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The Life and Times of a Young Raccoon
Copyright Alex Snow (1998)
Chapter One: A Roly-Poly Bedwetter
My neighbor appeared at my door at 4.30 p.m. carrying a baby raccoon found in a nearby ravine.
We both went to the place where the infant had been lying among fallen leaves, with the frightened little creature clinging to her T-shirt. We looked for a suitable tree from which it might have fallen. None was apparent. No nearby trees had a great enough diameter to contain a raccoon den, nor were there any suitable cavities in the immediate vicinity in which dens might have been made.
We searched around, but no raccoon mother appeared on the scene. It being early evening, it was the time when many neighbors walk their dogs, which are often not leashed. If a dog found the baby, it would take but a second to bite off its head. Dogs and raccoons are natural enemies. Dogs in this neighborhood have been known to eat baby raccoons before. So we carried the little fellow back to the house.
The baby raccoon is weak, apparently male, somewhat dehydrated, and chirps occasionally in a frightened way. It is well furred, and well clawed, with its eyes open. My neighbor had tried feeding it milk from a baby's bottle without success. Maybe it doesn't like the smell of the rubber nipple, or the nipple is too large.
During the evening, we tried feeding it warmed milk and water in a ratio of 1:2 from a plastic eyedropper. It took about 5 ml. and fell asleep. During the evening I fed it alternately warmed water with a few drops of corn syrup, then milk and water from the eyedropper. I fed it approximately every hour before midnight, then every two hours till morning. Dehydration is a concern, as today was very warm for this time of year: 85 deg. F.
It likes to climb up my sweater and snuggle onto my neck beside my ear. It purrs occasionally. Length: approx. 15" nose to tail, head: 4" nose to neck, tail: 5", between ears 2", rear feet: 2 1/2" heel to tip of middle toe, forefeet: 1 3/4" from the tip of the longest finger (3rd digit) to the wrist. I guess that its age is approximately 5 weeks.
This little raccoon smells good, almost like honey.
The raccoon slept cuddled up in bed with me all through the night between feedings, and only wet the bed once. Today I fed him alternately warmed milk (low-fat) and baby cereal mixed with fruit, combined 1:2 with water from the eyedropper. He took as much as 8 ml. one time. I fed him about every two to three hours. After he feeds he gets hiccups. Too much too fast?
I put him in a litterbox containing wood shavings and a towel, and he promptly urinated. Fast house training or pure luck? He climbed out of the box in less than three minutes even though the sides of the box are 8" high.
His feet are black, soft skinned, and wrinkled; his nose has a tiny scar on the left side. His tongue is broad and very pale pink; the roof of his mouth is ribbed. His teeth are tiny little nubbins barely poking through the gums in one or two places.
In the bed where he was sleeping, I found some tiny black specks which appear under a hand lens as red and black shiny blobs; flea droppings? He doesn't scratch himself. Late today he had a bowel movement on the kitchen countertop where I had put him to keep an eye on him. Soft but not diarrhea. He was frightened of the slick surface. He is afraid of slippery surfaces that he can't get his claws into, such as linoleum, Formica countertops and so forth. He seems to have more energy today than yesterday, and enjoys climbing up on my head, but he sleeps most of the time.
He slept beside me for eight to nine hours last night without waking me, and when I awoke in the morning, he was lying happily on his back kneading the upper bed linens with his feet. He took about 10 ml. of warmed 2% milk, then urinated in the litter box. I put a few vitamin drops in his baby cereal today.
All the neighbors want to see him. He doesn't seem to mind. The weather is still very warm, with all the flowers bursting into bloom. I hold the baby raccoon in my arms in such a way that he can smell the blossoms. Background noises such as cats, dogs, people, and so forth, don't seem to bother him, but he utters a shrill squeak if one scrunches paper or plastic near him.
He prefers to fall asleep on my arm or over my heart with his head on my shoulder, rather than alone in the bed. A couple of times when I put him down on the bed, he got up and wobbled around on his uncoordinated legs looking for me. I have an old denim carpenter's apron with big pockets in it and I discovered that he would happily snooze away in one of the pockets while I went about the house. He is more observant today than he was yesterday, but when he is on the bed and I am standing about six feet or so from him in the doorway, he can't see me.
I have little red scars all over my chest and throat from his attempts to climb up to my head, as he invariably slips downwards when his tiny claws don't get a hold. He likes sitting on my head best, but snuggles up to my shoulder after he has a meal to hiccup for a few minutes.
This morning when I was lying in bed I yawned, and for a moment in the middle of my yawn I was aware of the raccoon baby poking his head curiously into my mouth and hurriedly withdrawing it again. I changed the sheets on the bed this a.m. only to have him promptly wet the clean ones. I put a plastic cover on the mattress after that. He was much more active today, running around all over the bed, but he gets frightened at the edge.
Today he accepted the baby bottle and greedily drank 1 oz. of 2% warmed milk from it. Once he discovered the joys of sucking on the nipple he got all excited and ran around all over my lap. I fed him only when he woke from sleep, became active, and indicated an interest in suckling by chittering and sucking on my fingers. He took about five feedings today, alternately 2% milk and cereal with water. A tick fell off him, 8 mm long, waving its eight legs. The droppings' source.
This evening, I was preparing some shrimp for supper when I heard him chittering and squeaking in the bedroom, so I put him on my shoulder and went back to preparing supper. He sniffed the shrimp smell excitedly, so out of curiosity I gave him a tiny piece. He gobbled it enthusiastically, almost biting my whole finger and thumb into his mouth as he did so. No doubt this is the characteristic raccoon taste for crustaceans expressing itself. I guess 'coons are crayfish eaters first and corn thieves second. This could be an expensive baby to feed, with the price of shrimp as high as it is here in the Midwest. This was probably his first solid food.
This little raccoon purrs a lot. I like him. I'm going to call him Higgins.
Higgins slept eight hours last night and didn't wet the bed. Later this p.m. however, he deposited a soft bowel movement right on the bed. He is considerably more active today than was the tired, weak creature of last week. He explores, shows curiosity, and watches everything I do from his vantage point on my shoulder. His tongue is a deeper shade of pink, and he looks healthier in every way. He is eating more too.
He took 1 1/2 oz. of warmed milk at one of his five feedings, much more than before. He takes milk from the standard-size human baby-bottle alternately with the mixed cereal and fruit baby food combined 1-1 with water from the plastic eyedropper.
After feedings, he sleeps happily in the bed with a warm hot water bottle wrapped in a towel. When he wakes he "munches" on my fingers; perhaps his teeth are erupting more and this is teething practice. He likes marshmallows. I never met a 'coon that didn't. I gave him one of the tiny little baby marshmallows while I was waiting for his milk to warm up, as he was impatient to feed. He chomped on it and swallowed it just fine, then looked for more, but didn't get any because I don't want to raise a sugar-junky 'coon.
This p.m. he was sitting in his favorite position on the back of my neck purring contentedly after a feeding, and I figured he'd fall asleep there. He continued purring happily, and without missing a vibration, cheerfully urinated down my back!
His legs are better coordinated now, and he is beginning to walk with the characteristic humpbacked gait of adult 'coons. He is much stronger, but still falls flat on his tummy with his legs splayed out in all directions on shiny surfaces like the kitchen floor and countertops. He does not yet show the typical raccoon "feeling" response in which the animal feels an object with the hands while staring blankly into space; he seems totally mouth oriented. He bites and holds on to things with his gums and fingers.
Higgins sleeps in regal splendor in my double bed. He's small to start off with, but the enormous bed dwarfs the tiny ball of fur that snoozes in it-- a tiny princeling, cozy under a vast counterpane.
When he feeds he sucks frantically from the bottle, even though the average feeding is only about 1 oz. A couple of times during the feeding he gets up off his back (the bottle has to be above him or he sucks air), and runs around sniffing wildly and squeaking excitedly. This performance often involves hectic scrambling up onto my face accompanied by agitated exploration of all my available orifices -- mouth, nose, ears, -- much scrabbling of feet and sniffing. I don't mind this too much, but his claws are regular little crab-crackers, and my face is beginning to look as if I've been smooching with a barbed wire fence.
I guess its time to formalize Higgins' residency. At first I was quite prepared for him to drop dead of injury or disease. He could have been injured internally by a fall from his natal tree; he could have had some neurological defect that his mother had sensed and thrown him out of the den; he could have had some fatal infection.
I have known several people who tried to raise baby animals only to find the creature dead of unknown cause after a few days. I figured if Higgins made it through the first three or four days of cohabitation with humans he'd have a fighting chance of survival. He seems to be adjusting, so I guess he's here to stay.
Higgins wet the bed twice this a.m. and then had diarrhea on the coverlet. So, while washing the bed linens, I made him a little house from a cardboard box, put a plastic liner in the bottom and lots of terry towels, and a warm hot-water bottle under one of the towels. He took to this little house like a dream and after each feeding today he snoozed happily in his box. It measures 11 1/2" x 17 1/2" x 10".
Then I cleaned out his litterbox and made a new one out of an old plastic cat litterbox. I put a shallow layer of ground clay cat litter in the bottom, then a layer of pine shavings, and finally, on top, the towel he had peed on from the old litterbox so that he would recognize the smell. I've noticed that he purrs contentedly when he urinates. I guess it feels good. When he's asleep he purrs, then urinates, then rolls over without seemingly waking up.
The temperature outside is back down to the forties, so I put both the house and the litterbox in front of the warm air vent in the bedroom, where it is quiet and safe.
He is chewing and biting more now and sometimes chews on the baby-bottle nipple. I can't imagine being a mother raccoon with four or five little ones all doing that to me at once. He greedily sucked and chewed down 2 oz. milk at his midday feeding today. He is definitely fatter round the middle.
Earlier today he was cuddling up to my face and opened his mouth very wide and tried to push it over my nose. Perhaps my nose looks like an oversize nipple to him? He was a bit taken aback at my starting in surprise and giving a yelp, so he tried it again; was he doing it to see if I'd yelp again? I fooled him by picking him up and putting him on my shoulder. He just loves to sit there and watch the world go by as I walk around.
Higgins is more playful this evening. We played a little game with his bottle. He started to push it out of his mouth, then when I attempted to remove it from his mouth entirely, he grabbed it in his mouth and hands and pulled it back in, looking up at me mischievously all the time. He did this several times but wasn't drinking anything.
After his late night feeding, which I gave him sitting in bed, he discovered the fun of tunneling down the side of my legs under the covers to my feet, where he tickled the soles of my feet in excruciating fashion and took a nibble or two at my ankles and toes. He still gives a little squeak if one rustles paper near him.
Higgins didn't wet his towels during the night. At two feedings today, he drank 2 oz. milk. He's getting a fat tummy. Each day he looks more like a basketball on legs. I suspect him of trying to grow up to be the Goodyear blimp.
He ventured out of his little house to explore the bedroom. He went to the right first and circumnavigated the room, then sallied forth into the open areas and under the bed. He chewed the leather bows on my shoes. He hasn't got the litterbox habit down pat yet. During the day he peed in his sleep all over the towels in his house. Replacing towels is a lot easier than washing all the bed linens, though.
Last night I gave Higgins his late night feeding sitting in bed, and no sooner had he finished drinking than he rolled over on the pillow and peed all over it. I didn't get him into his box fast enough.
Today he ventured outside the bedroom on his own, cautiously exploring the hallway. Either his vision has improved, or I measured it wrongly the other day, because when he was sitting on my lap this evening he appeared to be watching and nodding his head in response to the flickering on the television screen three yards away.
At his lunchtime feeding he gorged himself on 3 oz. of milk, and subsequently had diarrhea in his little house and on the carpet beside the litterbox. It was the end of a carton of milk, maybe not as fresh as it should have been. Then at his early evening feed he hardly took any milk at all, less than 1 oz. He screeched a lot and kept pushing the nipple away. Poor little blighter. The milk may not be the problem, he may have caught something from me, as I've been feeling fluish for a couple of days.
Some people never learn. Last night I gave Higgins his late night feeding sitting in bed again. We both fell asleep, and Higgins peed over me, the pillow, and the sheets. This a.m. he had diarrhea again, and I had to consider the possibility that his insides are not coping well with cow's milk. I bought some Esbilac formula and he took two feedings of it this p.m. He took only four feedings today, instead of the five he had been taking previously. He still had diarrhea, though.
For some reason, everybody and his uncle came round to see Higgins today, three sets of visitors. He didn't put on much of a show, mostly slept or tottered around the bedroom a little. Many of his behaviors are so like those of a human that it is easy to identify him as such. The "mothering instinct" waxes strong when he cuddles up, or when one watches him taking a few hesitant steps along the floor, suddenly squeals in fright, and turns back to grab a protective human leg. He seems so familiar when he lies back on my cradling arm and sucks greedily on the baby bottle.
But one thing is noticeably different from a human baby. I can't read his eyes. Those tiny black button gems have a different spirit behind them, and when he looks at me I can't tell what he's thinking. Often he seems to have a myopic and melancholy expression in his eyes, especially when he looks at me from a distance. I suppose that like any baby he just can't see very far yet, so distant faces are a bewildering blur.
I have a feeling that much of the urge to "mother" baby animals comes not only from seeing the helpless babe with its oversized head, but from the sense of smell. Most baby animals I have sniffed have a wonderful sweet smell. For instance, the head of a kitten, between its ears, smells slightly of marigolds. Young ferrets, and Higgins, smell more like honey.
I let Higgins run about on my bed while I snoozed late this a.m. This was folly. He wet the bed again.
I couldn't understand why he wouldn't take his a.m. feeding today. He screamed, chittered, and ran around the room whining irritably. Finally I discovered that there was a lump of undissolved Esbilac formula powder blocking the nipple of the feeding bottle. No wonder he was irritable. He hadn't had anything to eat since late the previous night and he was hungry, but couldn't get anything out of the bottle. At subsequent feedings I poured the Esbilac into his bottle through a tea strainer to eliminate lumps. He took only three feedings today, of approx. 3 oz. each.
Each day I take him out into the garden, holding him in my arms in such a way that he can sniff the blossoms and leaves on the bushes and trees. He usually runs around on the grass for a few minutes. His fur is growing, more whitish guard hairs are appearing on his front legs and more black guard hairs on his back and lower sides. He is gaining in both girth and length.
He sleeps less after each feeding now, snoozing for only about half an hour before he gets up and goes exploring. This evening he RAN up and down the hallway many times, then explored the furniture in the dining room. His back legs are not so strong as the front ones. He prefers to climb onto things by hauling himself up by his front legs.
While he is running around on the floor he often flops on his chest. He tries to run fast and overbalances. Sometimes he just plonks down on his rear end. His side-to -side and front-to-back coordination isn't always too good. He often starts out on a run with a sort of "bunnyhop", both forefeet down at once, then both hindfeet down at once, and so forth till he flops. Occasionally he runs as far as three or four yards on alternate legs.
Higgins likes playing with little toys. He now has an old catnip mouse (left over from a cat, which disappeared a fortnight ago and hasn't been seen since), a little rubber mouse with a bell inside it, a set of four balls, two with bells inside of them, and a puppy-sized rawhide strip to chew on. He spends an hour or so after each feeding playing with these toys and running around the bedroom.
When he is feeding from the baby bottle, he interrupts his greedy sucking every so often to sniff furiously all around the bottle and my hands, sometimes emitting little yips and excited squeaks. Then he pushes the nipple all over his snout until his face is covered in formula from his eyes to his nose and all over his chin.
Perhaps he's sniffing for his mother behind the nipple; perhaps the smell of milk stimulates the sucking/feeding response; perhaps in his mind he's still competing for milk with his siblings and feels he has to stop and push them out of the way every so often. Whatever the cause, it makes a fascinating performance. Sometimes he bites the nipple and pushes it around with his nose. I can't imagine how sore a mother raccoon must be with four or five little rascals pushing her breasts around in this manner.
He took four feedings of 3 oz. today. His feedings are more manageable now, as he is taking more ounces at greater intervals. He started out wanting food every hour or so, now he's down to one feeding every eight hours. The eruption sequence of Higgins' teeth is as follows. The incisors and lower canines came through the gums first, the molars have not erupted yet, but are visible as bumps under the gum.
Higgins explored the house by himself today. I was in the basement clacking away on a keyboard, which he presumably heard. All of a sudden I heard a shrill shrieking from the stairs connecting the basement and kitchen. I looked up the stairs, and saw him sitting frightened on the second step, having tumbled over the first step, not knowing how to go up or down. No doubt, he'll soon be climbing stairs like an old pro.
For some strange reason Higgins would not eat this a.m., or at lunchtime, or early evening. He took only a couple of sips then pushed the bottle away. He was sleepy and passive all day, and did not go exploring or running about. I fear he may have caught my 'flu; I still feel achy and have sore eyes. He took only one feeding of 2 oz. at 10 p.m.
His whiskers are growing. He has dark brown vibrissae, which curl forward on either side of his snout. I had not noticed them much before, but now they seem quite long, a good inch on the ones further up on his face and a half inch on the ones nearest his nose.
For some time I've been aware that he often licked and bit my nose. It occurs to me that nose-licking may be a raccoon way of expressing affection. He often does this when I pick him up off the floor or get him out of his house to feed him. It is also a great way to transfer infection.
Higgins likes to lie on his back and nibble at his toes. Do all mammal babies do this? Tonight he is playing a new game. He is more active than he has been all day. He burrowed under the bed linens to my feet. Then he began the "padding" or "kneading" motion that many young mammals seem to engage in. Perhaps this motion, when applied to the mother's breast, is away of inducing milk to flow through the nipple?
Higgins is doing this to the soles of my feet, which is excruciatingly tickly. Every so often he playfully bites me or nibbles at a toe or heel. It doesn't hurt as he has hardly any teeth, but I'm so sensitive on my feet that I jump involuntarily. He seems to think this jumping feet game is all sorts of fun, because when I lift him up out of the covers he tunnels back down to tickle my feet again.
A middle-of-the-night postscript: After refusing food most of the day, he now makes up for it by waking me at 1.10 a.m. and expressing his needs by suckling on my earlobe and shrieking in my ear. He drank 2 oz. and ran off exploring the bedroom. Ah, the joys of motherhood!
More? Click here to start Chapter Two: Higgins Honeybear: Tooth and Claw
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