Me, my wife and all three kids love watching the squirrels in our garden use the electrical wires to get about on. We call it the ‘squirrel highway’. It’s also great seeing them run back and forth digging holes to bury walnuts. Sure, it’s a bit of a pain for the lawn but the joy we get from watching them do their work easily outweighs any negatives. So are squirrels really pests?
While the red squirrel is protected, other breeds such as gray squirrels are seen as pests because they damage property, outbuildings, trees and plants by chewing with razor-sharp teeth. However, squirrels are no danger to humans and you’re unlikely to be attacked by one or catch a disease from one.
Let’s look into the subject of nuisance squirrels in more detail, and discover more about these animals, why some people see them as pests – and what we can do to live with them harmoniously in our gardens.
Are Squirrels a Nuisance Animal & Classed as Vermin?
Yes, OK. Some squirrels are classified as vermin and many homeowners consider them nuisances. But others, like the red squirrel, are endangered in the UK.
Squirrels are officially part of the order Rodentia, along with mice, chipmunks, porcupines, beavers, marmots, and prairie dogs. They are described as small, gnawing animals.
Squirrels don’t just eat nuts and seeds. They are omnivores. They eat plants, meat, fungi, eggs, insects, caterpillars and even baby snakes.
Squirrels are labeled as nuisance animals because they chew so efficiently with their chisel-sharp teeth. They will chew into your attic, storage shed, basement, through power lines, and vegetable gardens. They will damage nut trees and fruit trees.
They enjoy gnawing on bark and “girdling” tree trunks. Squirrels gnaw on plastic sprinkler heads and lines. They love the insulation of a car’s electrical wires, and fiberglass insulation. They will chew through screens and damage shingles.
They love to raid gardens and will bury their prizes in the middle of your lawn.
Vermin is a catch-all term for annoying wild animals. Rodents can be vermin, but not all vermin are rodents. Some folks label crows as vermin. And rats, of course.
Here’s a Squirrel 101 page.
Are Squirrels Harmful To Humans?
Squirrels are not likely to be dangerous to humans. Yes, they can carry some diseases that will make humans sick, and they can carry pests that make humans sick. But the chances of getting sick from a squirrel are small.
Squirrels probably won’t harm humans so much as a human’s property.
Do Squirrels Carry Disease? (Such as Lyme Disease & Rabies)
Wild animals have different immune systems than humans do. What may be harmless to them may make humans sick. Squirrels can carry bubonic plague, tularemia, ringworm, typhus and leptospirosis.
All wild animals can get rabies, but squirrels rarely do.
The CDC (Center for Disease Control) reported 229 cases of tularemia a year (not specifically from squirrels) across the US in 2018. Leptospirosis is more common in tropical areas. Worldwide, it can infect 10 people for every 100,000. In the UK, there are about 50 cases a year.
Another concerning disease is bubonic plague – The Black Death!! The reality is, about 7 people die a year in the US from the plague, mostly because antibiotics are so effective.
Squirrels can carry other creatures that carry diseases, too. Squirrels can carry fleas, ticks and mites that can transmit Lyme disease, Encephalitis and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
What Do You Do if a Squirrel Bites You? (Is it Safe To Touch Them?)
Yes, they are furry and sometimes adorable, but just like any other wild animal you should not touch them.
Squirrels rarely bite humans, but they have razor-sharp claws that can draw blood as it tries to flee you in a panic.
For all small wild animal bites, the Mayo Clinic recommends first aid. Wash with warm water and a mild soap. Then, apply a generous amount of antibiotic and cover with a band aid.
If the skin is badly torn, crushed or you can’t see how deep it is because of too much blood, it may be a good idea to find some medical help from your doctor, a clinic or even the emergency room.
If you can, take a quick photo or video of the squirrel that bit you. If it has a disease, it may look mangy or act disoriented.
Do Squirrels Remember Humans?
You’ll be surprised – but yes! But like many animals, there needs to be a reward involved. If you are not predatory – are calm and deemed safe – the squirrel will remember you.
A study by the University of Exeter determined that grey squirrels have long memories. They conducted an experiment where a squirrel had to press on a bar to get a nut. The squirrel figured it out in about 8 seconds.
Two years later the same squirrel was tested with the same lever on the same apparatus and, 3 seconds later, it had its nut reward.
What Does it Mean When a Squirrel Stares at You?
Yup, squirrels and staring are a thing. But did you know that squirrels sleep with their eyes open? Are they staring at you in a scary way (RUN!) or are they simply snoozing?
All wild animals stare. They are assessing danger. Let’s face it, squirrels are near the bottom of the food chain. For squirrels, there are lots of potential predators out there – including humans.
Why Do Squirrels Chase Humans? (Do They Get Angry?)
There are many horrifying reports of squirrels attacking humans. One jogger described a squirrel landing parkour-like onto their chest, then jumping away. Although squirrels will usually run from humans, if they are protecting young or feel cornered, they may go on the offensive.
Squirrel attacks probably won’t be fatal but may be scary. Here’s an alarming (and amusing) video showing angry squirrels attacking people.
Do Squirrels Carry Diseases To Cats, Dogs & Other Pets?
Squirrels can bring ticks and fleas to your beloved pets. They can also bring the diseases that ticks, and fleas have to your pets.
Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease that attacks the liver and kidneys of dogs. It comes from the urine of infected wildlife. Dogs get it when they drink contaminated water. Leptospirosis is treatable, but even then, 1 out of 5 dogs will die.
By the way – humans can get Leptospirosis if they are exposed to the urine of an infected dog.
What Happens if a Squirrel Gets in Your House?
If a squirrel gets inside your house, stay calm. Open all the exterior windows and doors so it can escape. You can help the process by leaving a trail of peanut butter through the nearest door and then to the outside.
Is it OK To Kill Squirrels?
Yes and no. Only some squirrels, so you need to get the identification right. Make for damn sure that the squirrel ISN’T the town mascot.
In most states in the US, they classify grey and red squirrels as game animals. Hunting game animals requires a hunting license. But don’t hunt squirrels with a pellet gun – use a shotgun. That’s because squirrels are so small that it’s hard to remove all the pellets.
Many cities in the US don’t allow you to discharge firearms within their city limits, so check first.
In Canada, squirrel hunting is illegal for native species. “Humane” hunting of invasive gray squirrels is open year-round, on your own property. Some Canadian provinces, like New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador have squirrel hunting seasons for all squirrel species.
In the UK, you can kill grey squirrels, which are classified as pests. Grey squirrels were introduced in the UK from North America in the late 1800s – they aren’t indigenous.
In the UK, be sure you kill the gray squirrel by shooting it or smacking it sharply on the head, because poisoning, bludgeoning, suffocation, drowning or electrocution (!?) is illegal.
How Can I get Rid of Squirrels Humanely?
There are lots of ways to prevent squirrels from taking up residence, or if they do, of getting rid of them humanely. As one source says – sometimes it’s not about finding something they hate but taking away something they love.
Preventative measures include keeping large trees away from your house (also good advice for fires). Seal up your house in the early fall. Use caulk around windows, guttering, fascia, and chimney caps.
Remove all food sources, like dog bowls. Bird feeders should not be kept near your house. But, if you really, really love feeding birds (like this author), consider a squirrel-proof feeder. Squirrel proof feeders are very entertaining, too.
Or, in addition to discouraging them from your bird feeders, encourage them with a feeder all their own – but far, far away.
If you notice squirrels hanging around, try a motion activated sprinkler. There are some just for wild animal pests that detect motion at 100 feet and then just blast water for 2 or 3 times. You can also purchase an ultrasonic repellent device – just be sure it’s not repelling “good” wild animals as well.
Squirrels hate the smell of hyacinth, geraniums, lily-of-valley, mint, and daffodils. Other natural squirrel repelling plants are onion, leeks, and scallions. Try keeping squirrels out of your vegetable patch with companion planting. Be careful that your plants aren’t toxic to your pets.
Inorganic mulch can deter squirrel digging. Use materials like gravel, fabric, or chicken wire.
In addition to DIY solutions, there are many wildlife removals companies or county wildlife officers to help you get rid of squirrels humanely.
In the final analysis, squirrels are both cute, cuddly and funny – and a complete pest around your yard.
I guess which side of the fence you’re on regarding squirrels will therefore determine how you handle them on your own property.
For the record – we’re nature and animal lovers here at Take a Yard, so just as long as those squirrels stay in their lane when it comes to bad behavior – we’ll leave them be. 🐿️