04.26.2006 - One of the common complaints that I hear from customers is that raccoons are feeding on pet food left outdoors. Duh! If you leave food outside,
animals other than Spot and Fluffy are going to find and eat it. The simple solution, I tell such people, is to take the food indoors, especially overnight, or make sure
that the pets eat all of it.
If you do take the food indoors, don't leave it adjacent to a pet door or in a screened-in porch. Raccoons will still be able to smell it, and now they will break in to get to it. That's what happened at this job today. These two young raccoons actually smelled pet food through a ceiling screen, and fell through into the porch, where they got stuck. I was called out to remove the raccoons, and this is the sight I saw. I did remove them with my snare pole, and relocated them outside. The homeowner elected to fix his own porch roof, and not leave out pet food any more.
Below are some emails from people who have complained about various pet food thefts from raccoons. Many of these people were out of my service range, but I was able to advise all of them to keep the pet food securely indoors.
To a raccoon, anything left outside is fair game, including fallen fruit, garbage, bird feeders, cat food, dog food, and even fish food. Ensuring that raccoons are unable to access pet food will not only save money by preventing theft but will also prevent the usual issues associated with a raccoon presence, including damage to property and injury to animals whose food the raccoons are aiming to steal.
Dogs and cats
An effective way of dealing with a raccoon theft problem is to keep the porch illuminated and noisy: motion-enabled lights and portable radio noise makes the porch an unattractive spot for a raccoon seeking a sneaky meal. Should this be insufficient to overcome the raccoons' tenacity, you may wish to invest in an animal feeder that excludes raccoons. Automatic pet food dispensers tied to a chip on your pet are a great way to ensure that only your pets can benefit from an outside meal, though it may not be an ideal option if your goal is to feed wild animals, such as feral cats. In that case, an automatic food dispenser that dispenses food during set hours may come in handy, though they come with the downside of needing protection from the elements, as many are not designed for outdoor use. In addition, such dispensers tend to be easy to topple, which may grant sufficiently determined raccoons a messy meal option.
An alternative to automatic dispensers is DIY feeders situated at least 40 inches (1m) off the ground: raccoons, although excellent climbers, make shoddy jumpers, meaning that a feeder made to be accessible to cats can be also made completely inaccessible to raccoons. One to two platforms leading to a feeder, which your cats can use as springboards, should facilitate access for your cats while giving raccoons a challenge that they cannot surmount. However, although raccoons should be unable to reach the feeder, you should always be prepared for them to try: if you have your feeder situated on a high pedestal, you can use smooth plastic baffles to prevent the raccoons from climbing the pedestal pole, or you can opt for a sheet metal collar to prevent access to the food from below while keeping it accessible from above.
If you happen to have a porch-based bird feeder that has fallen victim to regular raccoon raids, you have one very powerful weapon in your arsenal: spice. Spicy seeds, such as chili pepper seeds, are of no concern for most birds—they are immune to the all-too-familiar burn of capsaicin. However, raccoons, like other mammals, feel spicy food and are largely averse to it. Mixing in some spicy seeds to the food you usually leave in the feeder should send a message potent enough to prevent raccoons from touching your feeder twice.
Regardless, this will not stop raccoons unfamiliar with the wrath of your seeds from at least attempting to meddle with your feeder. For this reason, the most effective way of stopping raccoons from stealing birdseed is to ensure that the feeder is empty before nightfall comes. You can do this by observing when the feeder is at its busiest, and filling the feeder just before that time comes, with just enough birdseed to last the busy period (plus a little extra to satisfy any flying stragglers passing by your porch). Most often, the point at which the feeder is busiest is during morning hours, meaning that although more effective, this method is more labor-intensive.