National Squirrel Day: Why You Don’t Want Your Pet to Catch that Squirrel

Did you know that January 21 is National Squirrel Day? Neither did we! Of course, as veterinarians, we don’t normally treat squirrels (they’re wild animals, after all), unless they’re on their way through to a wildlife rehabilitation specialist. However, we do appreciate their cute furry faces and fluffy tails. (Your opinion may differ if you prefer to watch birds at your bird feeders instead of fluffy-tailed raiders.) Your dogs and cats probably enjoy watching them, too! In fact, depending on where you live, they might be one of the only wild mammals your pets ever see live and in person. They may even like to chase them and try to catch them. As much fun as they can be to watch and chase, though, catching them can sometimes be hazardous to our pets. How can that be, you ask? Let us explain. (Hint: it has nothing to do with the mess, and there are no documented cases of squirrels transmitting rabies to pets or humans.)

Dog looking up a tree for a squirrel.

Who’s chasing who here, exactly? Of course, this is how most chases end – with Fido looking forlornly up the tree for the now missing squirrel.

Let’s set the scene: Imagine your dog (or cat!!) is happily playing in your back yard. He sees a squirrel, and it’s off to the races! Of course, most of the time the squirrel escapes – up a tree, through a hole in a fence, or some other way. Every now and then, though, Fido (or Kitty) might get lucky and catch the squirrel. How is this a problem? Most of the time, it isn’t. However, sometimes the now deceased squirrel might be carrying diseases or parasites your pet can catch. In most cases, squirrel parasites (fleas and ticks) and squirrel droppings are potentially more harmful to your pet than the actual squirrel. This is true for the majority of small animals your pet might catch (like mice, rats and others).

Ticks and Fleas

Ticks and fleas aren’t just irritating, itchy nuisances. They can also carry dangerous infectious diseases. While not all ticks and fleas will carry disease, and not all squirrels will have ticks or fleas, the consequences of infection can be serious (sometimes deadly). Caution should be taken. Why? Well, ticks can transmit Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Lyme Disease, canine ehrlichiosis, American canine hepatozoonosis (ACH), tularemia and many other pathogens to your dogs and cats. Some of those infections can be passed on to you too (via biting ticks). Fleas can, additionally, carry bartonellosis, tapeworms and more. Additionally, if you live in or are traveling to the Southwest, particularly the Four Corners area, you want to keep your pets away from the squirrels and prairie dogs that live there to ensure they don’t get Plague from the fleas that live on them. (Yes, THAT Plague that you learned all about in World History Class. Fido is generally fairly resistant to it, but Kitty is not.)

Droppings and Urine

Squirrel droppings, which are about the size and shape of grains of rice, can be sources of leptospirosis and salmonella bacteria.  Squirrel urine may harbor leptospirosis, as well, and squirrels are, in fact, the main wild carriers of the bacteria. “Lepto” survives best in wet environments where puddles easily form and persist – making southeastern Louisiana prime territory for possible infection. Luckily, dogs, who can encounter this bacteria anywhere there might be squirrels (parks, yards, etc.), can be protected from it by regular vaccination. Cats seldom develop clinical illness from leptospirosis infection.

A closeup of a squirrel.

Squirrels are cute. Let’s keep them that way and watch them from a distance!

Making sure Fido and Kitty get their regular vaccinations and flea & tick prevention is the key to keeping them (and you) free of dangerous parasites and diseases, no matter how they encounter them. However, another good way to make sure you don’t have to come see us for any of these problems is to keep your pets away from the squirrels (and other wild rodents).  Watching them from a distance is fine – up close and personal could turn into a problem. If they do manage to catch one, though, watch them closely. Some infections may develop in just a few days, while others may take weeks or months to develop. If you’re worried, though, give us a call to schedule an appointment with their favorite vet.