But just because a pocket gopher infestation is less scary doesn’t mean there aren’t big risks, since rodents are known to carry diseases.
But do gophers have rabies? And what other diseases might they transmit if one bites you?
Related: Do Gophers Have Tails?
Do Gophers Carry Rabies?
This is a bit of a complicated question. Technically yes, gophers can have rabies. But it is extremely rare.
Other small rodents, such as chipmunks, gerbils, guinea pigs, mice, prairie dogs, rabbits (and hares), rats, and squirrels can also be rabies carriers, but there’s very little chance of that being the case.
More importantly, there are no known documented cases of these critters transmitting rabies to humans.
Large rodents such as groundhogs have been known to transmit rabies to humans.
But if there’s very little chance of running into a rabies-infected gopher, what about the risk of other diseases?
See Also: Do Gophers Hibernate?
Known Gopher Diseases
Again, this is a complicated question, as non-academic sources such as WebMD insist gopher bites can give you all sorts of nasty diseases.
However, reputable government resources tend to tell a different story.
It’s unlikely you’ll contract a disease from a gopher bite, but they can carry the same diseases as other rodents, including:
- Arenavirus infections
- E. coli
- Lyme disease
- Rat bite fever
Where non-academic sources tend to get things wrong is that these diseases are mostly caused by fleas, ticks, and mites – not by gopher bites.
The Threat of Rabies
Rabies is one of the most terrifying diseases out there, and for good reason.
There’s currently no cure, not even a treatment once the disease takes hold!
When a person is suspected of having come into contact with rabies from a bite or handling a dead animal, it’s vital they seek medical care immediately.
Thoroughly washing the wound with soap and water may help eliminate infected saliva before the virus can enter the bloodstream.
Typical ER Response
The patient will be given a rabies immune globulin shot close to the bite wound, when possible.
For domestic animals, there’s sometimes a ten-day observation period for signs of infection.
If the animal shows no symptoms, additional shots are usually not necessary.
For rabies-prone wild animals, the animal unfortunately must be put down and its brain tested directly for the virus.
But when the animal can’t be found, it will all come down to whether the type of animal can be identified and whether it’s a species known to be at risk of rabies.
When shots are required, vaccinated patients will get two shots within three days.
Those not currently vaccinated will get four shots over 14 days.
Incubation Period and Prodromal Period
If not diagnosed in time, this fatal disease will spread from the infected animal bite wound into your bloodstream.
After an incubation period usually lasting between 30 and 90 days, the initial flu-like symptoms will appear.
- Appetite loss
- Paresthesia (“pins and needles” at the wound site)
- Pharyngitis (swollen lymph nodes or sore throat)
This second stage generally lasts between two and 10 days.
Final Acute Neurologic Period
After a couple days, the real damage begins, with a whole potential host of potential physical and psychological symptoms.
The exact types and degrees of reactions can vary based on the initial level of exposure and may include:
- Excessive drooling
- Fear caused by air blowing on the face
- Hyperventilation (sometimes including a form of ancraophobia)
- Ischemic priapism
- Partial paralysis
- Trouble swallowing, often resulting in hydrophobia
- Vomiting blood
These symptoms are partially caused by the brain becoming highly inflamed, which can lead to a coma and death within days or even hours.
Potentially Rabid Animals
Bites from pets such as cats and dogs or farm animals can be carry the same risk of rabies as many wild animals.
The Minnesota Department of Health released an excellent guide on rabies in animals back in 2021.
While hardly complete, it gives a significant list of domestic and wild animals, as well as whether they pose a risk for rabies.
Unfortunately, it’s impossible to ensure all rabies-prone wild animals have been vaccinated, so you should always use caution around wild or stray animals.