Have you ever seen a raccoon walking down the street or through your backyard with an arched back? It’s a strange and distinctive sight, with the raccoon’s back hunched over and its rear end swaying side to side. In this blog post, we’ll closely examine why raccoons walk this way, whether it’s normal behaviour or a sign of trouble, and what other animals share the raccoon’s funky gait.
Raccoon Walking with Arched Back
When you spot a raccoon ambling by with its back arched up, it’s doing what’s called a “rolling gait.” Instead of walking flat-footed as humans do, raccoons are digitigrade walkers, meaning they walk on their toes.
With each step, they put weight on the back toes first, then roll their paw forward until the front toes touch down. This makes their hindquarters sway side to side in a very distinctive swagger.
You’ll notice the raccoon’s back hunches upward, too. This is because the front and hind legs move in tandem – as the back foot rolls forward, the front foot also swings ahead. With the legs on each side moving together, the spine arches up to allow the motion. The result is a rolling, hitched gait unique to raccoons.
What Does a Normal Raccoon’s Gait Look Like?
The rolling walk of a raccoon is completely normal. The animal’s physique is perfectly adapted for this kind of movement. Here are some key features that enable the raccoon’s signature stride:
- Digitigrade legs – Walking on the toes and balls of the feet tilts the body forward naturally into an arched position.
- Flexible spine – The raccoon’s backbone bends up easily to coordinate the front and back legs.
- Short legs – Short, stocky legs positioned close together provide better balance during the tilting gait.
- Non-retractable claws – Always-exposed claws give traction as the paws roll heel to toe.
- Thick fur – Dense fur protects the toes, paw pads and tail as they drag along the ground.
So, if you see a raccoon walking with a swaying, hunched-over posture, it’s not struggling – it’s just walking normally! The arched-back rolling gait comes naturally with the raccoon’s physical build.
Why Do Raccoons Have a Rolling Gait?
Raccoons developed this unique walking style for some great reasons:
- Stability – The rolling gait gives raccoons better balance as they explore their habitats up in trees and down on the ground.
- Traction – It allows them to grip the earth solidly with those non-retractable claws.
- Robustness – The arched spine and swaying motions make their walk stronger and less tiring over long distances.
- Agility – The tandem leg motions let raccoons twist and turn more quickly.
- Stealth – Their rolling walk muffles noise and makes movements harder to detect.
So, for a mischievous, food-loving critter like the raccoon, a rolling gait offers a lot of benefits! It lets them move around smoothly as they search for their next snack.
Should You Avoid a Raccoon Walking with Its Back Arched?
In general, there’s no need to worry about a raccoon walking along with an arched back. As we discussed, that swaying posture is perfectly normal and healthy for them.
However, there are some situations when a hunched raccoon could potentially be dangerous:
- If it’s approaching you – While rare, raccoons in urban areas accustomed to humans sometimes may lose fear and get too close. Back away and don’t encourage interaction.
- If it seems unable to walk straight – Wobbling, staggering or walking in circles could indicate the raccoon is sick. Keep your distance, just in case.
- If it’s out during the day – Raccoons are mostly nighttime animals, so daytime activity could mean the raccoon is ill or has rabies. Stay well away.
- If it shows no reaction – Raccoons are usually alert and will run from humans. If it seems oblivious to your presence, it could be unhealthy. Give it space.
So, while the arched walking style is no problem on its own, use caution if you notice any unusual raccoon behaviours on top of it. When in doubt, admire that funky walk from a safe distance!
Can a Healthy Raccoon Walk with Its Back Flat?
While it’s rare, a healthy raccoon is physically capable of walking with its back flat and legs straight. You might see this in a few cases:
- On flat, even ground – The rolling gait helps over uneven terrain but isn’t as necessary on smooth sidewalks or roads.
- When investigating food – A raccoon may temporarily straighten its posture when poking its nose into a promising garbage can or compost pile.
- When nervous or alarmed – A wary raccoon may stiffen its legs and flatten its back to be ready to run from danger.
- In very cold weather – Trying to conserve body heat may cause a raccoon to tighten up and minimize swaying motions.
- If obese – An overweight raccoon may have trouble bending its back to walk in the typical arched manner.
So, while unusual, it is possible for a healthy raccoon to use a flat-backed walking style for certain situations. But it will always return to that signature rolling swagger when relaxed!
Why Do Some Raccoons Walk in Circles?
Sometimes, raccoons will repetitively walk in circles or fall over as they try to walk. This alarming behaviour is caused by a viral disease called canine distemper.
The distemper virus attacks the brain and causes neurological damage. Raccoons with distemper lose their sense of balance and coordination. The virus impairs their ability to judge distances and maintain posture. So infected raccoons often:
- Walk in repeated circles or in zig-zag patterns
- Stumble frequently and fall over
- Have seizures
- Seem disoriented or unfocused
These are all signs of severe neurological issues. Sadly, most raccoons with distemper will die within a few weeks. The virus has no cure, so infected raccoons just need to be left alone. Never approach or touch one since distemper is highly contagious.
So, while intriguing to watch, a raccoon walking in uneven circles is very sick. Let it be, and contact animal control if it seems to be suffering.
What Other Animals Walk Like Raccoons?
A few other creatures share the raccoon’s distinct rolling or swaying gait:
- Bears – A bear’s loose-jointed shuffling walk results in a noticeable side-to-side rhythm, though bears keep the spine straighter.
- Wombats – These stocky marsupials have a very similar digitigrade gait that makes the back hump up.
- Badgers – Badgers somewhat waddle in a hitched motion like raccoons due to their wide body shape.
- Opossums – With arched spines and short legs, opossums share the raccoon’s rolling walk.
- Meerkats – These little guys have a more upright stance but still sway side to side with each bouncy step.
Raccoons aren’t the only animals to develop that distinctive rolling swagger. Next time you see a raccoon’s funky walk, imagine how a bear, wombat or badger might roam around on a set of digitigrade legs!