Why Do Raccoons Wash Their Paws – Hygiene or Another Clever Reason?

why do raccoons wash their paws

You might have seen adorable videos of raccoons washing their hands and paws, making them seem like hygiene enthusiasts. However, it’s important to know that raccoons aren’t washing their hands like humans do. Their behavior, though resembling washing, serves different purposes beyond cleanliness.

Raccoons wash their paws to enhance tactile sensitivity, aiding in foraging by gathering information about objects. 

Do raccoons wash their paws?

Yes, raccoons engage in a behavior that appears as though they are washing their paws. Raccoons have a fascinating habit of repeatedly rubbing and dunking their paws in water or licking them, which gives the impression of washing. 

However, it’s important to note that this behavior isn’t akin to how humans wash their hands. Instead, it serves multiple purposes related to their survival and lifestyle.

Video – Raccoon washing paws and hands

Why do raccoons wash their paws?

Raccoons engage in a behavior that may appear as washing their paws, involving dipping them in water and rubbing them together. Contrary to actual washing, this behavior is linked to enhancing their tactile sensitivity, helping them explore and identify objects better, especially during foraging. 

The underlying reason is similar to their food-washing habit, as moistening their paws aids in gathering information and improving their overall sensory perception.

Tactile Sensitivity:

  • Raccoons possess highly sensitive paws with numerous nerve endings.
  • Washing their paws helps enhance tactile sensitivity, allowing them to better explore and identify objects, especially when foraging for food.
  • The moisture on their paws assists in gathering information about the texture and temperature of items they touch.

Temperature Regulation:

  • The act of washing paws might have a cooling effect, particularly in warmer climates.
  • The moisture on their paws can act as a natural evaporative cooling mechanism, assisting raccoons in regulating their body temperature.

Better Grip:

  • Dousing is the behavior observed in raccoons where they repeatedly dip or rub their paws in the water, often giving the appearance of washing. 
  • In the wild, raccoons encounter diverse surfaces that may pose challenges, including slippery rocks, wet vegetation, or muddy terrain. By dipping their paws in water or rubbing them together, raccoons effectively remove substances such as mud, oils, or debris that could compromise their grip.
  • Dousing their paws in water before handling such foods could soften them, making it easier for the raccoons to manipulate and extract edible parts.

Why do raccoons wash their food?

Raccoons are known for their distinctive habit of “washing” their food. Despite the appearance of scrubbing or dunking, this behavior is not about cleanliness. Instead, raccoons wet their food by dipping it in water or rubbing it with their paws.

This serves a dual purpose: 

  • First, it aids in softening their food, making it more palatable and easier to handle. 
  • Second, the moisture enhances their tactile sensitivity, allowing them to gather more information about the texture and suitability of the food they are about to consume.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) About Raccoon Paw-Washing Behavior

Q1: Do raccoons wash their hands and paws?

A: Yes, raccoons exhibit a behavior that resembles hand and paw washing. They dip their hands in water, rub them together, and may appear to be washing, though the purpose is different from human handwashing.

Q2: Do all raccoons engage in paw-washing?

A: While many raccoons display this behavior, it’s not universal. The frequency and extent of paw-washing can vary among individuals and may depend on factors like environment, social interactions, and individual habits.

Q3: Is raccoon paw-washing similar to human handwashing for cleanliness?

A: No, raccoons don’t wash for cleanliness. Their paw-washing behavior is more about enhancing tactile sensitivity, foraging strategies, and social interactions rather than maintaining personal hygiene.

Q4: Why do raccoons wash their paws?

A: Raccoons wash their paws as an adaptive behavior to improve their grip, especially on slippery surfaces. It aids in removing substances that may compromise their tactile abilities, contributing to better foraging and exploration.

A: The moistening of their paws during washing enhances their tactile sensitivity, making it easier for raccoons to assess and manipulate food items. It’s a strategy that aids in foraging efficiency and may also soften hard foods for consumption.


The seemingly peculiar behavior of raccoons washing their paws unveils a fascinating array of adaptive strategies. Far from a mere hygiene ritual, this behavior serves multiple purposes, including enhancing tactile sensitivity for efficient foraging, improving grip on various surfaces, and fostering social interactions.

As we unravel the intricacies of this behavior, we gain deeper insights into the remarkable adaptability of these creatures and the nuanced ways they interact with their surroundings for survival in the wild.

About Tanya Garg 82 Articles
I'm Tanya, the dedicated raccoon enthusiast behind racoonpet.com. My mission is to share my knowledge about raccoons through insightful blogs, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation for these intelligent creatures. Join me on a journey to learn more about raccoons, their behavior, and the importance of ensuring their safe relocation when necessary. Let's together create a world where raccoons and humans coexist harmoniously and safely.