Can You Own a Raccoon in California – Raccoon as Pet

Can You Own a Raccoon in California

Can You Own a Raccoon in California? No, in California, it is illegal to possess a raccoon as a pet without a permit from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Raccoons are considered a prohibited species in California, meaning individuals cannot purchase, import, or possess them except under special circumstances.

To legally own a pet raccoon in California, you must:

  • File a restricted species permit application with the Department of Fish and Wildlife
  • Pay permit fees that can range from $100 – $500 per animal
  • Renew the permit annually
  • Prove you can properly care for a raccoon, including access to a knowledgeable veterinarian
  • Allow inspections of your property to ensure proper housing and care.

Even with a permit, owning a raccoon in California comes with many challenges:

  • Finding a veterinarian that can treat exotic pets like raccoons.
  • Providing proper enrichment and housing for a highly intelligent, semi-aquatic animal.
  • Managing behavior issues like aggression and destruction from a wild animal.
  • Complying with city/county laws, which may prohibit raccoon ownership.

Penalties for Illegal Possession

Possessing a raccoon in California without proper permits can result in:

  • Civil penalties from $500 – $10,000.
  • Criminal charges including misdemeanor offenses
  • Jail time up to 6 months.
  • Seizure and relocation of the animal.

Enforcement agencies like Fish and Wildlife or Animal Control can confiscate illegally held raccoons. Owners may also be charged costs related to the animal’s care and removal.

Alternatives to Pet Raccoons

While their intelligence and dexterity make them appealing, raccoons simply do not adjust well to life as pets. Less risky alternatives for an exotic companion animal include:

These animals may better suit household life. But specialized care, vet costs, diet, housing, etc. should still be considered before obtaining any exotic pet.

Natural History of Raccoons

To understand why raccoons and humans often conflict, it helps to know some background on their natural behaviors and history in California.

Native Species

Raccoons are native wildlife in California. They likely expanded their range into the state as early settlers moved west, creating new habitat opportunities in rural and suburban areas.

As generalist omnivores, raccoons can thrive on a wide variety of food sources common around human development, including:

  • Fruits, nuts, berries, vegetables
  • Insects, eggs, small animals
  • Human and pet food, grain crops
  • Garbage

Typical Behaviors

As nocturnal creatures, raccoons spend their nights actively foraging for food and exploring their home ranges. During the day, they prefer to sleep in dens, which may be located in hollow trees, rock crevices, brush piles, abandoned burrows, or manmade structures.

Raccoons are excellent climbers and swimmers, allowing them access to resources like bird nests and aquatic foods. Their front paws and dexterous fingers give them the ability to manipulate objects and open simple locks, latches, or lids.

While often solitary, raccoons may den or travel in pairs or family groups. The species is not considered territorial, but adults can act aggressive towards other raccoons or predators when defending resources.

Conflicts with Humans

The natural behaviors that help raccoons thrive in the wild often bring them into conflict with humans once they settle into urban and suburban areas. Common issues include:

Property Damage

Raccoons use their sharp claws and teeth to enter, explore, and even den inside houses, outbuildings, and other structures. They may tear up insulation, flooring, siding, shingles, and more once inside. Even without structural entry, they may damage gardens, crops, garbage cans, vehicles, and other items left unattended outside.

Messy Feeding Behaviors

Raccoons forage by “washing” their food if water is available. This involves dunking food in water and feeling it with their front paws. The behavior helps them explore new foods, but leaves a mess behind.

As opportunistic eaters, raccoons also scatter unwanted food items everywhere as they look for the most palatable bits. Garbage cans tipped by raccoons create problems with litter strewn through neighborhoods.

Noise Nuisances

The variety of vocalizations in a raccoon’s repertoire includes hissing, growling, screeching, and whining sounds. Their nightly activity patterns mean these noises often disturb homeowners’ sleep.

A female raccoon and her kits denning in a building can also create extensive scratching, moving, and vocal chaos above the ceiling or under the floor.

Public Health Concerns

Raccoons host a variety of internal and external parasites. They also carry pathogens and diseases that can infect pets, livestock, and humans. In California, raccoons have an elevated risk of acquiring rabies if populations surge.

Preventing Conflicts

While raccoons present challenges in urban areas, there are humane ways to deter problem individuals and prevent future conflicts:

  • Remove food attractants like pet food, unsecured garbage, and fallen fruit/nuts from yards.
  • Install exclusion fencing, chimney caps, window well covers, and other barriers.
  • Seal off entry points on homes, sheds, and outbuildings
  • Use motion-activated lights/sprinklers and predator urine/smells as repellents

In many cases, preventing access to shelter and food motivates nuisance raccoons to move elsewhere. However, professional trapping and removal may become necessary if an individual animal displays persistent bad behavior or poses a bite risk.

Wildlife Rehabilitation

Raccoons injured through human activities or orphaned young may require specialized care from wildlife rehabilitators before a return to the wild. These trained experts provide medical treatment, proper housing and diet, enrichment activities, and monitoring during rehabilitation.

In California, wildlife rehabilitators must possess state and federal permits to legally work with protected native species like raccoons. There are also restrictions on keeping rehabilitated adults long-term if they cannot be rereleased. Kits orphaned before weaning are euthanized if no rehab facility can take them.

Members of the public should avoid capturing raccoons on their own whenever possible. Instead, they can contact local rehabilitators for humane assistance and transport of animals in distress.

Important Questions

Why can’t I own a pet raccoon in California?

Raccoons are classified as protected native wildlife in California, not a domesticated pet species. State laws restrict private ownership to prevent captive animals from threatening public safety or ecosystems if released.

What should I do if I find a baby raccoon?

Healthy raccoon kits following their mothers do not need human intervention. Orphans still needing milk should go to licensed wildlife rehabilitators for proper care and a chance at release.

Is it okay to feed wild raccoons?

No. Feeding encourages nuisance behavior and risks disease transmission. California prohibits feeding wildlife like raccoons without an educational project permit.

Can I shoot or kill a nuisance raccoon on my property?

You may not harm a raccoon without special permits, even on private property. Non-lethal exclusion and prevention methods should be used first before considering trapping and euthanasia.


While raccoons intrigue people with their intelligence, dexterity, and familiar masked faces, they do not make good pets. As wild animals, they require specialized care and housing unavailable in most homes. And their destructive tendencies only increase in captive situations.

In California, legal restrictions protect both raccoons and the public by prohibiting possession without permits. Those who wish to peacefully coexist with local urban wildlife must take preventative measures to avoid attracting raccoons and creating conflicts. With some knowledge of their typical behaviors, we can find ways to live alongside these clever native creatures while keeping problems to a minimum through humane deterrents and exclusion.


Which states is it legal to own a raccoon?

It is legal to own a pet raccoon in 16 states, including Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maine, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

What animals are legal to own in California?

Some exotic animals legal to own in California with proper permits and enclosures include zebras, monitor lizards, wolf-dogs, large constrictor snakes, camels, and toucans. More common legal pets are rodents, birds, mini pigs, and certain reptiles.

Is it legal to own a squirrel in California?

No, it is illegal to own a squirrel as a pet in California. Squirrels are considered part of the state’s native wildlife.

How do you get a raccoon as a pet?

To legally own a pet raccoon, you must reside in a state where it is legal, obtain any required permits, purchase the animal from a reputable, licensed breeder (not take it from the wild), and properly socialize and care for it in suitable housing. Even in legal states, owning a raccoon as a pet poses many challenges.

About Hailey Pruett

Hailey “Lex” Pruett is a nonbinary writer at YIHY primarily covering reptiles and amphibians. They have over five years of professional content writing experience. Additionally, they grew up on a hobby farm and have volunteered at animal shelters to gain further experience in animal care.

A longtime resident of Knoxville, Tennessee, Hailey has owned and cared extensively for a wide variety of animals in their lifetime, including cats, dogs, lizards, turtles, frogs and toads, fish, chickens, ducks, horses, llamas, rabbits, goats, and more!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *