It’s not unusual to wonder “do squirrels have rabies,” especially if you interact with them on a regular basis in your backyard. Some people handfeed them or keep them as pets and have been bitten by squirrels. That’s why I wanted to do some research on rabies symptoms and which animals you should be careful with.
Do Squirrels Have Rabies?
The short answer is No, According to The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) small mammals like squirrels, rabbits, chipmunks, rats, and gerbils almost NEVER have rabies. Now, this doesn’t mean that squirrels don’t have diseases, because they do.
Today, we’re just going to look at what rabies are, which animals can get it and the signs and symptoms of rabies.
Plus, you’ll find out what to do if you’re bitten by a squirrel. Yes, they do bite and I’ve written an article that answers your question Do Squirrels Bite?
What Is Rabies?
Rabies (Lyssavirus) is a disease that tears down the central nervous system. It is a brutal and deadly virus. Most animals can acquire this disease. It is transmitted through saliva a few days before the infected animal dies.
Remember the movie “Cujo” by Stephen King? Cujo was a friendly dog until he was bitten by a bat. It took a few days before you could see the symptoms of the virus.
But eventually, he became a killer canine. The sweet St. Bernard Cujo became very aggressive and morphs into a beast. Watch the video below to see a dog that has rabies.
While that is a movie, and you’ll NEVER see a rabid squirrel. There’s always a possibility that you could see other animals behaving like that.
What Animals Carry Rabies?
It is not uncommon for mammals to get rabies, however, the most common wild animals that can acquire are:
However, domesticated animals such as cattle, cats, and dogs can become infected by it as well. According to the CDC, only 1 to 3 cases of domesticated animals in the US have ever been reported between (2008-2017).
How Do Animals Get Rabies?
Now that you know what rabies looks like and which animals can get it, let’s take a look at how they get it.
Like in the movie “Cujo” it is primarily passed through a bite from an infected animal. However, the virus can also be passed if the saliva comes into contact with an open wound.
A Look At Some Rabies Symptoms
Now, let’s take a look at rabies symptoms in both humans and infected animals. and what you’ll need to do if you’re bitten by a rabid animal.
Rabies In Humans Symptoms
You won’t see the symptoms instantly, in fact, it can take a few days to more than a year after the bite happens. At first, most people will notice an itchy feeling, tingling, or prickly feeling around the bitten area.
Some people may even begin developing flu-like symptoms such as headaches, fevers, nausea, fatigue, muscle aches and a loss of appetite.
After a few days the neurological symptoms will start developing, which consist of:
- Seizures (convulsions)
- Paralysis or weakness in parts of the area
- Extreme sensitivity to touch, sound or bright light
- Aggressiveness and irritability
- Hallucinations, confusion, and or bizarre thoughts
- Unusual postures and muscle spasms
Although rabies is NOT contagious from person to person. It is fatal and there is no effective treatment. If you or someone you know has been infected by the rabies virus, you should seek medical attention right away.
Doctors tend to focus on prevention and try to stop the disease as soon as the person is exposed. They do this by giving two immunizations of the rabies vaccine according to a four-dose timeline.
You will need to contact your state or local health department if you need a rabies vaccination.
Rabies Symptoms in Animals
Now let’s take a look at some of the symptoms of rabies in animals. According to PetMD, these are some of the symptoms or rabies in dogs. It may be a bit more challenging to spot rabies in a wild animal.
- Inability to swallow
- Change in tone of bark
- Excessive excitability
- Excessive salivation
- Jaw is dropped
As I mentioned, it will be harder to spot rabies in a wild animal. If a domesticated animal has rabies, you will want to contact your veterinarian immediately to have the animal quarantined.
While it’s nice knowing that squirrels don’t carry rabies. They do however carry other diseases. I’ve written an article that will help answer your question “do squirrels carry diseases” that you should read.
What to Do If Bitten By A Squirrel?
Yes, squirrels bite, it’s one of their defense mechanisms that enables them to survive out in the wilderness. Even if you have a pet squirrel, you’re going to be bitten.
Tame squirrels have been known to playful bite when people are handling them. Most of the times, it won’t draw blood, it will still hurt as they have sharp incisors.
If you do draw blood, these steps will show you how to treat a squirrel bite. The great thing is you don’t have to worry about getting rabies as I mentioned, there’s a very slim chance that your backyard squirrel or pet squirrel has rabies.
Can You Get Rabies From A Squirrel Scratch?
A squirrel has sharp claws that allow them to climb, jump and grab onto surfaces at angles that would be impossible for most animals.
Even if you’re squirrel is tame and lives inside with you, they will scratch you. In fact, many people who have pet squirrels will tell you, if you don’t like to be scratched, don’t get a pet squirrel.
The great news is that you can’t get rabies from a squirrel scratch. You might want to consider wearing long sleeves if you don’t want a bunch of claw marks on your arms.
Why Don’t Squirrels Get Rabies?
The main reason that smaller mammals and rodents don’t get rabies, is because they are highly unlikely to survive an attack by a rabid animal.
There are no known cases of any small mammals that have infected humans with rabies in the United States.
If you see squirrels in your backyard you can rest assured that they won’t give you, your cat or dog rabies.
They are friendly rodents that are just foraging for food.
References and Further Reading
Mayo Clinic – Symptoms and Causes of Rabies
CDC – What Kind of Animals Can Get Rabies
The Humane Society – Understanding Rabies
Kids Health – What Is Rabies
ASCH – American Council On Science and Health