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The Dangers of Typical Neighborhood Animals You Don't Think of as Dangerous (Squirrels & Raccoons & Skunks, Oh My!)

You're used to seeing them, those squirrels, deer, rabbits, armadillos and other "typical" creatures that live in your neighborhood. But what you may not have realized is that those cute (and sometimes not-so-cute) inhabitants can at times be dangerous to you and your family.

True, since readers of this newsletter live all in all regions of the U.S. and world, scorpions and lizards may be typical to some readers, while coyotes and foxes may be the norm for others. But the animals we're focusing on here are the ones that seem completely harmless -- but at closer inspection can be quite the opposite.


Don't Underestimate squirrels. They can be ruthless, especially the ones that run with bad squirrel crowds.

Squirrels usually mind their own business, gathering nuts and generally keeping a safe distance from humans. However, squirrels that have been fed by humans may "charge" you in hopes of getting a bit of food.

At the Texas A&M campus, at least two squirrel attacks are on record. One when a student was bit on the thumb after attempting to feed a squirrel and another when a student was bitten while trying to free a trapped squirrel.

Said Assistant Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Management Dr. Roel Lopez, "If threatened, squirrels would show signs of aggression. But they would have to be pretty uncomfortable to attack a human."

There are other reports out there, too. A police officer was "attacked" by a squirrel that was the pet of a drug suspect, for instance, and received minor injuries.

"The claws are very sharp, I guess he mistook me for a tree," said officer Dwayne Flowers. "The squirrel was moving at such speed, I didn't see it and neither did my partner standing shoulder-length away from me."

To stay safe, don't attempt to feed a squirrel by hand, and be aware that if a squirrel begins flicking its tail, it's a warning to keep away.


Raccoons can carry rabies, and though most rabies fatalities stem from bat bites, many more people are treated for rabies from raccoon bites in the United States.

Since the mid-1970s, a new strain of raccoon rabies has been spreading across the eastern United States, and it shows no signs of stopping -- some are even calling it a "re-emerging public health threat."

Raccoons are everywhere and can be aggressive. One undergraduate student at the University of Rochester in New York was bitten while on a library balcony, for instance, prompting school officials to release a "wildlife alert."

To best keep raccoons away from your home, keep garbage containers tightly closed and try adding a splash of ammonia to it (which raccoons don't like). Also, since raccoons prefer darkness, installing motion-activated outdoor lights could help deter them.


Mice (and rats) in your home are a serious and severe cause of allergies and asthma. One Johns Hopkins study found that more than 25 percent of the homes tested contained levels of mouse allergen high enough to aggravate asthma symptoms.

Mice can also carry the Hantavirus, which causes a disease known as Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS). You can become infected with this deadly disease through contaminated dust from the mice's droppings, urine and/or saliva in and out of your home.

What should you do if mice have infiltrated your home? Said pediatric allergist Elizabeth Matsui, M.D., the lead author of the Johns Hopkins study, "One of the best ways parents can manage their child's asthma is to control the home environment and remove any asthma triggers, including mouse allergen. They can do this by sealing cracks and holes in doors and walls, thoroughly disposing of all food remains, and having pest exterminators treat their home." (Of course, recommends only treating your home with natural pest repellants).


"Having adapted well to neighborhoods, it's not uncommon to find skunks and domestic cats dining peacefully together. There have been cases of skunks entering homes through pet doors, dining with the family cat and finding a quiet closet or empty bed to spend the night. As long as the skunk does not feel threatened, it won't spray," writes Project Wildlife of San Diego.

The problem, of course, occurs if the skunk does decide to spray. If a skunk feels threatened because it is approached and unable to flee or is protecting its young, it will fluff its fur, stamp the ground, growl and spit. If you see a skunk doing this, it's time to back off.

If these approaches don't work, the skunk may spray a sulfur compound called N- bulymercaptan. A skunk can accurately hit a target within a range of 15 feet.

Skunk spray can cause irritation and temporary blindness if sprayed in the eyes, and, of course, smells very offensive -- but it won't cause permanent damage. If you or a pet is sprayed by a skunk, you should wash immediately with carbolic soap and water, tomato juice or vinegar. You can also try this homemade skunk-spray remover for your pet.

Skunk-Spray Remover

  • 1 quart 3% peroxide
  • 1/4 cup baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon liquid hand soap
  • Mix ingredients together
  • Wash fur (avoiding eyes, ears and mouth) and let soak for five minutes
  • Rinse well

Recommended Reading

The Rise of Contagious Disease & How to Minimize Your Risk of Contagious Disease Exposure

Floodwaters Carry Dangerous Bacteria: What You Should Do if YOU are Exposed to Bad Bacteria

Squirrels Attack!

Drug Suspect's Pet Squirrel Attacks Officer

Project Wildlife: Living With Skunks

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