Can Squirrels Get Rabies? (and Do They Carry It)

As a nature lover who has spent years observing squirrels around the world, I’m often asked: can squirrels get rabies? Or, Do squirrels carry rabies? In this blog post, I’ll answer all of your questions, including transmission, symptoms, risks, and prevention.

Yes, squirrels can get rabies, but it’s extremely rare. Squirrels are not natural reservoirs of the rabies virus. However, they may contract it through a bite from an infected animal.

Understanding Rabies Transmission in Squirrels

Rabies is a viral illness that impacts the central nervous system of various mammals, squirrels included. It’s transmitted through the saliva of an infected animal, usually entering the body through a bite wound.

In the late stages of infection, the virus spreads to the salivary glands, allowing easy transmission through bites. An infected squirrel can only spread rabies during this infectious period shortly before its death.

Low Risk of Rabies in Squirrels

Squirrels are rarely infected with rabies for several reasons:

  • They have a lower body temperature compared to dogs, cats, raccoons, foxes, and other reservoirs. The rabies virus thrives at higher body temperatures.
  • Squirrels are prey animals. If bitten by a rabid predator, they often die before developing full-blown rabies infection.
  • Squirrels have a shorter lifespan. Rabies has a long incubation period of weeks to months, limiting spread in short-lived rodents.
  • Squirrels have smaller body sizes and muscle mass compared to common rabies reservoirs. Bites often don’t penetrate deep enough to transmit rabies.

According to CDC data, only a small portion of reported rabid animals in the U.S. are small rodents like squirrels. Raccoons, skunks, foxes, and bats make up over 90% of rabies reservoirs.

Exposure Risks

Despite being an unlikely host, squirrels still face some risks of rabies exposure, including:

  • Bites from infected predators – Like raccoons, coyotes, dogs, etc. This is the most common route of rabies transmission to squirrels.
  • Contact with saliva – Coming into contact with the saliva of a rabid animal, even without a bite, poses a slight risk.
  • Fighting – Squirrels can contract rabies through bites inflicted during territorial fights with an infected squirrel.

Infected mother squirrels can also pass rabies to their young, but this vertical transmission seems rare.

Signs of Rabies in Squirrels

Infected squirrels show typical neurological symptoms as rabies affects the brain and spinal cord. However, signs can be subtle in the early stages.

Behavioral Changes

  • Increased aggression and biting
  • Loss of fear of humans or natural predators
  • Uncharacteristic tameness or friendliness
  • Erratic running, circling movements
  • Self-mutilation such as biting at legs

Physical Symptoms

  • Difficulty swallowing leads to choking
  • Excessive drooling and foaming at the mouth
  • Lethargy and paralysis
  • Loss of appetite

Unfortunately, rabies symptoms in squirrels can resemble other diseases like distemper. Testing is required for accurate diagnosis.

Risks to Humans and Pets

While human rabies cases from squirrel bites are non-existent, contact still poses a slight risk requiring medical assessment. Let’s explore the risks to humans and domestic animals:

Human Health Risks

Humans can contract rabies through bites, scratches, or contact between broken skin and the saliva of an infected squirrel. However, transmission seems extremely rare even after exposure:

  • No rabies deaths have been attributed to squirrel bites in the U.S.
  • Squirrels make up less than 1% of animals submitted for rabies testing annually.
  • Bites generally don’t penetrate deeply due to small teeth.
  • Low viral loads in salivary glands further limit transmission.

Since rabies is almost always fatal once symptoms appear, any potential exposure via squirrel bites or contact warrants medical assessment for life-saving treatment.

Risks to Pets

Dogs and cats face higher risks of rabies exposure from squirrels. Statistics show:

  • Cats are the domestic animal most frequently infected by wildlife rabies.
  • Squirrel variants account for a small portion of rabies cases in cats and dogs.
  • Unvaccinated pets may die after encounters with rabid squirrels.

Bites and scratches to dogs and cats should be treated as rabies exposures based on animal control guidance. Seek veterinary care immediately and booster rabies shots as needed.

Prevention of Squirrel Rabies

Preventing rabies in squirrels relies on several key measures:

Public Health Support

Oral rabies vaccination programs target wildlife reservoirs like raccoons and coyotes that spread rabies to rodents. Continued public health efforts help limit cross-species infections.

Pet Vaccinations

Keeping dogs and cats current on rabies shots creates an immune barrier between wildlife rabies and people. It also protects pets from illness and euthanasia after encounters with rabid wildlife.

Caution Around Wildlife

Never handle or approach wildlife, even if they appear friendly. Squirrels behaving abnormally should be reported to animal control professionals.

Bite Treatment

Always wash bite wounds immediately with soap and water. Seek medical or veterinary care to assess rabies risk and provide life-saving preventive treatment if warranted.


In summary, can squirrels get rabies? Squirrels are not natural carriers of rabies. However, they may contract the virus when bitten by a rabid animal. Transmission to humans seems exceedingly rare but still warrants caution and medical assessment after potential exposures.

Squirrels are generally not dangerous and don’t attack humans, however, protect yourself by steering clear of sick-looking wildlife and keeping pets vaccinated against rabies.

You may also be interested in reading: