Wildlife Problems and Humane Solutions

We’re here to help you solve wildlife problems effectively, humanely, and inexpensively.

Understanding why a problem is occurring is the first step to resolving it. Attractants are the cause of most wildlife problems. Removing or protecting the attractant resolves these problems. Attractants are usually food related but may be a hole in a structure that provides an attractive place for an animal to sleep or keep their young safe when they are small and vulnerable.

Here are some common problems associated with attractants and suggestions to resolve these problems:

If you need further help, call our wildlife hotline 415-350-WILD (9453) or email us. A wildlife damage control specialist will help you.

Learn more about the problems of and alternatives to trapping…

Animals Entering Pet Door to Eat Pet Food

Pet food outside or inside an open pet door will likely attract raccoons and other animals at night, happy to get an easy meal!

  • Close pet door at night and bring in pet food at night is the easiest solution.
  • Install a pet door that works like a garage door opener – opening when your pet’s collar activates the door opener.
  • Close the door for a few nights and leave a rolled up bath towel soaked with ammonia outside the pet door to break the pattern. Then re-open pet door at night being sure the pet food is put away in a smell proof container.
  • Buy a bit of extra food and live with the occasional wild visitor eating the food in the bowl. (Cats, dogs and raccoons generally couldn’t care less about each other.)
  • Raccoons can almost always get away if a dog chases them. They are agile athletes that can get over a fence quickly.

NOTE: Occasionally a mother raccoon will risk coming to eat pet food in the daytime in late June when she is feeding herself and her babies. This will only last for a few days, so be patient.

Animals Entering Your Garage

Sometimes animals can wander in when you open a door at night or they may have found a small opening in a wall or window. If the animal does not appear to be injured or sick, let the animal out!

  1. If the animal(s) is getting in through an open the door, leave the door open at night for a couple of hours and sprinkle a half cup of white flour on the ground at the threshold of the door (or other opening the animal is using).
  2. Check the door or opening a few hours later. If the flour is disturbed, it means the animal has left to search for food or water; close the door. If the animal hasn’t left by 11 p.m. or so, you can repeat these steps the following night. You can tell if the animal is still in your garage by putting a little food out; if uneaten, the animal has left.

If it is springtime, it is possible there’s a mother with babies in the garage and she’s returning every night to feed them. The babies will leave by themselves when they’re able to walk in a couple of weeks. Do the three steps above when you are sure the babies are gone.

Animals Digging in Your Lawn for Grubs

Lawn digging for grubs is common in late summer and autumn. Grubs are 50% protein, a valuable food source for young skunks and raccoons who have not yet become proficient at catching rats and mice for their dinner.

  • Water to just enough to keep the area green, but the soil firm. Soft ground is more attractive to digging.
  • Treat lawns and moist shade garden areas to remove grubs in spring and summer with (non-toxic) beneficial nematodes or milky spore. These microorganisms take a couple of months to be effective. Chemicals such as diazanon and malathion kill grubs more quickly, but are hard on the environment.
  • Scent and taste deterrents can protect your garden until the attractive grubs are removed. Ammonia is inexpensive, easy to apply, and the noxious fumes keep animals far from it. To protect approx. 10 square feet of garden area, roll up a bath towel like a caterpillar, place on the ground, and soak with ammonia. A kitchen plastic bag underneath the towel will protect the lawn or garden. The towel wicks the fumes that keep animals away. Re-soak towel in the evening to replace what has evaporated. Ammonia costs approx. $2/ bottle. Once the digging is deterred, wash the towel, and it will be cleaner than ever! Ammonia is a cleaning product.
  • Black pepper is reported to work well for small areas that aren’t watered often, making animals sneeze when they sniff for grubs!
  • Oil infused with cayenne pepper can be sprayed onto lawns and other moist shade garden plants with a hand pump sprayer sold in garden centers, making the area too spicy for digging! Asian markets sell spicy oil for $15 – $20 per gallon. The oil will help the plant retain water, reducing the need for water. This may not be the method to use if children or pets roll in the grass.
  • NEW lawns are chock full of grubs and worms, and will be rolled up like carpet to access them. Mow grass at lowest setting then tack inexpensive chicken wire down with irrigation tubing U stakes. Raise mower blade an inch above normal and mow as normal. Wire can be left on or removed after 2nd autumn if area has been treated to kill grubs.
  • Pulsating hot wire at 6″ and 12″ off the ground is 100% effective to exclude animals from an area until the grubs are removed. Set a timer to come on at night to protect birds during the daytime. Continuous voltage chargers are dangerous to small animals. Use only pulsating voltage chargers!

Animals Eating Fruit or Bark on Your Trees

Fruit trees and bird feeders can be protected from unwanted diners.

  • Heavy gauge plastic or aluminum sold on a roll at hardware stores can be wrapped around trunk of trees to deter climbing. Animals can’t get their claws into these materials. Stove pipe works well. Open one side, place around trunk and close.
  • Fruit trees can be netted to protect fruit from most birds and animals.
  • Hang bird feeders by a hanging plant hook on the side of the house, or on a pole that animals can’t climb.

Animals Eating Fish in Your Pond

Fish in a pond are attractive to birds and mammals that like to eat fish. Protect fish by giving them a safe place to hide.

  • If you are considering putting in a pond, it should be at least 3 feet deep to provide safe hiding places for fish.
  • Flagstone placed on bricks or large PVC tubing on the bottom of the pond gives fish a place to hide from predators.
  • Netting sold at pond stores deters raccoons that don’t like to walk on a wobbly surface.
  • Two strands of pulsating hot-wire clipped onto green plastic or wood stakes at 6″ and 12″ off the ground will give permanent protection. NOTE: Continuous voltage wires can kill small animals and birds. Pulsating voltage will scare an animal, and assure they won’t touch it again. To protect birds that can become grounded if they land on the wire near the grounded poles, a timer is essential to turn the system on after dark and off before dawn.

Deer Eating Your Roses

Spray on scent and taste deterrents that contain eggs seem to work best for plants. Deer fencing is effective, but to be humane, should allow them passage between your fence and the neighbor’s fence.

Animals Digging and Eating Your Flower Bulbs

Garden centers sell a chicken-wire basket that you can put bulbs in. Whether you put them in rows, groups, or clumps, these are designed to keep animals from digging. You can make your own. After planting your bulbs, put the chicken-wire mesh on top of the bulbs and then put the soil on top of both. You can also make baskets of chicken wire by tying pieces of chicken wire together with twist ties. The flowers will go straight up through the chicken wire; it doesn’t harm them.

It’s common to go several years without animals digging for bulbs and then one year, they eat all of them. Be patient.

If you’ve already planted the bulbs, you can use scent deterrents. Ammonia poured on to a rolled up bath towel and placed near the flower bulbs will deter digging for the bulbs. Apply the ammonia each night because it does evaporate. If you do this for a few nights, the animals should go away.

Once the flowers start sprouting, they are less attractive to wildlife.

Animals Eating Your Garden Produce

The size of your garden will determine the best solution. Chicken wire placed over plants is effective. You can remove the wire to work on the plants as needed and place it over the plants when you’re done to deter animals.

If you have a larger garden, you could use a hot wire. These are battery operated and use AC voltage. Put two strands, one at 6 inches off the ground and one at 12 inches off the ground. Be sure to use pulsating hot wire. Continuous voltage hot wire can kill small animals and birds who touch the wire or get shocked by landing near the wire on a surface that conducts electricity. Putting a hot wire on a timer that comes on only at night is an effective way to prevent this.

There are also sprays you can put on plants that smell and taste bad but are non-toxic. For example, there are sprays that include rotten eggs or cayenne chili pepper. Spray a deterrent on the leaves of the plant and not the fruit.

Animals in a Crawl Space, Attic, or Under Your House

If animals are under your house, they may just sleeping there. If higher in a crawl space or attic, it is likely to be a mother with babies, especially if it is springtime. Use extreme care if babies are inside. Make sure the mother is not trapped and killed or relocated. This will leave the babies behind to die and you might have to cut holes in your ceiling, floor, or siding to remove the dead babies. Also, do not close the hole when the animals are sleeping in the daytime.

A mother with her babies is a temporary situation regardless of the species. Raccoons are tree dwellers and sleep in the trees. The only time they will be in a crawl space in the daytime is when a mother has young. A mother raccoon will leave the den at night to forage for food and return before it gets light out. You may hear scratching or chirping noises when the mother returns and the babies start nursing, which lasts about ten minutes. Just before the young raccoons are ready to leave, they become playful like puppies and kittens and can be quite loud. The sound can be magnified by the enclosed space. If the sound is problematic, humane evictions can be done. Evicting the mother and babies before the babies are able to walk can be done but decreases the babies’ chance of survival. Tolerance is the best option if possible.

When the babies are old enough to leave on their own and you don’t know hear any noises, close the hole, which is often a missing vent cover. You can sprinkle a half cup of white flour on the ground outside the opening; if you see no footprints, you can close the opening without risking trapping any animals inside. You need to close the opening the day after you sprinkled the flour. If you wait two or three days, another animal like an opossum could enter the hole. You can also use white flour outside openings you suspect might be used by animals to determine where they’re entering.

If eviction is absolutely necessary, predator scent, such as commercially available coyote urine, can be sprayed into the area or squirted with a small syringe with a rubber tube on the end, which you could get from a veterinarian. You can drill a small hole into the ceiling or floor if there’s not access to the area where the mother is. This will encourage the mother to move her babies. Do this at night because it’s not safe for the mother to remove her babies in the daytime.

If you see dirt kicked out of a hole, for example under a concrete foundation or sidewalk, this indicates a skunk is present. They are burrowing animals that create just enough space to sleep; they don’t make tunnels. They will be completely silent and won’t smell. The only time a skunk smells is if it’s physically attacked. During skunk mating season from February through about the middle of March, females may scream loudly and spray the male. The smell should go away quickly and occur only once; you can put essential oils on cloths around your house to mask the smell until it dissipates. If the smell is continuous for three or four days, call for assistance.

Animals Getting into Your Garbage Cans

The garbage cans in San Francisco are raccoon proof if the lid is shut tight. If the lid can’t be shut tight because of excess garbage, it is still difficult for them to open. If the garbage can is on a slope, you can place a brick under the wheels so they can’t tip over the garbage can. If the garbage can is next to a fence where they can sit and lift the lid, move the can to another site if possible.

If you have a metal garbage can, you can place a bungee cord from handle to handle to prevent them for popping open the lid. A good type of bungee cord to use is the rubber strap with a hook on each end.

Dog Sprayed by a Skunk

Dogs love to chase small animals. It’s just their nature. To prevent encounters with nocturnal wildlife, here is a simple tip: Before letting your dog out at night, get into the noise and 5 second wait rule. This means, clap your hands a few times, then wait 5 seconds before letting your dog out at night. Wildlife smell dog in the yard, and don’t want to be chased, and potentially attacked by a dog. Give them a few seconds to get out of your yard before letting your dog out, and all should be well.

A skunk’s only defense it to spray when physically attacked. Dogs normally “get it” right in the face, indicating that the skunk was in imminent danger of getting attacked. These shy animals make divots under all of our fences to gain access to a 2-5 mile territory which they patrol at night for rodents and snails. It may take them a few seconds to get to the hole in the fence to get out. Give them that chance and they will. Turning on a light is not sufficient notice because skunks don’t see well, but their hearing is acute. Also, motion detection lights are so common that this does not signify danger.

Recipe for “skunked dogs”: make a solution 8 oz. hydrogen peroxide + 1/8 c. arm and hammer baking soda + 1 t. dish soap. With a wash cloth, apply this to the affected area, avoiding the eyes. Rinse in 15 minutes or so, or leave on.

This tip will also protect opossums who are frequently mauled by dogs, as their only defense when attacked by a dog who comes flying out a door at night, is to play dead. Raccoons are total athletes who can take a running leap at a fence and get up and over before a dog can reach them, if a fence is nearby. If a mother has young with her who are not able to climb quickly, the 5 second rule should at least give her time to get them to cover, under a deck for example, until the danger has passed. Shining a flash light out into the yard after you clap may allow you to see if the coast is clear.

Poop in your yard?

Raccoons keep their (and our) environment free of indiscriminate poop by “using” the same spot when in a given area. This site is called a latrine site. A rolled up bath towel doused with ammonia will wick noxious fumes that burn the sensitive nose and eyes of any animal that approaches, and deter them from this area. It generally takes 7-14 days to alert all of the raccoons who pass through your property at some point, as they travel their 2-5 mile territory, that the latrine site has moved, and to locate the new site — hopefully somewhere where it won’t be a problem for anyone.

Because ammonia evaporates, it is necessary to re-apply 1/3 to 1/2 of a bottle to the rolled up bath towel each night (a small bowl with a rag isn’t generally enough to be effective). $10 worth of ammonia (5 bottles) will give you 10 applications, which should be sufficient to resolve the problem. If you can’t get to the site easily (on a roof), you can poke a pin hole in a gallon milk bottle to have it continuously soaking the towel to wick the noxious fumes.

When cleaning up raccoon feces, as with any feces, practice common sense hygiene. Wear disposable gloves and throw feces into the garbage for proper disposal. Wash hands thoroughly afterwards.

Placing a plastic kitchen size garbage bag flat on the ground, with rolled up bath towel placed on top of it will protect your bath towel from contamination. Ammonia is a cleaning product, so will assure your towel is cleaner than ever when it comes out of the washing machine. Additionally, the sound of the plastic rustling in the wind provides an additional deterrent. Animals hate the sound of rustling plastic. Some people have deterred raccoons from a latrine site by simply weighting down plastic bags so they won’t fly away, but rustle in the wind.