While these little animals normally shy away from humans, certain circumstances can increase the risk of a bite. Close contact, like attempting to feed them, can cause a bite. And bites are not the only thing you need to worry about when you come into contact with these critters — they can also carry some nasty diseases. It’s usually best to avoid contact altogether.
What Causes Squirrels to Bite?
Squirrels instinctively avoid people. However, people can put these rodents in situations where a bite can happen. The two most common situations involve squirrels associating people with food and feeling threatened by human interaction.
When Food is Involved
While it’s undeniable that squirrels are cute and look cuddly, don’t make the mistake of luring them close with food. And certainly don’t try feeding them by hand. Once squirrels associate humans with food, their instinct to avoid people can be overridden by their instinct to get food — by fair means or foul. If a squirrel feels a person is standing between them and their food they may attack to get to it.
When Squirrels Feel Threatened
Squirrels, like most creatures, also attack to defend themselves. Just like people, squirrels have the “fight or flight” instinct, which prioritizes their survival. If these small creatures feel cornered or threatened, and fleeing isn’t an option, they’ll attack what they perceive as a predator.
While attacks aren’t common out in open spaces, if you continuously or intentionally harass them, it could happen. Where you’re more likely to encounter a problem is when squirrels find their way into an attic or other enclosed space inside your house. Squirrels become easily distressed and going after them, even to relocate them, is not recommended. Instead, contact pest control, they can safely remove them from your home.
How to Avoid Bites and Scratches
In Public Places
In places where squirrels are endemic, it’s not unusual to see squirrels walking and scurrying about in public places. Many public parks or neighborhoods with trees and greenery may serve as homes to neighborhood squirrel populations.
When you see a squirrel in a park or in your neighborhood, be content with admiring from afar. Refrain from approaching them or trying to lure them to you with food. Encouraging contact increases not only the likelihood of a bite or scratch, but also of contracting any diseases they may be carrying. Left alone, squirrels will go about their business and continue to avoid contact with people.
Squirrels on your property can sometimes prove troublesome. These pesky rodents can get into your house or shed, steal from your bird feeders and otherwise be a general nuisance. But as long as you leave them alone, they’re likely to return the favor.
If you find any signs of squirrels nests inside, call a professional pest removal service. It isn’t recommended that you trap them yourself, since you could come into contact with certain diseases or risk a bite. Let the professionals do it for you — they have the right tools and experience to avoid harm.
What Risks are Associated with Close Contact?
Bites and Scratches
While it isn’t common, bites and scratches can happen. Squirrels have long, hard, and sharp nails that can dig into skin and scratches from squirrels are often deep enough that they can bleed profusely. Squirrels also have long, sharp incisors that can break the skin.
Fun Fact: Squirrels have four front teeth that continue to grow throughout their lives.
While squirrels and most other rodents don’t usually carry rabies, their bites can still be harmful. Bite and scratch sites are prone to bacterial infection and should always be treated by a professional. But bites and scratches aren’t the only concern — there are plenty of other ways coming into contact with squirrels can cause problems.
Squirrels can be carriers for several diseases:
- Lyme Disease: Squirrels can carry ticks, which in turn can carry Lyme disease. Lyme disease is a tickborne illness caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and rarely, Borrelia mayonii. Symptoms include, fever, headache, fatigue and a skin rash, called erythema migrans. In most cases, transmission can only happen if the tick has been attached for at least 36 to 48 hours. If you’ve been in contact with an animal you suspect of carrying ticks (like squirrels), check your body thoroughly and remove any ticks you find.
- Tularemia: Like Lyme disease, tularemia, is another tickborne illness, but can also be spread through skin contact with infected animals. Also known as “rabbit fever,” this illness can be spread by rodents directly. Symptoms vary but infection is always accompanied by a fever that can reach temperatures as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Severity can range from mild to life-threatening and treatment includes a course of antibiotics.
- Leptospirosis: Leptospirosis is a bacteria spread through the urine of infected animals, which can contaminate soil and water. Humans can pick up this bacteria through skin contact, especially if there’s an open wound, or contact with mucus membranes (eyes, nose, mouth). Drinking contaminated water can also spread leptospirosis. Symptoms vary but can include: a high fever, headache, chills, muscle aches, vomiting, jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), red eyes, abdominal pain, diarrhea, and rash. Left untreated, leptospirosis can lead to kidney damage, meningitis, liver failure, respiratory distress, and death. Treatment includes antibiotics.
How to Know if you Have a Squirrel Problem
Squirrels can sometimes get into places you would prefer they didn’t, like chimneys, attics and garden sheds. Left alone, they’ll build their nest there and take up permanent residency. This can be a problem — squirrels can be destructive and will chew on wood and leave droppings lying around, which can spread disease. They can also attack an unsuspecting person who accidentally disturbs them, which puts people at risk for a bite.
Signs of squirrels in residence include:
- Skittering or scurrying noises in walls and ceilings. Squirrels are small and can get into the walls of your home through vents. If it sounds like something is moving around inside your walls, it’s likely a critter like a squirrel has made its way in. You should give your local pest control a call.
- Evidence of chewing. Squirrels will gnaw on exterior siding to create an opening and on anything else that gets in the way. If you notice damage to your home or things stored in your home, you could have squirrels nesting.
- An actual nest. Usually, a squirrel’s nest, or “drey,” are found in high places, including high tree branches, your attic, ceiling, and even your chimney. They’re commonly made up of leaves and twigs formed into oversized clumps.
Squirrels are everywhere — if you’ve been outside today you likely saw one. And while there are risks associated with close contact, like bites and communicable diseases, when left alone, they’re unlikely to cause too many problems. To avoid problems, keep your distance and refrain from feeding. If squirrels are causing problems at home, call a qualified pest control expert to help you remove them.