How Do Pocket Gophers Protect Themselves?

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Published on September 25, 2022
Last Updated on October 11, 2023

By nature, pocket gophers are not aggressive animals. They are not predators nor particularly large, so they don’t get anything from fighting with other animals. When confronted with a threat, they would rather flee than fight.

Some people might think that they are harmless as a result. Timid as they are, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be careful around these little fellas. 

Just because they don’t like fighting doesn’t mean they are defenseless. A gopher can still hurt you, especially if they think you are dangerous. You should remember this if you find one in the wild or in your backyard.

To avoid getting hurt, you should know what a gopher can do to you, and how to avoid scaring these small rodents.

Gophers Try To Avoid Confrontation with Humans

Like many animals, gophers prefer to avoid confrontation with larger creatures, including humans. If a gopher sees you, it will almost always make a run for it and hide in its burrow.

We say almost because there are cases where a gopher has attacked a human or another, larger animal, though these are usually in extreme circumstances. In most cases, the gopher has a reason for being aggressive such as protecting its territory, being cornered, or carrying a disease.

Do Gophers Attack Other Animals?

If you are worried about your pets or other animals being attacked by gophers, worry not because attacks like these are also rare. Being rather small creatures, most gophers will think twice about attacking pets and since they are not predators, these mammals don’t have anything to gain from it.

These rodents prefer to keep to themselves and will only fight if an animal threatens them first. If your pet gets too close to its territory or barks at a gopher, it might startle it and cause the gophers to attack.

Do Gophers Fight Each Other?

It is a different story if we are talking about gophers encountering fellow gophers, though. Being of the same size and species means these rodents are more willing to risk getting aggressive. 

A gopher will be more aggressive against another member of its species because it might see them as an intruder in its territory.

These little guys are both solitary and highly territorial. They fiercely defend their territory from intruders and are even known to seriously injure other gophers.

The only exception to this rule is a gopher’s mate and children living in the same burrows for a limited time. Other than during the breeding season, it is rare to have multiple gophers in one place, however

How Do Gophers Fight?

If things get nasty and gophers decide to attack, they have several ways to hurt you. Their defense methods are using claws and teeth to scratch and bite attackers.

As natural diggers, gophers have powerful claws that allow them to scoop up dirt, but they can also be used for slashing while their teeth which they usually use for digging up roots and other foods, can do a lot of damage if you’re bitten.

While gopher bites are painful, they aren’t life-threatening to humans. These rodents aren’t trying to seriously hurt you, they just want to give you a warning and tell you to back off.

Another unintended method gophers use to defend themselves is if they are sometimes carrying diseases. Like many mammals, gophers can get infected and transmit diseases such as rabies, leading to serious health problems for pets and other animals.

Why Do Gophers Fight?

If gophers do become aggressive, there is usually a reason for it. Several things might cause one of these small rodents to attack, including:

  • Feeling cornered.
  • Defending their territory or young.
  • Carrying diseases.

Gophers Will Lash Out If Cornered

Gophers are solitary animals who enjoy their privacy and don’t like it when people or other animals get too close to them. That is why they will run away and hide if someone approaches. Getting too close might make them more likely to lash out since they feel like they have nowhere to run. 

Another possibility is that a gopher might be hurt, which means it’s unable to escape on its own. Without the ability to run, a gopher is more likely to panic and attack in the heat of the moment.

If you find a gopher in this state, you should handle the situation carefully. Avoid sudden movements and loud noises that might startle it. Don’t try to approach or grab it since it might be jumpy, and it might mistake your actions as an attack and try to bite you. 

Gophers Can Carry Disease

Some diseases can play a role in affecting a gopher’s behavior, particularly rabies. They get this disease by being bitten by, or otherwise exposed to the saliva of other infected animals, such as rats. Rabies affects their brains and prevents them from acting normally. 

You can tell a gopher has rabies if it acts differently than usual, such as being more aggressive. When this is the case, our rodent friends might attack for no reason. 

If this is the case, you should leave them alone and report the sighting to the authorities. 

Rabid animals pose a danger to people and other animals, so animal control needs to remove the gopher from the area to prevent it from spreading the disease. 

If you get bitten, be sure to seek out medical attention right away. While it is rare for a gopher to transfer rabies to a person, it can still happen in some cases, and when it happens, you’ll need an injection.

How Do Gophers Protect Themselves and Their Young?

Gophers put a lot of work into creating burrows to live in and raise their young, so you can expect they will fight tenaciously to protect them. Aside from other gophers, these rodents are willing to take on larger animals and even people if they think their homes are in danger.

While normally territorial and solitary, gophers make an exception when it comes to their families. Males allow their mates and young to live with them in the burrow until the young reach adulthood and begin to venture out on their own. As with their burrows, gophers will fight viciously to protect their families from intruders. 

Pocket Gophers’ Alternative Defense Mechanisms

There are other ways of protecting yourself aside from using claws or teeth and gophers have figured this out. These clever mammals prefer to run and hide. In order to be even more difficult to catch, they have figured out a few tricks. 

However, along with these real abilities, there are also a few myths about things that people think gophers are able to do. These are adaptations that other animals have that are applied to gophers that need to be cleared up.

Do Gophers Block the Tunnels Behind Them?

Gophers don’t just find a hole to live in; they often dig their homes themselves and make sure it’s secure. Aside from protecting their homes with their claws and teeth, they also protect them by hiding them and making them harder to access.

After creating a burrow, some gophers are known to pack dirt on top of the entrance to make it inaccessible to other animals. This helps them in two ways: first, it makes it harder for predators to find where the gophers live because without a clear entrance, intruders won’t know where the burrows are

The second is that even if predators know the burrows are there, they won’t know how to get inside. Gophers are natural diggers, so they can easily dig themselves out, but animals like snakes and other predators will have a more challenging time reaching inside.

Pocket Gophers Don’t Play Dead

There aren’t recorded cases of gophers playing dead, and no research backing it up. If they play dead, it is likely just an isolated case. Pretending to be dead isn’t one of their primary methods of dealing with predators even if they are desperate. They would rather flee or fight if necessary. But maybe you’re thinking about opossums?

It is worth noting that some of their close cousins, such as groundhogs, are known to play dead. Even groundhogs very rarely play dead, however, and only do so as a last resort.

Can Gophers Spray Like Skunks?

No, gophers cannot spray foul-smelling secretions like a skunk since they don’t have the special glands a skunk has.

One reason pocket gophers might be associated with a bad odor is because of the smell they leave in your home. They do this, not by spraying stink, but by relieving themselves like any other animal.

Gophers are common pests for homeowners because they will stubbornly remain on the property once they claim part of their territory. Unfortunately, that means they often urinate and poop all around, which leaves a powerful and unpleasant smell. 

If you have a pet, animal droppings shouldn’t be anything new. The difference between pets such as cats and dogs on one hand and rodents such as pocket gophers on the other is that the pets do their business on the grass or ground so it is easy to pick up. However, gophers sometimes relieve themselves underground which makes it harder for you to remove.

In fact, gophers are the ones who are badly affected by powerful smells thanks to their sensitive noses. Due to living underground, gophers have poor eyesight but make up for it with a strong sense of smell. 

To keep them away from the property, it’s a standard trick for homeowners to use certain scents to repel them. Things like castor oil or fish scraps are typical scents used to scare away gophers.

Author: Quade Ong

Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world, which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world!


  • Quade Ong

    Hello there, my name is Quade. I have been a writer for three years but an animal lover for over two decades. I grew up in one of the most biodiverse areas in the world which has given me the blessing of seeing all sorts of beautiful animals. Now I strive to learn not just about the animals I am from, but those all over the world.

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