Can I eat the squirrels in my backyard?

Quick Answer

No, it is generally not legal or advisable to eat squirrels from your backyard. There are health risks associated with eating wild squirrels, and in most places, it is illegal to hunt or trap squirrels without proper permits and licenses. It’s best to avoid trying to eat backyard squirrels.

Laws and Regulations Around Hunting Squirrels

In the United States, hunting and trapping laws for squirrels vary by state. In general, to legally hunt or trap squirrels, you need a valid hunting license and may need additional permits or licenses for certain methods like trapping. Even with proper permits, there are typically bag limits, seasons, and other regulations around harvesting squirrels that must be followed.

Shooting or trapping squirrels in city limits or discharging firearms in a residential area is usually prohibited. So for squirrels in your urban or suburban backyard, eating them would very likely be breaking local laws.

Health and Safety Issues with Eating Squirrels

Eating squirrel meat comes with some health risks that need to be considered:

  • Squirrels can carry diseases like salmonella, roundworms, or Lyme disease that can transfer to humans. Proper cooking can reduce this risk but does not eliminate it.
  • Squirrel brains and spinal columns may contain prion proteins that can cause transmissible spongiform encephalopathies like variably protease-sensitive prionopathy (VPSPr), a rare but fatal brain condition.
  • Squirrels living in urban or suburban areas have likely been exposed to pesticides, rodenticides, or other chemicals through their habitat and food sources. These can accumulate in their tissues.
  • Lead exposure is a concern with squirrels as well if they have been eating seeds coated with lead-based paint or other lead sources.

For these reasons, most wildlife and health experts warn against eating squirrels from your backyard unless thoroughly tested and properly prepared. The health risks outweigh any benefits.

Ethical Considerations of Eating Backyard Squirrels

Beyond legal restrictions and health warnings, there are ethical issues to consider before eating neighborhood squirrels:

  • Is the squirrel being killed humanely and swiftly?
  • How will killing the squirrel impact the local ecosystem and other wildlife that may depend on squirrels as a food source or tree seed dispersers?
  • Is the squirrel a beloved neighborhood pet that would be recognized and missed by neighbors?
  • Are there alternatives for sustainable and ethical game meat if that is the goal?

Taking a squirrel’s life for food should involve careful reflection on these ethical questions and humane hunting practices.

Purchasing Squirrel Meat Legally

If you want to eat squirrel for the experience or as a sustainable meat source, it may be better to purchase legally and humanely hunted or farmed squirrel meat. Some options include:

– Finding a specialty game meat supplier in your region that offers farm-raised or wild-harvested squirrels. These companies follow regulated practices for safety.

– Purchasing dressed or cooked squirrels from licensed hunters and trappers during hunting season if your state allows the sale of wild game.

– Joining a squirrel hunting club if you want to learn to hunt and prepare squirrels yourself. These groups assist with legal hunting, preparing squirrels, and cooking recipes.

This avoids risks from backyard or illegal squirrel meat while still letting you try unique game dishes.

Tips for Coexisting with Backyard Squirrels

Instead of viewing neighborhood squirrels as a food source, here are tips for peacefully coexisting:

– Use deterrents like sprinklers or odors to discourage squirrels from areas where they aren’t wanted.

– Remove food attractants like uncovered compost piles and fallen fruit/nuts.

– Feed birds and squirrels away from the house to avoid property damage.

– Plant native nuts and seeds bearing trees to provide habitat and food sources for squirrels.

– Consider habitat boxes, squirrel ropes, and other habitat projects to enrich their environment.

– Appreciate their beneficial roles like dispersing seeds, aerating soil, and controlling insects.

– Call wildlife removal experts for humane squirrel relocation if needed as a last resort.

With some creativity and tolerance, backyard squirrels can be fun nature neighbors instead of food. Their lives have intrinsic value beyond being a meal.


While it may seem appealing or convenient to harvest squirrels from your own property, there are good reasons to avoid eating backyard squirrels in most cases. Laws restrict hunting in residential areas, health risks from consuming urban wildlife are significant, and more ethical options exist for obtaining squirrel meat. With some thoughtful coexistence practices, neighborhood squirrels can be accepted instead of eaten. Careful consideration of all factors is needed to responsibly interact with urban wildlife.

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