Do Squirrels Carry Diseases? – 6 Diseases Squirrels Can Transmit To Humans

For several decades now, squirrels have had good interactions with humans to a point they are being kept as pets. However, being that they belong to the rodent family, it leaves one to wonder Do Squirrels Carry Diseases? In this article we try to answer that.

As a general rule, squirrels and humans can live together without much difficulty. Most squirrels do not approach people unless they need help such looking for food and water or even shelter.

Squirrels get more attention from us than we do from them. Our relationship with them is lengthy, distinct, and generally harmless. Squirrels are likely to be seen regularly wherever you live, whether in the city, the suburbs, or the country. 

Ever wonder if squirrels are dangerous? If so, you’re not alone. Most people do not consider these rodents to be an actual threat. But that’s incorrect. Rodents are rodents – and that’s what these bushy-tailed rodents are! Thus, squirrels also pose the same dangers as their rodent cousins do. The danger of squirrels comes from the diseases they carry.

The presence of these animals can occasionally be hazardous, as they can carry a handful of diseases. Let’s discuss the different diseases these cute little creatures carry. 

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Cute Reptiles as Pets

Do Squirrels Carry Diseases?

Yes, squirrels do carry some diseases. There are dozens of diseases squirrels carry, though only a few of them are harmful to humans. The most common are tularemia, typhus, plague, and ringworm. Infected squirrels may transmit these diseases through bites or other direct contacts.

Do Squirrels Carry Diseases? Yes, they do
A diseased squirrel

6 Diseases Squirrels Can Transmit To Humans

Common diseases include tularemia, typhus, plague, and ringworm. Infected squirrels transmit these diseases by biting or otherwise coming into contact with them. The flu-like symptoms of tularemia, typhus, and plague can be fatal if left untreated.

Different species of squirrels live in the world, including flying, tree, and ground squirrels like the black squirrel and the gray squirrel. A ground squirrel dwells in an underground burrow, a flying squirrel lives in a tree, and a tree squirrel lives in a forest.

Unfortunately, these rodents are susceptible to certain common diseases which can be transmitted to us. The following are six such diseases squirrels can carry:

DiseasesSymptoms In squirrelsSymptom in HumansHarmful To HumansCare Level
Leptospirosisfever, weight loss, muscle weakness,  jaundice,..fever, headaches, chills, muscle pain, vomit, …YesHigh
Lyme Diseasetickshave flu-like symptoms, fever, headache, fatigueYesHigh
Bacterial and Fungal Infectionslose hair and develop dark patches no clearly symptomsYesModerate
Rabiesdrool excessively, aggressive behavior, sluggishness, and confusion.insomnia, weakness, head pain, discomfort.YesHigh
Salmonellosisno symptoms, the salmonella bacteria in squirrel droppingsdiarrhea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain.YesLow
Tularemia weakness, a fever, ulcers, lymphadenopathy, and abscesseslymph node swelling, irritation and swelling of the eye, sore throat, cough, chest pain, and lung complicationsYesModerate
Table showing diseases squirrels can transmit to humans, their symptoms and degree of harm

Leptospirosis

Humans and animals are both at risk for leptospirosis, a bacterial disease.

In views of Wikipedia, almost 58,900 people die every year from leptospirosis, which causes around one million cases every year. 

Infected animals spread the disease through their urine. Water and soil can be contaminated by urine. These areas can sustain it for several months. 

A person who contracts this illness may experience many symptoms. There are a variety of symptoms, including fever, headaches, chills, muscle pain, vomit, red eyes, abdomen pain, rash, and gastrointestinal discomfort.

Lyme Disease

It is highly likely that most people get Lyme disease from the bite of an infected black-legged tick.

This bacterium, according to CCOHS, is carried by some ticks and is spread by their bite. Bacteria normally live in the bodies of small animals like mice, squirrels, chipmunks, and shrews.

Symptoms include fever, fatigue, vomiting, headaches, and rash, as well as more advanced complications if not treated. Aside from heart problems, joint problems may also occur.

squirrel with blood engorged ticks on its ear
squirrel with blood engorged ticks on its ear

Bacterial and Fungal Infections

Infected squirrels may lose their hair and develop dark patches on their skin due to bacterial and fungal infections. Because of the fungus, the hair on the squirrel is fragile, causing it to break off quickly and leave short bristles behind.

Transmission occurs if the human touches a squirrel infected with this illness or if the human consumes contaminated food. 

Squirrel balding is the worst complication that can happen due to bacterial and fungal infections. 

According to Squirrel Refuge, Baytril® (enrofloxacin generic) and SMZ (sulfamethoxazole) are two common oral antibiotics marketed to squirrels. It is recommended to give a 100 grams tablet twice per day.

A squirrel with bacterial and viral infection
A squirrel with bacterial and viral infection

Bubonic plague

A ground squirrel is commonly infected with bubonic plague, caused by Yersinia pestis. The reason is that squirrels are common bacteria reservoirs, just like other rodents.

Fleas that feed on the squirrel’s blood can then transmit the plague to humans, whether they bite or feed on the squirrel’s blood.

According to Today.com, Squirrels can transmit bubonic plague to humans and cause lymph nodes swelling, high fever, nausea, chills, and headache. 

A squirrel infected with the disease dies over time, which causes an additional squirrel or rodent to be found by the fleas, or they may travel to a pet in the house.

The Plague takes about 2-6 days to incubate. Detecting the disease at an early stage greatly increases its chances of cure. The Plague, if left untreated, can cause a potentially fatal blood infection or pneumonia.

Rabies

Squirrels are unusually susceptible to rabies, which is considered a rare disease in small mammals. If an animal or squirrel exhibits any unusual behavior, it may be infected with rabies.

Rabies is characterized by aggressive behavior, sluggishness, and confusion. The saliva of rabies-infected animals is also excessive, causing them to drool excessively, thus causing the illusion that they cough up foam.  

As per Sciencing, transmission to humans usually occurs through exposure to infected saliva, usually through bites or contact with open wounds or mucous membranes, such as eyes, noses, and mouths.

Some diseases and parasites can cause symptoms similar to those of rabies in squirrels. Thus, testing is the only way to diagnose a squirrel.

Salmonellosis

Uninfected people can contract salmonellosis from squirrel droppings that harbor salmonella bacteria. 

In views of Attic Kings, salmonellosis causes symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhea, and nausea similar to food poisoning.

It usually takes hydration and replenishing electrolytes to treat this condition. Sometimes antibiotics are given, but not always.

The cute sight of squirrels can make you want to watch them in the wild, but you should take precautions in order to prevent deadly diseases like salmonella. 

Tularemia 

Rabbit Fever, also known as Tularemia, is one of the most severe illnesses associated with rabbits. Rodents and squirrels are also at risk for Tularemia.

An infected squirrel shows symptoms such as weakness, a fever, ulcers, lymphadenopathy, and abscesses, as mentioned by American Veterinary Medical Association

Symptoms of tularemia can develop in humans after direct contact with the squirrel or after bites from ticks, mosquitoes, or deer flies.

Antibiotics are used to treat tularemia. Generally, streptomycin is preferred, but gentamicin can be used as an option.

3 Tips To Avoid Squirrel Diseases

  • It is best to avoid touching squirrels and their waste in order to prevent the disease from spreading. 
  • Wearing gloves and masks may be required if mandatory exposure is required.
  • Be certain to clean and disinfect contact areas after contacting squirrels and their waste.

FAQs

What diseases can you get from squirrels?

A handful of diseases can be transmitted by squirrels, making their presence occasionally hazardous. Common diseases such as tularemia, plague, typhus, and ringworm are among them. Squirrels do not have to bite you to spread diseases.

It is common for squirrels to host ticks that can transmit bacteria. Direct contact with squirrels infected with such diseases can lead to transmission. Plague, tularemia, and typhus are contagious diseases that mimic the flu, and if ignored, can prove deadly.

Do squirrels carry plague?

Yes, several wild mammals carry the plague, especially squirrels. The plague is particularly deadly to squirrels, so any sick or dead rodents are a sign of the disease.

Is It Okay To Touch A Squirrel?

It may not be a good idea to touch a squirrel. An individual touching a squirrel may accidentally be clawed by the squirrel’s razor-sharp claws. These animals can transmit diseases such as typhus or leptospirosis and parasites such as fleas and ticks.

If it is really necessary to touch them, don’t do it with your bare hands. Use gloves instead. And after being in contact with them, sanitize your hands and areas appropriately contacted.

In Conclusion 

Even though most of these diseases are rare, being aware of them is the first step towards handling squirrels and other wild animals in your home. The best way to keep squirrels away from your home is to protect utility lines, electrical lines, and poles.