Zoonotic diseases are those that can spread between humans and animals. Squirrels have the potential to spread several zoonotic diseases. The diseases may spread directly to humans that handle the squirrels, which is why this is never recommended. They may also spread to humans indirectly through pets. In other words, dogs or cats may contract the diseases through contact with squirrels, which can then spread to humans by petting or playing with the infected pets. Squirrel removal can reduce the risk of you or your pets becoming infected with zoonotic diseases from rodents living in your home. Here are some of the diseases that you and your pets may be at risk of contracting from direct or indirect contact with squirrels.
Squirrels are common carriers of fleas and ticks. These parasites, especially fleas, are usually more willing to bite animals than humans, so your pet may be at greater risk than you are. However, ticks are less picky about the hosts that they bite, and even fleas may bite humans given the opportunity. For example, if your dog or cat sleeps in your bed at night, the fleas may bite both you and your pets indiscriminately.
Fleas and ticks can transmit diseases to both you and your pets by biting. This is called vector transmission. Fleas and ticks are considered vectors because they do not actually cause disease themselves but spread pathogens to their hosts.
Tularemia is an example of a disease that ticks may obtain from squirrels and then spread to you or your pet by biting. A squirrel could also infect you with tularemia directly by biting you in self-defense if you tried to handle it. A dog or cat could also contract tularemia from direct contact with an infected squirrel.
Tularemia is a bacterial infection. It can be treated with antibiotics, but diagnosis of tularemia can be difficult because the symptoms can resemble those of other illnesses. Symptoms of tularemia can also vary depending on what part of the body is affected. For example, if you were infected by a squirrel bite, a skin ulcer might form at the wound site. If you handled an infected animal and then rubbed your eyes, you could develop oculoglandular tularemia, which would cause eye swelling, discharge, redness, and pain, as well as an ulcer on the inside of the eyelid. If you or your pet had any contact with squirrels, you should inform your doctor or vet as this could aid with the diagnosis of your condition.
Ringworm is another type of parasite but, despite the name, it is not actually a worm. Ringworm is caused by a fungal parasite. The medical term for infection with a fungus is dermatophytosis. The specific medical term for ringworm is tinea corporis. It causes red, itchy, circular-shaped skin rashes.
Ringworm spreads by skin-to-skin contact. A dog or cat may contract ringworm from an infected squirrel if it gets too close. A squirrel infected with ringworm may show round bald patches where the rashes form. An infected pet may show these patches as well, but they may be less noticeable, especially with adult dogs and cats. You could become infected with ringworm if you pet your dog or cat not knowing it was infected. Ringworm is treatable with antifungal medication and usually resolves completely.
All mammals, including squirrels, have the potential for rabies infection. Squirrels are not known to carry or spread rabies. A predator attack is the most likely way that they would contract it, but most squirrels do not survive such an attack long enough to become infected. Nevertheless, since rabies is almost always fatal, it is unwise to take chances with it. You should have pets vaccinated against rabies according to your vet’s recommendation, and if you are bitten by a squirrel, you probably need rabies shots.
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