Do Squirrels Carry Rabies? The Truth Behind the Myth

Do Squirrels Carry Rabies? The Truth Behind the Myth

Technically speaking, squirrels do not carry rabies. But it’s something that many people wonder about from time to time. So when you see a squirrel for the first time in quite a while and do not know whether it carries rabies, it’s understandable if you feel a bit confused. So, do squirrels carry rabies? Keep reading to learn more facts about squirrels and rabies.

What is Rabies and How is it Transmitted?

Rabies (Lyssavirus) is a viral disease that causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Bites or scratches from infected animals, most commonly wild animals or stray dogs, raccoons, skunks, and bats, usually transmit the virus. However, the transmission also occurs through contact with their saliva or brain tissue.

do squirrel carry rabies - fox squirrel

Myth-busting: Do Squirrels Carry Rabies?

Many people think that squirrels have rabies. This is not the case.

What the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) Says About Rabies

The disease can affect any mammal, which includes wild animals, domestic animals, and even humans. Most rabies cases come from infected wildlife. A statement from the CDC, “Small rodents (like squirrels, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, chipmunks, rats, and mice) and lagomorphs (including rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been known to transmit rabies to humans.”

In the United States, the CDC also reports that 7 out of 10 people who have died from rabies contracted the virus from a rabid bat. Bats, raccoons, skunks, foxes, and coyotes are the wild animals most commonly infected with the rabies virus in the United States. 

Do Flying Squirrels Carry Rabies?

do squirrels carry rabies - flying squirrel with peanut

Flying squirrels live in trees and are rarely ever on the ground, which means they don’t come into contact with other animals as often as regular squirrels do. That’s why it’s rare to find any flying squirrels with rabies.

Can Squirrels Transmit Rabies to Humans?

Yes, squirrels can transmit rabies to humans through saliva, bites, wounds, scratches, or contact with mucous membranes. However, squirrels carrying the rabies virus are rare.

Signs and Symptoms of Rabies in Squirrels

You can’t always tell if a squirrel has rabies by looking at it. 

Common Signs 

One of the most common signs of rabies is weird or unexpected behavior. This uncharacteristic behavior usually takes one of two forms: extreme aggression or unusual docility.

Aggressive animals may be vicious, snarling, and biting, while docile animals seem to lose their instinct to avoid humans and appear unusually calm and approachable.

If you see a squirrel behaving strangely or have any interactions with one, contact your local animal control immediately, and don’t approach the squirrel. Leave this task to the animal control professionals.

If You Suspect a Squirrel Has Rabies

If you suspect your pet has rabies, contact your veterinarian immediately. If your pet has come into contact with other animals or people, there is a risk that they could spread the disease.

In order to protect the public, your pet must undergo quarantine. During the quarantine, your veterinarian will most likely test your pet for rabies. If the results come back positive, there are a few things you should know.

First, it is important to know that there is no treatment for rabies in an animal. It is a terminal illness. Second, the vet may ask you to consider putting your pet to sleep. This is a very hard decision, but it is for the safety of you, your family, and the public.

The major symptoms of rabies in wild animals include:

  • Paralysis
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Loss of balance
  • Aggression
  • Confused behavior
  • Mood changes- virus attacks the nervous system.
  • Difficulty walking
  • Excessive Circling
  • Paralyzed legs
  • Looks disoriented
  • Appears drunk
  • Mutilating itself

Can You Get Rabies from Touching a Squirrel?

If you touched a squirrel with the very rare chance it had rabies, without being bitten or scratched, it is not likely that you would get the disease. It might be possible if the squirrel was foaming at the mouth or appeared sickly, but this would be very rare as well.

It’s safe to say that most people will never come into contact with a rabid squirrel, so there is almost no need to worry about getting this disease from them!

Treatment for a Squirrel Bite

If a squirrel bit you, then wash the area right away to avoid infection.

It is rare for squirrels and other rodents to carry the rabies virus. A person rarely needs rabies shots after a squirrel bite.

do squirrels carry rabies - fox squirrel eating an almond

However, if the bite becomes infected, please seek medical attention. Signs of infection are inflammation, redness, heat, pain, or visible pus coming from or around the wound.

Treatment of Rabies

A dose of human rabies immune globulin (HRIG) is the treatment for rabies. A medical professional administers the treatment soon as possible after exposure. Also, the infected person receives four rabies vaccines over 14 days.

The number of deaths from rabies in the United States is on average one to two cases per year. Thanks to preventative pet vaccinations and effective post-exposure treatment, death is rare. The likelihood of dying is less than death caused by a lightning strike.

Rabies in the United States

In the United States, rabies is present in all states except Hawaii. Bats account for 60% of human rabies cases and dogs account for 39%. Historically, there were 3-5 human rabies cases annually, but now there are 1-2 per year due to better prevention practices such as pre-exposure vaccinations. 

do squirrels carry rabies - fox squirrel on a bed of Autumn leaves

Can Squirrels Give Rabies to Dogs?

It is possible for a squirrel to transmit rabies to a dog, but it’s unlikely. It could happen if the squirrel has rabies and bites the dog.

If you have an outdoor pet, make sure they have their rabies vaccination updated!

Can a Dog get Rabies from Eating a Squirrel?

The most likely way for a dog to get rabies is through the bite of an infected animal.

One study found that out of over 12,000 gray squirrels captured and tested in Maine between 1969 and 2010, only two were rabid.

do squirrels carry rabies - female Fox squirrel

Rabies in the United States

In the United States, rabies is present in all states except Hawaii. Bats account for 60% of human rabies cases and dogs account for 39%. There have been as high as 3-5 annual US rabies cases documented in humans. There are only 1 to 2 cases per year because of better prevention practices with rabies vaccinations for pets.

Conclusion

The most important thing to remember is that if you see any animal acting strangely, the best thing you can do is to monitor them from a distance and call animal control. Remember, if a squirrel bites you, wash the wound with soap and water and seek medical attention.

Now that you know the answer to do squirrels carry rabies, enjoy the video of me feeding Bart with chopsticks. I feed Bart this way to avoid a squirrel bite. Bart is a little grabby with taking food.

And since squirrel’s vision is not sharp close-up, for example, right in front of their nose, he has mistaken my fingers for food. If you’d like more information about a squirrel’s vision, check out this article.

Bart is a popular wild squirrel resident here at Kitty City Squirrels. Enjoy his antics.

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