The bright-eyed squirrels that are so appealing when chattering in the trees outside your home, eating acorns or chestnuts, are much less appealing if they find a way into your home. There are more than 30 species of tree-dwelling squirrels, rodents in the Sciurini subfamily. While these animals are widely tolerated, even admired in their outdoor habitat, make no mistake—these rodents are closely related to rats and mice, and if they infest your home, they can be even more damaging.
Squirrels typically go through two breeding cycles a year in late winter and early spring, and a nest of squirrels in your attic, walls, or rafters can do substantial damage as they gnaw through insulation, wood, or even electrical wires and plumbing pipes.
The good news is that a squirrel is usually more scared of you than you are of it. As recommended by the Humane Society of the United States, there are six tips you should consider before getting lethal.
Squirrels are not naturally aggressive, but they may get frantic if cornered. Bites or scratches are possible, so use care if you are trying to chase a squirrel or when trying to release one you have caught. A bite or scratch can become infected or lead to transmission of a viral disease.
6 Ways to Get Rid of Squirrels in Your House
Wait for It to Find Its Way Out
If a squirrel gets into an inhabited space—such as down a chimney and into an open room—its natural instinct will be to get out, and get out quickly. It does not want to nest or make a home in a house with lots of human activity. The first solution to try is to make it easy for the squirrel to find the exit.
Remove any pets from the room where the squirrel is running or hiding. Also, remove any foods or snacks that might give the squirrel a reason to hang around. Close any doors that open into other parts of the house, but open all doors and windows that open to the outside.
Then, leave the room yourself, and let the squirrel find its way out. If the squirrel is in an upper-level room, open only the windows that are above grass and trees. Do not open windows that fall steeply down to concrete or hard surfaces. In most cases, the squirrel will vacate the premises within a few minutes.
Remove Squirrels From the Attic
Attics and other unoccupied upstairs spaces are common places for squirrels to take up residence, since they are usually uninhabited, and holes or missing fascia boards along the roofline often provide easy entry points. But squirrels will be unlikely to stay if these spaces suddenly become active and inhabited.
If you have squirrels in the attic, try frightening them out of the house with loud noises. Rap on the ceiling, walls, or rafters; talk or yell loudly; bang pans; or turn on a radio, television, or other ongoing music or sound and leave it playing day and night.
If the loud-noise method doesn't work, set up a bright light in the area and leave it on through the day and night. And, you can soak rags in cider vinegar and set them around the attic. Squirrels do not like the vinegar smell, so they are likely to leave.
Continuous sound, bright light, and certain smells will also deter squirrels from entering an attic in the first place.
Remove Baby Squirrels From the Attic
If pesky adult squirrels refuse to leave the attic, you may have a nest of babies that is preventing the adults from abandoning the house.
If you can, it is best to wait until the babies grow enough to leave on their own. They may do this naturally in a few weeks when they are old enough to move around with the mother. If you don't want to wait, it's best to hire a professional who can safely relocate the family.
If you seal the entry points into the house and you notice the squirrels keep trying to get back in, it may be that there are babies trapped inside. In that case, a professional should be called.
Catch the Squirrel With a Blanket
If the squirrel is cornered but not moving, put on heavy gloves and hold a blanket in front of you. Slowly approach the squirrel, then quickly drop the blanket on it and roll it up. Don't roll it too tight or push too hard, or you risk injuring the creature.
Carry the blanket-wrapped squirrel outside, close the door to your house, open it onto the ground away from you, and let it make its escape.
Remove a Squirrel in the Chimney
Squirrels sometimes climb down the chimney flues on traditional wood-burning fireplaces, seeking a place to nest. On rare occasion when the fireplace has not been operated for a long time, they may even create a nest in the space above the fireplace damper.
Make loud noises at the fireplace to scare the squirrel up the chimney and encourage it back out to the roof. You can also carefully attach a long, thick rope (at least 3/4 inch thick) to the top of the chimney, and drop it down. This will provide the squirrel with a way to climb out. Normally, though, the squirrel will react to noise and attention by climbing out of the chimney on its own.
What Causes Squirrels in the House?
Squirrels enter your home for the same reasons as mice, rats, and other rodents: They are seeking food, warm shelter, and nesting areas. If your home has easy access points, squirrels will have an invitation to come indoors and attempt to set up housekeeping.
How to Prevent Squirrels in the House
Once you have gotten the squirrel out of your house, try to find out how it entered your home and block those entry points. Look for tracks around the chimney, inspect the attic for nests, and check the foundation and exterior for holes. Trim back any overhanging tree branches that allow squirrels to reach your roof or eaves.
Seal any potential entry point to prevent another squirrel or another wild animal from getting in. Metal flashing can be a sealant, as the animals cannot chew through it to get back in. Cover chimneys with chimney caps. Keep all exterior doors closed when not in use.
Do not feed squirrels or provide easy food sources like open garbage cans. Take measures to keep squirrels from stealing the birdseed from your feeders. If pet foods or birdseed are stored in the garage, place them in sealed metal containers.
The more squirrels congregate around your home, the more likely they are to find a way into your house or garage, so do whatever you can to make your property unappealing to these rodents.
Can squirrels carry rabies and other diseases?
Although transmission to humans is rare, squirrels can potentially carry some of the same diseases carried by rats and mice, including encephalitis, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, leptospirosis, and even rabies. Don't take any risks when chasing or trying to catch squirrels.
What do I do with a trapped, live squirrel?
Carefully release any squirrel you have caught into the yard outside your home. Take steps as soon as possible to seal your home to ensure it doesn't return. Take care when releasing a trapped squirrel, as it will be agitated and could possibly scratch or even bite you.
What about spray repellants?
The same spray mixes that are used by gardeners to protect plants and buried bulbs from being consumed by rabbits, squirrels, and woodchucks may also work to chase squirrels out of an attic or other indoor space. But these concoctions have a powerful odor that you may waft through your house if you apply them heavily in your attic.
Can I poison or hunt squirrels?
The same poison baits used for rats are sometimes mistakenly used to try to kill squirrels, chipmunks, and other rodents. This is not only illegal but cruel, as these larger rodents may incur serious internal but nonfatal damage from consuming rat baits. Further, squirrels very often will drop rat bait into yards, where family pets can eat it.
Your state or community may, however, have legal trapping or hunting seasons for animals such as squirrels and rabbits. This might be an option if you live in such an area and have no moral qualms about hunting. In some regions, squirrel and rabbit meat are often consumed in stews or used in other recipes. In others, though, trapping a live animal and moving it off your property is actually illegal: Research your local regulations before taking action.
Do ultrasonic devices work?
Triggered by motion, these electronic devices emit a high-pitched sound that is inaudible to humans but very irritating to squirrels and other rodents. These can be expensive devices but are worth a try if other methods have failed. However, some pets may be affected by the high-pitched noise emitted by these devices.
When should I call a professional?
A professional exterminator may be the best choice when all other methods fail, or when you suspect that the squirrels are nesting within wall or ceiling cavities. These hidden squirrels will be very hard to get rid of without the tools and materials used by professionals.
If you do hire an exterminator, specify if you wish for the animals to be live-trapped only. Where allowed, some exterminators may use spring traps that kill the squirrels.
Tree Squirrels. Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Pests in Gardens and Landscapes: Tree Squirrels. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program, 2016.
Aflitto, Nicholas and DeGomez, Tom. Sonic Pest Repellant Devices. University of Arizona College of Agricultural Sciences, 2015.