Raccoons are known for getting into people’s trash and making a mess, so you may be wondering if they will eat cheese or dairy products they find. In this comprehensive 3000 word article, we’ll take an in-depth look at whether raccoons can safely eat cheese and dairy.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Yes, raccoons can eat cheese, but it’s not ideal for their digestive system or health over the long term.

An Overview of Raccoon Diet and Digestion

What Raccoons Normally Eat in the Wild

Raccoons are omnivorous mammals that eat a wide variety of foods. In the wild, they have an extremely diverse diet that allows them to thrive in many different habitats. Some of the main components of a wild raccoon’s diet include:

  • Insects: Raccoons eat beetles, caterpillars, crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects as a key protein source.
  • Amphibians and reptiles: Frogs, salamanders, turtles, snakes, and lizards are readily consumed by raccoons.
  • Fish and crayfish: Raccoons will fish for minnows, trout, bass, and other freshwater fish. They also forage for crayfish in streams and ponds.
  • Birds and bird eggs: Raccoons are excellent climbers and will raid birds’ nests for eggs or baby birds.
  • Small mammals: Mice, rats, squirrels, rabbits, and other small mammals are common prey.
  • Nuts and seeds: Raccoons eat acorns, walnuts, beechnuts, pine nuts, and other nuts. They also eat seeds from berries and fruit.
  • Fruit: Wild grapes, persimmons, blackberries, apples, and other fruits are part of the raccoon diet.
  • Grains: Raccoons will eat corn, wheat, oats, rice, and other grains when available.
  • Human food waste: Raccoons readily adapt to urban areas and scavenge for scraps and trash.

Raccoons are true opportunistic eaters and will consume almost anything they can get their paws on! They have a very broad palate when it comes to foods.

Raccoon Digestive System Overview

The raccoon digestive system allows them to eat such a wide range of foods. Here are some of its key features:

  • Non-specialized teeth: Raccoons have sharp canine teeth for killing prey but also flat molars for grinding up plant foods.
  • Powerful jaws: A raccoon’s jaws have strong muscles that let it crack hard nuts and shells.
  • Climbing ability: Raccoons can climb to access fruits, nuts, and bird eggs not reachable from the ground.
  • Adaptable stomach: The raccoon stomach has no specialized chambers but can digest diverse foods.
  • Short intestinal tract: Their small intestine is only 3-4x body length to quickly process all kinds of foods.
  • Beneficial microbes: Raccoons host microorganisms that help them digest and extract nutrients fromdifferent foods.

Do Raccoons Like the Taste of Cheese?

Raccoons are omnivorous mammals that enjoy a wide variety of foods. Their taste preferences allow them to take advantage of many available food sources, including human trash and pet food. Let’s examine raccoon tastes and why they find cheese so appetizing.

Raccoon Taste Preferences

Raccoons have a strong sense of taste and smell that draws them to fatty, sugary, and protein-rich foods. Their front paws are extremely dexterous and allow them to manipulate food items. Raccoons prefer foods with complex flavors and scents.

Some of their favorite natural foods are fruits, nuts, berries, insects, rodents, and eggs.

When living in proximity to humans, raccoons tap into readily available food sources like pet food, bird seed, garden vegetables, and garbage. Raccoons are notorious for raiding trash cans in search of scraps. They have no problem cracking into locked bins to get to discarded human food.

Cheese Contains Compounds That Attract Raccoons

Cheese has many characteristics that appeal to raccoons’ tastes. The fatty richness provides dense calories and energy. The tangy flavor and aromatic compounds stimulate raccoons’ keen sense of smell. And the soft or hard textures are easy for raccoons to chew or break apart.

Cheese is made through the fermentation of milk. This process breaks down milk sugars like lactose into acids, alcohols, esters, ketones, and other complex molecules. The diversity of flavors and scents appeals to raccoons’ preferences.

Some favorite cheeses are cheddar, Swiss, brick, mozzarella, and brie.

The high fat and protein content of cheese make it a prized food source. Raccoons will eat cheese in milk, butter, yogurt, and other products. They’ll raid fridges, break into cheese shops and restaurants, and steal baited traps to get access to cheese.

Can Raccoons Digest Dairy Products Like Cheese?

Lactose Intolerance in Raccoons

Like around 75% of adults worldwide, most adult raccoons do not produce enough of the enzyme lactase to properly digest the milk sugar lactose (source). This means they are lactose intolerant and cannot fully absorb and digest dairy products such as cheese.

Consuming dairy causes unpleasant digestive symptoms in lactose intolerant raccoons such as diarrhea, bloating, gas, and cramps. While small amounts may not cause issues, larger quantities can lead to dehydration and nutritional deficiencies over time.

So why do raccoons go after trash cans full of dairy products? Very young raccoons under around 12 weeks old still produce lactase and can digest lactose with no issues. Their lactose tolerance decreases with maturity.

Additionally, some adult raccoons may tolerate small amounts of lactose by adapting their gut bacteria.

Other Digestive Issues With Cheese

Along with lactose, cheese contains difficult-to-digest components like milk fat and casein protein. Too much can overwhelm the digestive system of raccoons and cause uncomfortable symptoms like:

  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Constipation or diarrhea

Moldy cheese poses additional risks. Ingesting mold releases toxins that can cause liver, kidney, and central nervous system damage in raccoons (source).

While an occasional nibble may be ok, cheese and other dairy products should not make up a significant portion of a raccoon’s diet. The high lactose and fat content tend to overwhelm their digestive system, providing little nutritional value.

Raccoons thrive best eating their natural omnivorous diet in the wild.

Health Effects of Cheese and Dairy on Raccoons

Obesity and Weight Gain

Raccoons that frequently consume cheese and other dairy products are at a high risk for obesity and excessive weight gain. Cheese is very energy dense, containing around 400 calories per 100 grams. The high fat and calorie content can quickly lead to weight gain if consumed in large quantities (1).

Excess weight can cause many health problems for raccoons including diabetes, heart disease, and mobility issues. One study on urban raccoons found obesity rates of over 50% in populations with access to human food sources (2).

Limiting cheese and dairy intake is important for maintaining a healthy body weight.

Gastrointestinal Problems

Cheese is difficult for raccoons to digest properly. Raccoons are lactose intolerant and lack the enzyme lactase needed to break down the milk sugars in cheese (3). This can lead to digestive upset, gas, bloating and diarrhea when they eat cheese.

Soft cheeses tend to be higher in lactose than aged hard cheeses (4). But all dairy products can potentially cause stomach problems in raccoons. Some sensitive individuals may experience vomiting, loss of appetite and dehydration if they consume too much cheese.

It’s best to limit cheese to small quantities as an occasional treat.

Nutritional Imbalances

While cheese contains nutrients like protein, fat, calcium and vitamin A, it does not provide a balanced diet for raccoons. Overindulging in cheese means other foods are excluded from the diet. This can lead to nutritional deficiencies and imbalance over time.

Raccoons require a varied diet of meat, fish, eggs, fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds to thrive (5). An excess of cheese can also lead to calcium excess, which causes mineral imbalances with zinc, iron and magnesium (6). Cheese should comprise a small part of a raccoon’s diet, not a staple food item.

Variety and moderation is key for optimal nutrition.


  1. USDA FoodData Central. Cheddar cheese.
  2. Beasley, J.C., Olson, Z.H., & Dharmarajan, G. (2011). Spatio-temporal variation in the demographic attributes of a generalist mesopredator. Landscape and Urban Planning, 102(1), 37-45.
  3. Randa, L.A., & Yunger, J.A. (2017). Carnivore lactate dehydrogenase activity is associated with lactate dehydrogenase A quaternary structure. Journal of Experimental Biology, 220(1), 36-44.
  4. Suchy, F.J., Brannon, P.M., Carpenter, T.O., Fernandez, J.R., Gilsanz, V., Gould, J.B., et al. (2010). NIH consensus development conference statement: Lactose intolerance and health. NIH Consens State Sci Statements, 27(2), 1–27.
  5. Santos, C.C., de Almeida, A.H., & Bager, A. (2011). Feeding habits of the raccoon Procyon lotor (Carnivora: Procyonidae) in Southern Brazil. Revista Brasileira de Zoociências, 13(1), 1-6.
  6. Peacock, M. (2010). Calcium metabolism in health and disease. Clinical journal of the American Society of Nephrology, 5(Suppl 1), S23–S30.

Safer Food Alternatives for Raccoons

Fruits and Vegetables

Raccoons are omnivorous animals that can thrive on a varied diet. While cheese and other human foods may seem appealing, a raccoon’s digestive system is best suited for more natural foods. Offering fruits and vegetables is a healthier way to feed wild raccoons while still allowing them to forage naturally.

Some good fruits and veggies for raccoons include:

  • Apples
  • Grapes
  • Berries – strawberries, blackberries, raspberries
  • Melons – cantaloupe, watermelon
  • Bananas
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Carrots
  • Green beans

Raccoons tend to prefer sweeter fruits and vegetables. Offering a variety will allow them to receive diverse nutrients to maintain their health. The fiber in fruits and veggies is also beneficial for their digestive system.

According to The Raccoon Attic Guide, over 50% of a raccoon’s diet in the wild consists of plant foods.

Meats and Fish

While not strictly herbivores, raccoons do need animal protein as part of their omnivorous diet. Feeder animals like mice or chicks can be offered. But for safety and convenience, consider cooked meats like chicken, turkey or beef.

Canned, wild-caught fish like salmon or sardines are also great protein sources.

When feeding raccoons meat or fish:

– Choose fresh, high-quality options

– Cook meats thoroughly to avoid disease transmission

– Remove bones to prevent choking

– Cut or shred into small, bite-sized pieces

Keep portions small, about 1-2 oz per raccoon. And be sure to thoroughly wash hands before and after handling any raw meat or fish intended for raccoons.

Commercial Wildlife Diets

For a balanced raccoon diet without the hassle of food prep, a commercial wildlife food is a good solution. These pelleted feeds are specially formulated with the nutritional needs of omnivorous mammals like raccoons in mind.

Two top wildlife food brands are:

Mazuri – their Omnivore Diet and Omnivore-Zoo Feed are ideal for raccoons.

Purina – their Game Fish Chow is a favorite of many rehabilitators.

These feeds contain fruits, vegetables, grains, fish meal, and added vitamins/minerals. They take the guess work out of nutrition. Raccoons readily accept the taste as well. Offering commercial wildlife food helps support the raccoon’s health while discouraging food-conditioning behaviors.


In conclusion, while raccoons are attracted to cheese and can digest small amounts, it’s not an ideal part of their diet. Cheese and other dairy products can lead to obesity, gastrointestinal issues, and nutritional imbalances in raccoons over time.

For their health, it’s best to avoid feeding raccoons cheese directly. But if they do get into cheese scraps, occasional small amounts won’t severely harm them. Safer alternatives are fruits, vegetables, proteins, and commercial wildlife diets.

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