Where Do Racoon Dogs Live

What is a Raccoon Dog? — History and Facts

Are they dogs? Are they raccoons? Are they a hybrid of the two species? As the name suggests, raccoon dogs appear to be a combination of the two. But are they really? The raccoon dog, also known as the mangut or tanuki, raises all kinds of questions. You may have seen a picture of a tanuki and thought it looked like a slightly overweight raccoon, but heard it was called a dog. Or may be you heard someone talking about keeping a raccoon dog as a pet.

So, if you find yourself wondering “what is a raccoon dog?”, AnimalWised is here to give you a complete answer. Keep reading to find out about the origins of these fascinating and unique animals. You will also discover several interesting facts about the raccoon dog — what they eat, where they live and why they are considered an invasive species in some countries. Finally, we explain why it is not a good idea to have a raccoon dog pet.

  1. What is a raccoon dog?
  2. Where is the raccoon dog from?
  3. Raccoon dog facts
  4. Are raccoon dogs dangerous?
  5. Can you keep a raccoon dog as a pet?

What is a raccoon dog?

The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) is a wild animal belonging to the Canidae family. The raccoon dog is therefore a dog, rather than a raccoon. Despite their outward resemblance to raccoons, these animals are genetically related to domestic dogs, foxes and wolves, and are considered a species of wild dog. Their raccoon-like appearance has given them a somewhat confusing name in English and other languages, but raccoon dogs are not actually related in any way to raccoons (Procyon lotor).

This animal is a basal or ancestral species, which means they have remained relatively unchanged since they first diverged form other canid species. They are the only extant species of the Nyctereutes genus, and there are six recognized subspecies of raccoon dog across Asia and Europe.

Where is the raccoon dog from?

Raccoon dogs are native to Japan, which is why they are often called Japanese raccoon dogs, or referred to by their name in Japanese, ‘tanuki’. The exact time the species emerged in Japan is debated, but the direct ancestors of present day Japanese raccoon dogs are believed to have been isolated on the islands about 12,000 years ago [1] .

Raccoon dogs became popular animals in Japan around the 18th century. This was when the tanuki became an icon of the country, and began to be considered a symbol of good fortune. Tanuki are an important part of Japanese folklore, and there are several legends and stories around the Japanese raccoon dog.

The raccoon dog is also native to mainland southeast Asia, where it is found in parts of China, Korea and Vietnam. Southeast Russia, eastern Siberia and Mongolia — where the raccoon dog is called ‘mangut’ — are also considered to be part of their native territory. Recent studies have suggested that the Japanese raccoon dog be classified as a separate species from the mainland subspecies on the basis of chromosomal differences [2] .

During the early to mid 20th century, raccoon dogs were introduced, through the Soviet Union, into Eastern and Northern Europe. This was due to the popularity of their fur, which was highly appreciated, even until a few decades ago. Raccoon dog farms were created in former Soviet Union territories in Asia and Europe, from where some raccoon dogs were deliberately released into the wild while others escaped captivity.

These animals spread fast from the places where they were introduced, thanks to their resistance, adaptability and ability to withstand extreme low temperatures. Raccoon dogs can currently be found in many parts of Europe, including countries such as France, Denmark or Germany, where they are often considered an invasive species. we will look further into this below. Today, Finland has the highest population of raccoon dogs outside their native territory.

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If you are interested domestic dog breeds from Asia, here is a list of native Asian dog breeds.

Raccoon dog facts

The raccoon dog is a very peculiar animal, not only because of its deceptive looks, but also because of its unique habits and behavior. Here are some facts about the raccoon dog and answers the questions you may have about this unusual canid species:

Where do raccoon dogs live?

In the country where they are most common, Japan, the raccoon dog inhabits forests, mountains and rural areas of the islands. They can sometimes be found in the outskirts of cities or in urban habitats with little forest cover, much like the unrelated raccoon. In the places where they have been introduced, raccoon dogs inhabit moist forests and meadows, staying close to sources of water. They have been seen to escape into water when being chased.

Raccoon dogs are known for their ability to withstand very low temperatures and high snowfall. At the northern end of their range, in Finland for example, they can be found in places where the annual average temperature is just above 0ºC.

What do raccoon dogs eat?

Raccoon dogs are omnivorous animals, and vary their diet according to season. In addition, they are opportunistic generalists, so they usually get their food from almost any source that is available to them. They often eat small rodents, insects and reptiles such as toads and occasionally prey on waterfowl and freshwater fish. They are also known to feed on carrion and rubbish. In summer and autumn they eat more berries, fruit and sometimes cereals or other agricultural produce.

What do raccoon dogs look like?

As we have explained, raccoon dogs are not genetically related to the raccoon family, although they share an uncanny resemblance. Both have a black facial mask and pointed muzzle, as well as yellowish-brown to gray fur. Albino tanuki have been recorded [3] , although albinism is rare among raccoon dogs.

The similarities between raccoon dogs and raccoons can be explained by the convergent evolution, which is when two unrelated species evolve similar traits by adapting to the demands of similar niche habitats. One feature that distinguishes them, however, are their canid-like paws, which look nothing like the raccoon’s five toes.

Raccoon dogs are medium sized, weighing between 4 to 9 kilograms. They have two two layers of fur, with a short and bushy undercoat, and a long, dense outer coat. Raccoon dogs change in appearance between summer and winter. Before winter sets in, they double their weight and grow thick fur, which protects them from the cold and gives them a very round appearance. By summer, their coat thins and they go back to their previous weight.

Curious habits: hibernation and monogamy

An interesting fact about the raccoon dog is that it is the only canid species that hibernates. Unusually for a hibernating species, however, its body temperature does not drop. The accumulation of fat reserves during summer and autumn helps them keep their temperature constant and withstand even the coldest winters.

Another unique feature of the raccoon dog is that it is monogamous. This means that males and females form pairs for life. They share a range, and move together throughout the year, as well as feeding and foraging together. In addition, male and female raccoon dogs raise their young together, taking turns foraging and ‘babysitting’ [1] .

Are raccoon dogs dangerous?

Raccoon dogs are usually harmless and are not known to attack humans. However, being wild animals they tend to be cautious and fearful, running away or hiding from humans and other possible predators. If they feel threatened, it may be possible for raccoon dogs to snarl or exhibit what appears to be aggressive behavior [4] . It is in fact dangerous for them to travel through urban areas, since in the face of possible dangers, such as cars, they remain petrified, often succumbing to traffic accidents.

The raccoon dog as an invasive species

Due to their adaptability and opportunistic feeding habits, raccoon dogs can often become invasive species. They have recently been classified as such by the European Union [5] , and are listed as ‘injurious wildlife’ according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service [6] . The biological characteristics of the raccoon dog also make it an ideal host for several types of parasites and viruses, which is why it can be considered dangerous to human health in regions where it thrives in high numbers.

See also:  How To Get Raccoons Out Of Your Walls

Raccoon dogs can potentially transmit a number of deadly zoonotic diseases to domestic animals or to humans. They are known to carry 35 endoparasites, plus ectoparasites, bacteria and viruses. Raccoon dogs are a key carrier of rabies and scabies (mange) in Europe, both of which can easily infect domesticated animals. They also act as vectors for parasites such as Trichinella spp or Echinococcus multilocularis, a dangerous tapeworm which can infect humans as well [7] . This does not mean that raccoon dogs have to be eliminated wherever they are found, but that their populations need to be kept in check in countries where they are not a native species.

Can you keep a raccoon dog as a pet?

While raccoon dogs can be adorable-looking, they are not meant to be domesticated or made to live in our homes. As we have explained, raccoon dogs are a wild species, and have several problems associated with them. As a potential invasive species, raccoon dogs that escape captivity or are deliberately released into the wild can wreck havoc on native species.

In addition, although some raccoon dogs are kept in captivity — in zoos for example — they are not well adapted to life in within four walls. Raccoon dogs have lived close to humans for centuries, and have never been successfully domesticated. Furthermore, they have proved wily escape artists, and it is best for them to live out their lives in in the wild rather than in forced captivity.

Furthermore, it is illegal to breed, keep or bring in raccoon dogs in many countries, as they are often listed as an invasive species. Even where it may be legal we recommend that do not keep a raccoon dog as a pet. Organizations such as the RSPCA also strong recommend against keeping raccoon dogs as pets [8] .

If you want to read similar articles to What is a Raccoon Dog? — History and Facts, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.


Raccoon dogs: What are they, where are they from?

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They were «terrorising», «vicious» and left a village «under siege» — according to some headlines, but what are raccoon dogs really about?

After a neighbour said one attacked her goat, media organisations around the world portrayed raccoon dogs as something to be feared.

But are they dangerous? How common? Are they raccoons or dogs?

Safe to say, it was a night Clarborough resident Mandy Marsh will not forget in a hurry.

«It was 04:00 and I could hear a wild noise, a noise I’d never heard before,» she said.

«My husband went out and was gone for about 10 minutes and he came back and said, ‘You’ve got to see this’.

«He said, ‘I don’t know what it is, it’s like a wild animal attacking the goat’.»

The couple fended off the «hissing» creature but not before taking a photo, posting it online and asking if anyone knew what it was.

So, what is a raccoon dog?

«A raccoon dog is not a raccoon,» said Stephanie Jayson, senior exotics and wildlife trade officer from the RSPCA.

«It’s not really a dog either, although it is classified as part of the same canid family.

«The closest comparison is with foxes and badgers — nocturnal mammals who like woods and undergrowth.»

Originally from the Far East, raccoon dogs were introduced into eastern Europe as part the fur trade.

Their cuddly appearance meant until recently they were openly traded as exotic pets, which the RSPCA emphasises is a bad idea.

«These are wild animals,» said Ms Jayson. «They need large home ranges. We have seen people keep them in houses, with dogs and in small cages, which is not suitable.

«In these cases they often become aggressive and unmanageable.

«And while they are too small to be dangerous, they can bite and scratch.»

The number in the UK is not known, but the RSPCA rehomed five raccoon dogs in 2018 and eight in 2017 and has had «a number» of calls this year.

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«While the numbers are not great, if they get out, they pose a high risk establishing in the wild,» said Ms Jayson.

Earlier this year the European Union added raccoon dogs to a list of invasive alien species of concern, which seeks to control populations deemed to be harmful to native wildlife.

Existing owners can keep the animals, but further breeding or sale is banned.

Kevin Smith, invasive species programme officer for the International Union for Conservation of Nature, said: «Any populations of raccoon dogs in the wild would compete with native animals, such as foxes, for food and shelter.

«This would also impact on amphibians, birds and small mammals, which the raccoon dogs eat.

«In extreme cases, invasive species are one of the biggest causes of biodiversity loss.

«In some ecosystems, especially islands, invasive species can have a huge impact and even cause extinctions.

«It is much more cost effective for this issue to be tackled early on because if a population becomes established it can be nigh on impossible to remove.»

The animals’ owner, who did not want to be named, said he was concerned for their safety before they were found.


Raccoon dogs as pets

Is a raccoon dog a dog or a raccoon?

Raccoon dogs aren’t raccoons, instead, they’re members of the canid (dog) family. They’re native to the forests of eastern Siberia, northern China, North Vietnam, Korea, and Japan and are now widespread in some European countries, having been accidentally released, or having escaped.

What do raccoon dogs eat?

Raccoon dogs are omnivores and naturally feed on insects, rodents, amphibians, birds, fish, molluscs and carrion, as well as fruits, nuts and berries.

Should I have a raccoon dog as a pet?

A raccoon dog (also known as a ‘tanuki’ or a Japanese raccoon dog) is not suited to life as a pet in a domestic environment and we strongly discourage people from buying or keeping one as a pet — they’re much more difficult to look after properly than some people may realise! There are also strict legal restrictions on keeping, selling, rehoming and breeding raccoon dogs as they threaten our native wildlife.

Raccoon dogs are wild animals — rather than domesticated pets. They need a great deal of space and their needs simply cannot be met in a typical household. They’re also extremely smelly, as they use scent to communicate with one another (not the best quality in a house pet!).

In the wild, raccoon dogs have large home ranges and so it would be unsuitable to keep this particular animal in an enclosure that doesn’t provide the space and complexity of environment (water, hiding places, vegetation) they require to carry out their normal behaviour. Sadly, it’s not uncommon to see ‘pet’ raccoon dogs kept in a house, in a small enclosure in a garden or in a small enclosure in a pet shop. All environments that are totally unsuitable for a raccoon dog’s complex needs.

Rescued raccoon dogs

Our inspectors have taken in ‘pet’ raccoon dogs that were no longer wanted by their owners. This can be the result of the raccoon dog becoming unmanageable, or when owners realise that they cannot care for the animal properly.

We’ve attended properties where raccoon dogs have been kept in enclosures which are far too small, or where raccoon dogs are kept permanently on their own, or with the family dog, neither of which is appropriate for this particular species.

Our team has also been called to capture and collect stray ‘pet’ raccoon dogs that have escaped, or been deliberately released to the wild. Doing so (releasing, or allowing a raccoon dog to escape) is a punishable offence under the Wildlife and Countryside Act.

Studies have suggested that raccoon dogs in the wild may live and hunt in pairs or small family groups, although solitary animals have also been seen. Therefore, we ensure that we always rehome raccoon dogs to wildlife parks and zoos, in pairs or compatible groups.

Are raccoon dogs legal in the UK?

Since February 2019, it’s illegal to sell raccoon dogs from 2 February 2019 (except for existing ‘stock’) as they’re a highly invasive risk to native species in Europe. These regulations also don’t allow breeding and require raccoon dogs to be kept securely.

If you’ve seen a raccoon dog that’s been abandoned, or are concerned about the well-being of a raccoon dog being kept as a pet, please contact our national cruelty line.


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