Your dog wags its tail triumphantly, the victor of an epic showdown. The adversary has been driven up a tree, saving the next battle for another day.
Never mind that the fight was with a squirrel; a creature with an average weight of one pound. One pound can still pack a punch- or bite- as evidenced by the angry-looking gashes on your pup’s snout.
What do you do if your dog is bitten by a squirrel?
Squirrels are known to carry various diseases, such as ringworm, tularemia, tick fever and Coccidiosis. While they can theoretically be carriers of rabies, fortunately it is extremely rare to encounter a squirrel that actually has the virus.
Though there can never be a 100% guarantee, as long as your dog is up to date with all its vaccinations it will likely be just fine. The best move is to take it to the vet first for assessment and wound cleaning to reduce the chance of infection.
If a squirrel bites your dog, it will likely break the skin in many different places. If the skin is broken, pus-filled abscesses can form and the wound may become swollen.
Any time a bite or scratch breaks the skin, there is an increased chance of infection and disease transmission. This is not exclusive to squirrel-related injuries. Animal mouths are a hotbed of bacteria.
While the actual force and size of the squirrel bite will be small, the bite will still be very painful. The main concern however is whether the squirrel is carrying any diseases. Small animals and mammals are always a disease risk, especially if they are wild.
Squirrels are known to be carriers of various diseases. These include:
- Tularemia– A disease that attacks the skin, eyes and lymph nodes. Can be transmitted through contact with infected animals
- Ringworm– A fungus that causes an infected animal to develop bold, scaly patches with broken hairs
- Typhus– A bacteria that causes fever and rashes, one to two weeks after exposure
- Coccidiosis– A parasitic disease of the intestinal tract that causes diarrhea. It can be transmitted through contact with infected tissue.
- Leptospirosis– A blood infection that can be transmitted through breaks in the skin
The biggest worry for a dog owner when their pet is bitten by a wild animal, like a squirrel or raccoon, is the possibility of rabies. Rabies is a viral disease that attacks the central nervous system and causes the brain to become inflamed.
Once a dog, or human, contracts rabies, the most likely outcome is death. As rabies is a disease that can be passed to you by your dog, you shouldn’t take chances with it when it comes to diagnosis and treatment.
Luckily, it is extremely rare to find a squirrel that is rabid. Rodents in general are highly unlikely to carry the disease. However, you can never be too sure, and even if your dog has had rabies vaccinations that does not offer guaranteed protection.
According to VCA Hospitals, rabies vaccines can fail in three main ways.
The first is that for the 14 different rabies vaccines currently labeled for canine use, they each only need to provide at least 83% protection. That leaves a quite a large probability (17 percent!) unaccounted for.
Secondly, a vaccine can fail when the dog’s body and immune system refuses to respond to the inoculation in the intended way. Because of this, the dog is not able to develop an immunity to the virus.
Lastly, vaccine failures can occur simply when the vaccine was not given properly, or if it was out of date.
As you can see, while they are still vital, no vaccine will be completely guaranteed to work.
Squirrel on a fence, claws drawn and ready to pounce on the next unsuspecting dog that it sees
Don’t be fooled by their fluffy exteriors and big black eyes- squirrels are devastating hunters (of acorns) and have long, strong teeth to boot.
To be fair, the squirrel probably only bit your dog out of self-defense when your dog’s snout came a bit too close for its liking.
Here are 3 easy steps to take to help your dog recover from a squirrel bite:
Your dog will likely be bleeding even if they are just small bites. It is important to stop the bleeding as quickly as possible by applying pressure to the wound with a clean towel or cloth. Once you have stopped the bleeding, clean the area with filtered, clean water.
If you have Betadine or another povidone iodine solution at home, it would be a good idea to do an initial disinfection once the area is clean and dry. You may use Bactine although Betadine would be a better option.
You can do this by soaking a washcloth or cotton pad in the solution and gently wiping over the bites. This will help to remove some of the nasty microorganisms that might be present.
Once you have cleaned and disinfected the wound as well as you can, take your dog to the vet for further inspection.
Anytime that your dog has an encounter with a wild animal that results in injury, it is always wise to consult your vet so that you can get a professional assessment.
There may be underlying risks which you are not aware of that could pose a danger to your dog. The vet will be able to determine what diseases are most likely to be transferred to your dog through the bite and make a treatment plan from there.
The vet will clean the wound again extensively and apply a bandage or gauze over the bites. He may also prescribe antibiotics or injections for treatment and to prevent infection.
It is important to follow the vet’s instruction regarding aftercare at home such as continuing with oral antibiotics and cleaning the wounds gently from time to time.
Look out for signs of swelling around the bites, fever or if your dog begins to act strangely.
If your dog experiences a sudden loss of appetite, starts vomiting, or has convulsions, you need to take it back to the vet immediately for treatment. Remember that it’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to diseases like rabies, so don’t delay if your dog’s condition seems to worsen.
Although it may seem like a scene straight out of a Simpsons episode, it can be very serious when a dog is bitten by a squirrel. Whenever there is a risk of a disease such as rabies, utmost care should be taken to minimize infection as much as possible.
Even if it is very unlikely that squirrels will carry rabies, it is still better to be cautious. This is best achieved through a visit to the vet to determine the likelihood of transmission and to get professional treatment.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.