There's a reason Disney hasn't made any dog and raccoon buddy movies — at least if you believe the stories about some seriously scary encounters.
According to some relatively gory lore, raccoons are nasty, aggressive creatures with an instinctive hatred for Fido. If your pet decides to pick a fight with a raccoon — or enters the vicinity of one of these angry animals — serious warfare could ensue. And if the fight happens near water, the raccoon could climb on his nemesis's head, deliberately push him underwater and drown him.
A woman in Cumberland County, Canada, dove into a pond one summer to save her Brittany spaniel, which was being drowned by a raccoon, she says.
The spaniel named Star had circled the raccoon three times and then the raccoon started backing toward the water, Dawn Simmonds told the Herald News. She remembers her dad telling her that when cornered, a raccoon will lure a dog into water and drown it.
"I knew right away what the raccoon was doing," said Simmonds. "So I screamed at the dog but, like a dummy, it followed the raccoon right into the water."
Watching as the raccoon lashed out at Star's nose then climbed on top of the pup in the water, Simmonds kicked off her shoes and dove in. She said she grabbed the raccoon by the scruff of its neck and pushed it under water long enough to separate it from her dog and get free.
Simmonds' tale isn't unusual.
On a homesteading messageboard, posters share their dog-drowning tales.
We had one running one night and he jumped into a small slough (river backwater) and one of the dogs went in after him before we could grab him and ended up drowning. We don't have any proof exactly that the dog was drowned by the coon but it isn't like he hadn't been in the water before. He was a good swimmer. We had always been told a coon will drown a dog if he gets him in the water so we tried to keep them out but we couldn't grab a couple of the dogs that got in before we could get them restrained. Did the coon drown him? We have always thought so but I didn't actually see it happen being dark and all.
Coons are one of the nastiest animals when it comes to dogs...My nephew that stays with us in the summer runs coon hounds and he almost lost a dog this past hunting season to a coon in the water. He had to go in and grab his dog as the coon was drowning him.
Dr. Eric Barchas, a veterinarian who practices just south of San Francisco, writes in Dogster that he often treats dogs after raccoon attacks. He said wily raccoons make use of the canals in the area by knocking dogs into them to try to drown them.
"Now I honestly believe that raccoons are genuinely sadistic creatures that take pleasure in trying to kill dogs and cats," Barchas writes.
But is this just an urban legend?
In 2006, a pack of raccoons made headlines in Olympia, Washington. The marauding animals were said to have killed at least 10 cats and attacked a small dog. A woman said she was bitten when she tried to pull three raccoons off her cat. After that harrowing experience, she started carrying a pipe when she went out for a walk after dusk.
At the time, many details of the story weren't able to be confirmed by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bob Sallinger, urban conservation director for the Audubon Society of Portland, Oregon, told National Geographic News. Wildlife-related cat disappearance usually are due to coyotes, he pointed out.
But it's not uncommon for raccoons to stalk household pets, according to Sallinger. "I wouldn't put my money on a dog against a raccoon," he said.
But when it comes to raccoons drowning dogs and cats in water, Sallinger chalks those tales up to urban legend.
Dr. Suzanne MacDonald, a professor of animal behavior at York University in Toronto and raccoon expert, agrees.
"I have never heard or seen of raccoons drowning any other animal (and I have many many nights of urban camera trap data showing raccoons and cats together, with never ANY problems)," she tells MNN. "So I agree that this story appears to be an urban legend rather than based in reality."
Brian MacGowan, a certified wildlife biologist and extension wildlife specialist at Purdue University, is also skeptical.
"In my judgement, and the published resources I have available, I have doubts of this behavior other than a chance occurrence between a raccoon and a curious dog. Furthermore, I’m not sure how the veterinarians determined attacks were from raccoons on dogs they treated compared to an attack by a coyote or other dog," MacGowan tells MNN. He points out that adult raccoons weigh between 8 and 20 pounds, putting their size in perspective to that of dogs, which can often be much larger.
"Raccoons spend a lot of time in and around water," MacGowan says. "Any drowning of prey has to do with where they are feeding rather than any intent to drown an animal to kill it."
Keep your pet safe
Whether or not raccoons have some sadistic urge to take your pet swimming, it's still smart to avoid any confrontations.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, healthy raccoons are unlikely to pick a fight with a dog unless provoked, but dogs sometimes will chase raccoons. When cornered by a dog, a raccoon will likely fight back to defend itself, and that's when both animals can get hurt.
To keep your pets safe from raccoon encounters, the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife recommends:
- Don't feed raccoons.
- Don't give raccoons access to garbage. Keep cans locked or inside a shed or garage.
- Feed dogs and cats indoors.
- Keep pets inside at night.
- Lock pet doors at night or use electronically activated openers on your pet's collar.
- Put food scraps in compost containers and clean up barbecue areas.