O
    August 14, 2009

    My husband has for many years lived in an apartment in Austin located about 30 yards (& across a stream) from the base of a rocky cliff. We used to hear distressed shrieks & screams coming from the cliff at night during certain times of the year. A neighbor knowledgeable of the local fauna told us it was the sound of young raccoons being pushed out of the nest by their parents. The sounds have stopped, perhaps due to the construction of townhouses at the top edge of the cliff. I miss the raccoons. They were better neighbors than the exterminating yuppies in their new houses.

  9. #9 wenchacha
    August 14, 2009

    “Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
    Only to find Gideon’s bible
    Rocky had come equipped with a gun
    To shoot off the legs of his rival”

    Or just infect his brain and kill him that way.

    Hey, about that subclinical infection. A nephew of ours did very well in school, and then just started messing up. He’d skip school, get into trouble, wreck cars, break bones and rip off the cast, and assorted frightening behavior. Punching holes in walls was another.

    Well, he had a pet raccoon for many years as a younger kid. I don’t know what happened to the raccoon. The rest of the family seems okay.

    He may just be one of those kids who “goes bad,” and then either comes out of it or doesn’t. His Mom is heartbroken, but his parents took his house keys, and now only allow him to stay overnight on the couch a few nights a week. It would almost be a relief if we could blame it on the flippin’ raccoon.

    Hey, I could get published!

  10. #10 bostonERDoc
    August 14, 2009

    Racoon crap in the back yard is, well…personal. As James Bond used to say: The first time is happenstance, the second..coincidence, the third time is all out war! Go get em Revere.

  11. #11 isles
    August 14, 2009

    We had raccoons a while back and I was hardly comforted, when I called the state health department to ask what our chances of getting roundworm were, to be told the infectious dose was quite high so we probably would be OK as long as no one was actually consuming the poop. One roundworm sounds like one too many to me.

  12. #12 M. Randolph Kruger
    August 15, 2009

    Mothballs around the yard produce good looking plants and a really unwanted environment for the four legged bandits.

    I have cats and dogs who think noting about the little thieves. I keep my dog food in a steel trash can on the back porch which is covered but not enclosed. They are very courteous animals not to bother either as they sleep but at 2 in the morning I will hear the can lid coming off and them helping themselves. Until we saw him in the road about two years ago, there was one that had to have weighed like 35-50 lbs. Huge… Eukanuba…. best feed on the market.

    And those latrines do exist I have several in my 5 acres out back.. I think they are massing for an attack !

  13. #13 Hank Roberts
    August 15, 2009

    Thank you. I needed that.

    Now, how long can the eggs last buried in the ground?

    Ya know, there’s a business model here for someone.
    Here’s the tools:
    http://www.flameengineering.com/
    http://www.flameengineering.com/Assets/torch_images/FLAMING-FENCE-LINE.jpg

  14. #14 Hank Roberts
    August 15, 2009

    But I should search my own area geographical area and see if

    uh, oh …
    http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/cgi/content/full/106/4/e56

    http://www.ibabuzz.com/garybogue/2008/12/05/got-raccoons-tearing-up-your-lawn-coming-into-your-house-at-night/

    http://www.cdph.ca.gov/healthinfo/discond/Documents/RaccoonRoundworms.pdf

    “In 1998, after an infant was stricken by a raccoon roundworm infection that left him brain-damaged, authorities in the Monterey Bay community of Pacific Grove decided to cull the raccoons, which were so numerous that motorists had to steer around them. The decision stirred outrage, and activists held candlelight vigils. The city no longer traps or euthanizes raccoons.”
    http://articles.latimes.com/2004/jul/27/local/me-raccoons27?pg=3

    Well, waitaminnit, don’t raccoons have any natural enemies that would come control the urban population? Um …

    Mountain lion sighting reported this morning in Redwood City
    Bay City News Service
    Posted: 07/20/2009 ….

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dpd/parasites/baylisascaris/
    factsht_baylisascaris.htm

  15. #15 dennis
    August 15, 2009

    Good article. I didn’t know that raccoons were dangerous animals, not so much that they are wild or violent, but what they bring with them.

  16. #16 MoM
    August 15, 2009

    Add Missouri to your list of places with cases. Since it is mostly not reportable, there are undoubtedly more. Ours was a young child with a pica problem. I don’t recall if the child survived, but the prognosis was not promising at the time.

    And you don’t want your small-medium sized dog or (any) cat to go up against a full grown raccoon. They will end up in the latrine.

    Nasty creatures, they are. Skunks make better pets, but rabies is a problem there, too.

  17. #17 Alexandra Lynch
    August 17, 2009

    My husband had a pet raccoon that had trained itself to use the toilet like the humans did. (And their cat.) He hated everyone but my husband and his father. (It was just him. A littermate was owned by my husband’s cousin, and was apparently everyone’s friend.) He got a little too large, and was released in the local state park, with the cooperation of the ranger. They went home, and a week later got the call, “Come get your coon.” Apparently catching crawdads palled, and the raccoon would amble himself up to the ranger’s house and intimidate the three German Shepherds the ranger kept out of their Alpo.

    He was released seven miles from anywhere in a major national forest, after that.

  18. #18 Walter Seiler
    August 21, 2009

    What are those little seeds in raccoon feces? It looks
    like seeds from figs, but I’m concerned they are worm eggs.

  19. #19 Laura
    June 8, 2011

    We have discovered latrines on our roof and all over our rather small backyard here in Austin. I have a two-year-old son and am horrified at the prospect of him getting roundworms. He would not ingest poop intentionally, but his favorite activities include raking leaves and digging in the dirt. The eggs last for up to 4 years in the soil in all temperatures. The only thing that kills them is extreme heat : fire on the soil or boiling water on a non-porous surface. It is disgusting. I was all for peacefully coexisting with the raccoons I knew to come in our yard every night, but I had no idea the threat they posed and now it is going to cost me a fortune to have them relocated and to have my yard fully cleared of their contamination. Ugh!

  20. #20 Anne
    canada
    August 19, 2012

    racoons here use our roof as a laterine….my husband cleans it off, sometimes washing it down with javex,,,they still do it….how do you stop the little beggers from using it ????

  21. #21 Sandra
    Toronto, Canada
    September 22, 2013

    There is a much more serious disease that you and your pets can get from raccoons called: Leptospirosis (also called: Weil’s syndrome, canicola fever, canefield fever, nanukayami fever, 7-day fever, Rat Catcher’s Yellows, Fort Bragg fever, black jaundice, and Pretibial fever). There are 5 different serotypes in North America. It is transitted through the urine of an infected animal, and almost all raccoons are infected. (Other animals can also spread it: skunks, rabbits, deer and even other dogs if they are infected). So when you are walking your dog, or your dog runs around in your backyard, all they have to do is sniff the urine to get it. First your dog is lethargic, later it causes severe damage to the liver (they become jaundiced) and kidneys. My 8 year old Boston Terrier died from it. Biopsy alone to diagnose was $6,500 Cdn. 4 days in ICU, etc. Many humans have also died from this infection. Raccoons are not “cute” the are carriers of very serious diseases. They continually use my little porch as a latrine and I keep cleaning it off and using javex, I’ve put out mothballs, sprayed with Tabasco, made a concoction of hot peppers, water and I forget whatever the recipie said and nothing works. Now I am leaving out a bowl of antifreeze; there is nothing more I can do to get rid of them.

  22. #22 Sandra
    Toronto, Canada
    September 22, 2013

    Before I get a lot of criticism about the antifreeze, please note I did call an animal pest control company — $200.00. They captured it, and to my horror, the law in Toronto says they can only relocate it no more than 100 metres away (320 feet!). It was back defecating on my porch 2 days later.

  23. #23 Amy
    United States
    September 13, 2014

    No problem with the antifreeze solution (just keep pets away from it). I am thinking razor wire might teach them a valuable lesson also. This is all prompting me to get going on closing up all access to my garage–a broken window and the place between the top of the walls and the rafters. Had planned to use small-grid chicken wire. Thinking I should come up with a more serious option.

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