Although squirrels are generally considered something of a nuisance, it’s disconcerting to find a dead animal in your yard—and even more unnerving when lightning strikes more than once in a short period. What could be causing this strange, morbid phenomenon?
Squirrels may keep dying in your yard because of disease, poisoning, pet predation, or electric shock. However, without a necropsy sample, it can be hard to say for sure why this is happening.
In this article, we’ll discuss potential reasons that you keep finding dead squirrels in your yard and what you can do about it.
Why Do Squirrels Keep Dying in My Yard?: Some Potential Causes
This is a difficult question to answer, as not enough research has been conducted to study suburban squirrel casualties. Trying to understand the recent surge in the local squirrels’ morbidity rate is mostly just hypothesizing at this point. A thorough investigation would require a necropsy, which would have to be conducted very recently after the animal’s death.
Most times, people’s interest will not venture past mild concern and curiosity upon finding a dead rodent in their yard. Many people are not emotionally attached enough to these backyard pests to do a deep dive into the cause of their death, disinterested in the time, effort, and money required to solve the mystery.
For many, any interest in the squirrel’s fatality is linked to their own safety and that of their loved ones—worried about what these occurrences indicate as far as the state of their backyard environment, and whether or not it is safe for domestic animals or children to play in.
Below are some possible reasons that numerous squirrels keep passing away in your yard. Read this article if you want to learn how to attract squirrels to your yard so you can feed them.
There are several potential diseases the squirrel may have contracted that lead to its demise. According to Purdue University, “The clinical signs of many of these diseases are often similar, and infection can only be determined through specific examinations, tests or lab work.”
- Animal Distemper Virus: Animal Distemper Virus is a highly infectious and often deadly disease seen in small feral mammals that can sometimes spread to dogs. According to GV Wire, animal distemper can cause “respiratory, neurologic, and gastrointestinal illness.” There is no cure for distemper, and a squirrel may have contracted it through bodily fluids or the fecal matter of another sick animal.
- Squirrel Fibroma Virus, commonly known as “Squirrelpox”: If the dead squirrel in question has tumor-like protrusions, it’s possible that Squirrelpox was responsible for its passing. Different squirrel species show different immunity levels; however, grey squirrels, for instance, are less affected, while red squirrels remain very susceptible.
- Rabies: All mammals are susceptible to rabies if exposed via scratches or bites. Although it lies within the realm of possibilities, rabies is an exceedingly rare occurrence in most squirrel species. There has yet to be a case of squirrel-to-human spread of rabies in the U.S. to date.
Parasites and Bacteria
- Toxoplasmosis: a parasitic infection in which rodents exhibit different neurological behaviors and decreased anxiety, resulting in death. The infection passes through parasites found in the fecal matter of cats.
- Bartonella: a bacterial infection known as cat scratch disease (on account of infected cats often passing it to their owners), carried through ticks, fleas, and lice.
- Tularemia is a bacterial disease known as “rabbit fever,” spread through flea, tick, and insect bites and known to be fatal in small mammals. Since the invention of antibiotics, Tularemia in humans is rarely deadly when diagnosed.
Although it’s illegal to directly poison squirrels in many states, it could be that the squirrel was unintentionally exposed to toxic substances. Squirrels and chipmunks are common garden pests, and they may likely have gotten into contact with deadly pesticides meant for other animals while exploring the neighborhood’s plants and gardens.
Rat poison is a sort of blanket pesticide that is also lethal to all other small rodents. Someone in your neighborhood may have put out a rodenticide to deal with pests in their yard or house, and the local squirrel community may have somehow come into contact with that. Most rodenticides are composed of anticoagulants, which hinder the liver’s ability to produce blood clots.
If you suspect the possibility of a rodenticide in the situation, it is best to keep pets away from the squirrel’s corpse.
If you have cats or dogs with outdoor access, they may have played a hand in the squirrel’s death. Squirrels are among the most common wildlife present in neighborhoods, and the poor thing may have been victimized by your pet.
Squirrels are skilled climbers, though that doesn’t always keep them out of trouble, unfortunately. Although usually quite dexterous when scaling power lines, it could be that the squirrel had a misstep on a telephone wire and died from electric shock.
Head Trauma From a Fall
It’s also very possible that a squirrel could have fallen and received possible head trauma. Although squirrels are very agile–as seen in this footage of one falling from 4 stories and scampering off unscathed–there is still a potential that the squirrel fell from somewhere and experienced serious head trauma.
It seems squirrels aren’t above “playing possum”: many have reported seeing a squirrel fall out of a tree within their eyesight and lying very still on its side for about 30 seconds, followed by the squirrel getting up and continuing to leap about without a second thought. Leave it alone for about 30 minutes, and if it remains stiff after that, it may be time to look into the situation.
What to Do About Dead Squirrels in Your Yard
- Keep pets and children away. Ensure that pets and young children are kept away from the scene of the crime, which could pass on germs and infection.
- Dispose of the body safely. Follow these steps, provided by the Boulder County homepage:
- Don’t touch the body.
- Use a shovel or other tool to pick up the squirrel, then drop it into a plastic or otherwise disposable bag.
- Put on plastic gloves and make sure to double-bag the body before dropping into the trash, washing hands thoroughly after disposal.
- Have a necropsy done. If you want to get to the bottom of what’s depleting the neighborhood squirrel population, the best way to figure out what’s happening would be to take one of the squirrel corpses to a state veterinary diagnostic lab for examination. Hopefully, you’ll be provided more exact answers on what’s threatening your neighborhood’s squirrel population.
- Communicate with your neighbors. Talk to the people in your neighborhood and see if any of them have been experiencing random squirrel deaths in their yard. Check-in with them and discuss whether they have been using products that might be the culprit behind this mysterious phenomenon.
It’s alarming to see your property suddenly become a squirrel graveyard, and there’s a variety of potential reasons behind the uptick in squirrel casualties. Disease, poisoning, and pet predation are the most likely contributing factors; although it is far less likely, electric shock, possible head trauma, and a temporary ‘fake-out’ remain potential causes. Without performing tests on the squirrels, it can be hard to determine the exact reason, though.
When disposing of a squirrel, make sure to keep pets and children away and dispose of the body safely; talk to your neighbors if they’ve been experiencing similar happenings. As discussed above, the only way to be sure of what’s causing the squirrels’ demise is to have a necropsy done.
- Purdue University: Question: What is wrong with the squirrels and raccoons we have found in our yard?
- University of Illinois: Ask Extension: multiple dead squirrels
- Thrifty Fun: Cause of Dead Squirrels in Your Yard?
- Wikipedia: Canine Distemper
- Reddit: Anyone know how a squirrel would drop dead randomly? No bite marks, was pretty stiff after only a few hours. Wondering if there’s poison or something in our yard. We have a toddler and dog that play in the area I found this.
- Wikipedia: Autopsy
- Around the Yard: Forum: Do Squirrels Just Drop Dead?
- Reddit: Two dead squirrels found next to one another a week apart from one another, what’s strange is that we moved the first one to a secluded location to wait for trash day [Colorado]
- Reddit: [Question] Why do I keep finding dead squirrels in my backyard? 3 in a year.
- Oregon State: Local squirrel had bacterial disease that can infect people
- VCA Hospitals: Distemper in Dogs
- Wikipedia: Squirrelpox
- Michigan.gov: DNR: Squirrel Pox
- GV Wire: Distemper Virus Is on the Rise. How to Protect Pets and Wildlife.
- Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks: Tularemia (Rabbit Fever)
- Wikipedia: Bartonella
- Cornell Wildlife Health Lab: Rodenticide Toxicity
- YouTube: Squirrel Jumps Off Of Highrise Building || ViralHog
- Choose Natives: Rat Poison Kills a Hell of a Lot More Than Just Rodents
- Boulder County: How to Dispose of a Dead Animal