Racoon on snow, sniffs at tracks of another raccoon.

5 Ways Raccoons Use Their Paws

Raccoons may be pesky pests, but they have remarkable physical attributes. They have extraordinary fingers and paws that allow them to do more than rummage through trash cans – their dexterous uses range from hunting for food to safeguarding themselves from threats. Their hands are just as versatile and adaptive as our own.

As we take pride in the evolutionary success of human hands, it’s hard to neglect these incredible paws at play. With front paws ranging from 1 to 2.5 inches and back paws stretching up to 4 inches, these furry wonders defy expectations with their incredible capabilities.

But just how beneficial are raccoon paws, and what tasks do raccoons fulfill with these? We’ll try to answer these in this blog post.

Key Pest Points:

• Raccoons have remarkable physical attributes, including dexterous paws used for a variety of tasks.

• These animals also use their hands to sense the environment by rubbing objects between them.

Raccoon paws are incredibly strong and versatile; they can climb steep slopes, swim up to 3 miles per hour, and dig through logs in search of food.

The Magnificence of a Raccoon’s Paws

Raccoons have a remarkable set of paws that act as hands, facilitating their ability to accomplish multiple tasks. All four are dexterous and surprisingly strong; raccoons can use them for scratching, swimming, climbing, digging – you name it. On average, wild raccoons live for 2-3 years. And its paws only grow stronger during this time.

Despite not having opposable thumbs like we humans do (or primates), they still manage to lend one another support when necessary with these incredibly useful hands nature has gifted them.

1. Climbing High with Their Paws: Raccoons Are Expert Climbers

Raccoons have special abilities when it comes to climbing. They can climb steep slopes and cling to vertical surfaces thanks to their way of gripping things. This physical attribute is handy when they must elude predators or pursue food. 

It is normal for a raccoon to climb 20-30 feet of height. In fact, during the summer of 2018, a raccoon climbed the UBS tower in Minnesota (305 feet!) and made its home atop the roof for two days.

As previously mentioned, raccoons do not have opposable thumbs as humans do; however, they possess the same degree of flexibility in their hands as primates. This means that they can hook around objects and support themselves while climbing.

2. Swimming Whenever Necessary: Paws Aid Raccoons in Underwater Movement 

Raccoons may be known for their disguises and nighttime excursions, but they are also incredibly talented swimmers. With formidable paw power at the ready, these nimble creatures can swim at an astounding speed of up to 3 miles per hour – almost half the rate that a typical human would. Furthermore, this is faster than most dogs which move between 1 and 2 mph on average while in water.

You may not expect to encounter a raccoon in your swimming pool, but don’t be too surprised if one day you do. Even though they’re undeniably cute, these critters can leave behind an unpleasant surprise that could sour the experience – and possibly even ruin it entirely.

Little raccoon climbing up on rustic wooden deck in search of food and water.

3. Scratching All the Time: Keeping their Paws Sharp

Adult raccoons are known for many traits, such as their incredible dexterity, knack for problem-solving, and signature ‘mask,’ unlike baby raccoons which lack these traits commonly found in adults. Yet one trait that stands out remarkably is their nearly incessant desire to scratch.

Raccoons paw at things with a tremendous amount of force and vigor. They use scratching to tear apart logs and stumps in search of potential food sources.

Raccoons have long been known for their impressive dexterity. Supported by the fact that the name ‘raccoon,’ which originated from a Powhatan term, loosely translates to “the animal which scratches.” According to behaviorists, raccoons use scratching as a way of learning how best to grasp objects.

4. Digging Anything: Raccoons are Talented Excavators

Raccoons are foragers; they are constantly searching and collecting foods of different kinds. They mainly feast on a variety of insects and other small creatures. To find what lurks beneath the grass, raccoons rely on their sharp claws and dexterous paws to dig up their meals.

Not only are they adept at finding food, but they also use those same hands to create dwellings. While hollow tree trunks or logs make great residences, some raccoons resort to burrowing into the earth. When they do so, raccoon hands work as shovels to dig out a shallow den where they can build a home for themselves.

While raccoons can readily be drawn to the warmth of our property during winter to hibernate, a burrow is enough for them during other seasons. 

5. Sensing Anything Through Touch: Paws Are an Essential Survival Tool for Raccoons

Raccoons are creatures with highly sensitive hands. They regularly rub their paws together for various reasons. It used to be a widely held belief that this behavior was mere cleaning, but now it is understood that it has something to do with enhancing their sense of touch. 

Due to their strong sensing capacity, different scents keep raccoons away from our property. On top of that, one can even find raccoons rubbing an object between their paws to identify it, sometimes giving it a good cleanse. 

This level of sensitivity highlights just how advanced and aware these animals are when processing information through touch. Such tactility must have neurological benefits, too; it likely has to do with their higher than average amounts of neural activity inside their brains. 

Aside from these, raccoons use their paws to shield themselves from predators and forage through garbage. Moreover, they can easily grab, grasp, or even unlock various objects.

Raccoons are amazingly agile animals, and their paws are essential for survival. With an impressive capacity to use their paws, they can climb, swim, dig, and sense their environment – all traits that have made them successful survivors.

Close up of raccoon back paw.

How to Prevent Raccoons From Infesting Your Property

Raccoon infestations can be quite a nuisance for homeowners. These animals cause property damage, raid trash cans, and even spread diseases. To prevent raccoons from entering your property, try the following:

  • Clean up food and garbage regularly. Raccoons are attracted to the smell of food, so store these items in airtight containers.
  • Trim back the trees and bushes in your yard. These can provide access points for raccoons and other animals, so keep them short.
  • Eliminate access to water sources. Raccoons need a water source, so it’s essential to ensure there are none on your property.
  • Use raccoon eviction fluid. This particular fluid is sprayed around your property to repel raccoons that may be entering your property.
  • Set up motion-activated lights around the perimeter of your property. This can effectively deter raccoons and other animals that try to get into your yard.
  • Use scent repellents or taste-aversion products around areas that raccoons are attracted to. It’s important to note that these products may not be effective in all cases.
  • Call a professional if the infestation becomes too severe. An experienced wildlife control specialist can help you humanely remove the animals from your property and prevent them from returning.

These are just some ways to prevent raccoons from infesting your property. Following the steps outlined above, you should be able to keep these animals away and protect your home from potential damage.


Do raccoons have thumbs?

No, raccoons do not have thumbs. They are highly dexterous because of their tactile paw pads and long fingers, but they lack an opposable thumb which would give them greater grip strength.

What do raccoon paws look like?

Raccoons have five long fingers on each paw with tactile pads, giving them a great sense of touch when exploring their environment. The hind feet are slightly larger than the front ones and possess sharp claws that help raccoons climb and dig. The fur on their paws helps keep them insulated against cold temperatures.

Should humans be scared of raccoons?

No, raccoons are usually shy and will not attack humans unless they feel threatened. However, keep a safe distance from them as some may carry rabies or other diseases. If you encounter a wild raccoon in your backyard, make loud noises or throw objects to scare it away. If that doesn’t work, contact a local wildlife specialist for help. If you ever find yourself the victim of a raccoon bite, you should seek medical attention immediately.


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