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Squirrel Care

The content in this section on Squirrel Care pertains to tree squirrels, not ground or flying squirrels. It not all-inclusive and excludes information on critically wounded or critically ill infant or adult squirrels. The information provided should not be misconstrued as an endorsement to raise baby squirrels or keep them as "pets," rather, it has been compiled to provide information in case people save a wild squirrel and cannot get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator for proper care, or, in case a squirrel is kept regardless of the law. The Squirrel Lover's Club and the owners of this website assume no responsibility for the use or misuse of any information, nor does it encourage unlawfulness. Information is provided so that squirrels will not suffer and/or die, or live unhappy and unhealthy lives in capitivity because of well-meaning, uninformed people. It also is meant to provide information for squirrel lovers who enjoy the pastime of feeding squirrels in their yard or at the park (Food For Squirrels in the Wild) and who might want to learn some general information about predators or ailments of squirrels. Please read through the contents list that follows the Orphaned Squirrel Critical Information to determine what heading relates to your particular interest or need. If you have found a baby squirrel, it is crucial that you read the information that immediately follows before you continue reading through the entire section on Squirrel Care. To find a wildlife rehabber in your area, conduct a search on-line by using keywords such as "wildlife rehabilitator" and the name of your state.

ORPHANED SQUIRREL CRITICAL INFORMATION:

  • Do NOT feed a cold baby squirrel. Doing so will cause death. Place baby in a small box with warm, unscented fabrics such as  t-shirts or fleece. Do not use material that feet and nails can get entangled in such as terry cloth or other materials that are loopy or can easily become thread-like. Baby should be covered, but should be able to breathe. If possible, place box that contains fabric on a heating pad set on low. You can place the box half on and half off so the baby can move if he or she gets too warm. Allow baby to get warm for 45 minutes before you do anything else with the baby. If you do not have a heating pad, you can use a hot water bottle wrapped in fabric or another type of bottle that is wrapped in fabric that can be tightly sealed to avoid leaks.   
  • Keep baby away from noise (television, music, phones, vacuum cleaner, etc.), pets, children, and odors (cooking, smoke, perfume, etc.) as these elements can adversely affect the nervous and respiratory systems.
  • Be aware that some information on the internet on squirrel care is not healthy. Improper care will lead to death. The use of certain commerial formulas is often the cause of death even though some rehabbers, websites, and veterinarians might use them.
  • Realize that although squirrel babies are cute, it is difficult to keep one as a "pet" because they require special care, a large habitat, and a human who can make a long-term commitment (even up to 20 years) to take care of the squirrel. In addition, squirrels are wild animals who can become aggressive when they reach around one year of age and may bite. 
  • Acquaint yourself with the laws in your state in regard to having a wild animal. Fines may exist and possible jail time. In some instances, animals have been seized and put to death because officials have deemed them unreleasable because they have been imprinted by humans. 
  • Some people who have kept a squirrel as a pet for a few years decide that the squirrel is "too much work" or is too destructive or the squirrel has become aggressive (sometimes because of inadequate care) and they want to release it. Squirrels have to be readied for release and should not be let go without the proper readiness. Releasing a squirrel that has been in captivity for a few years presents imminent danger to the squirrel for he has not learned how to forage for food, build a nest, defend himself from other squirrels who have established their territory, protect himself from predators, and survive in natural elements (wind, rain, etc.). This is best done by an expert, though unfortunately some will take the squirrel in and then will euthanize them instead of release them. Others might release a squirrel without adequate pre-release time, stating that the squirrel's instincts will immediately kick in. The more likely result is that the squirrel will die. If you have raised a squirrel around pets, the squirrel will not have the natural instinct to avoid animals that can be harmful such as other peoples' cats and dogs nor will he be cautious around humans. 
  • To determine the age of a squirrel, review the six photos that follow the contents list. When you call a rehabber, you might be asked some information such as approximate size or age, so be prepared. Ask questions. Keep track of what you have done so that you can aid the rehabber. If you you must feed a squirrel before you take him in, keep in mind that a rehabber might use a different type of formula than you have which will make it harder on the squirrel's digestive system and recovery.        
     
CONTENTS: (You must arrow down to get to the listed topics.)

Determining Infant Squirrel's Age Photo Gallery (photos: Will Clark - Florida)
Formula and Feeding - Infant Squirrels
Bedding and Habitat - Infant Squirrels
Proper Diet for Weaned Squirrels in Captivity
Habitat and Toys for Adolescent Squirrels
Food For Squirrels in the Wild
Predators of Squirrels
Ailments (photos: Will Clark - Florida)



DETERMINING INFANT SQUIRREL'S AGE PHOTO GALLERY:

   
2 days old                               1 week old

 
2 weeks old                             3 weeks old

   
5 weeks old                             7 weeks old


FORMULA and FEEDING - INFANT SQUIRRELS:

If you are hand-raising a baby squirrel rather than taking a squirrel to a rehabber, beware that some commercial formulas lead to death. Proper diet and feeding is essential for healthy bones, teeth, and general health. Be sure to read about the feeding amount, schedule, device, and position.
 
Fox Valley 32/40 is recommended by rehabbers as a safe formula for squirrels. It is species specific. Some rehabbers switch to Fox Valley 20/50 after 4 weeks or so. Contact information for Fox Valley is shown below. While waiting for the Fox Valley formula to arrive, one of the formulas below can be used for short term use only. Do not use kitten milk. It does not have the correct fat content which is essential for growth and health. 

Fox Valley Contact Information:
foxvalleynutrition.com       Sales/Technical Service (800) 679-4666 (inside US)
Outside US (815) 385-6404    Fax: (815) 578-4240

Formula For Short-Term Use: (choose one only)

Goat's Milk Formula:

3 parts goat's milk
1 part whipping (heavy) cream
1 part all-natural yogurt with bacterial culture (vanilla or natural-flavor), not low-fat. Brands of all-natural yogurt can be found in either a grocery store or a health food store, some of which are Dannon, Stonyfield Farms, and Brown Cow. Check the expiration date. Make fresh formula daily.

OR

Just Born (only for short-term, a couple of days) 
  
Feeding Amount, Schedule, Device and Position:

The amount to feed a baby squirrel per feeding correlates somewhat to age number. For example, babies who are one week old might take 1 c.c. per feeding. Do not force squirrel to take more than he/she wants, but do not starve him/her by offering only a few drops per feeding.

AMOUNT: 

1 week = approximately 1 cc per feeding
2 weeks = approximately 2 cc per feeding
3 weeks = approximately 3 cc per feeding
4 weeks = approximately 4 cc per feeding
6 weeks = 4-6 cc per feeding  (some only take 3 cc four times daily at 6-7 weeks)
10-14 weeks = varies anywhere from 6 cc-18 cc per feeding four times daily

SCHEDULE:

Be consistent with the schedule, feeding every 3 hours around the clock. At 3-4 weeks, feed every 4 hours. Feeding interval can be reduced to feeding every six hours at 6-7 weeks.
 
Example: 3-Hour Feeding Schedule
 
6 am    9 am     noon    3 pm    6 pm    9 pm    midnight    3 am
                          

DEVICE and POSITION:

Device: For tiny babies and "pinkies" (hairless, pink babies), use a 1 cc syringe (1 ml) and only feed a drop at time and allow baby to learn to suck from the device. Go slowly or fluid will go into baby lungs and cause death. Bubbling through the nose is an indicator. Babies can also get pneumonia from improperly feed milk. A pipette can be used in place of a small syringe if the opening is little as the 1 cc syringe.

As milk amount increases,  Keep a container of warm formula beside you so you can readily fill the feeding device. as the food intake increases over the weeks. When baby is around six weeks old, you can switch to a 3 cc syringe, but again, go slowly as the opening will be larger and the baby must grow accustomed to the change. An O-ring syringe (3 cc) and Catac nipple can be used for older babies. Use a utility knife to create a tiny hole. Never use scissors as the whole will be too big and will drown the baby. Test to make sure the hole is the proper size and that milk is coming out. Purchase glycerine from the drug store to keep syringes loose. Do not feed baby glycerin. Never use glass eye droppers for feeding!

Clean nipple and syringe with cool water and allow to air dry with plunger still in syringe tube. Do not sterilize or use hot water on feeding device.  

Position: Keep baby warm by wrapping in soft, unscented fabric while you hold and support baby in an upright position. NEVER feed a baby lying on its back. Feed in an environment that is quiet and calm. Young babies should not be passed around nor played with. They need to eat and sleep. After feeding, you must stimulate the baby to help baby to urinate and defecate. Do this gently by lightly dabbing a warm cotton ball on the privates. Cease doing this when the baby is able to eliminate on his or her own. Avoid wearing perfume or cologne or keep it to a bare minimum as scents can be overwhelming to a baby's respiratory system.

BEDDING and HABITAT - INFANT SQUIRRELS:

Raising a baby squirrel to release (or keep) requires providing a series of habitats that progressively get larger as the squirrel matures. This is the largest expense in regard to caring for a squirrel. Very young babies can be kept in a pet carrier or something else small that is enclosed and enables air to flow through for a couple of weeks. A pet carrier that has a top opening allows you to remove the baby easily for feeding. Another option is a tiny hamster habitat (less than 2 feet by 2 feet). No large habitats at this age. Place layers of clean fleece on the bottom of the habitat and inside baby's bed. DO NOT USE NEWSPAPER OR COMMERCIAL SHAVINGS in habitat as it is harmful to a squirrel's respiratory system. Do not place baby in a hanging ferret hammock as it can fall out when scooting around. Provide a dark, quiet, soft place for baby to sleep.

A baby that is around 10 weeks old and is quite able to walk around and explore safely can be moved to a small commerical cage such as a ferret cage (around 2 feet by 2 feet), that can include ramps to enable climbing to different levels. Again, provide fleece on the bottom of the cage and a place to sleep. Do NOT use a plastic container for a bed. Remove plastic liners that come with cage and replace with carpet remnants that are clean and free of chemical odors. Do not use fabric in habitat that finger nails and toe nails can get hung up in. Non-stretchy fleece works well. To launder, only use dye-free, perfume-free detergent and dryer sheets to avoid respiratory problems. It is not necessary to change bedding daily. Every few days is adequate. Squirrels like the comfort of their own scent and they are clean animals. Keep extra fabric (fleece) on hand to aid in cleaning habitat quickly. Should the habitat need to be wiped clean, only use a little bit of distilled white vinegar mixed with water. No cleansers! 

Keep babies in a quiet, safe environment away from loud sounds (tv, radio, vacuum, barking dogs, telephone, children). Talk to the baby in a low, soothing tone so that he or she will remain calm and will not jolt whenever you appear. 

PROPER DIET for WEANED SQUIRRELS IN CAPTIVITY:

When a baby squirrel begins to refuse milk and/or begins to chew on the cage, it is time to introduce solid food. The squirrel will be around eight weeks or older. It varies from squirrel to squirrel. Teeth will allow the baby to crumble a half piece of SHELLED pecan after the morning milk feeding and the last milk of the day. Do not overfeed nuts. Two halves twice daily at this stage after the milk feedings is plenty. At this point, the squirrel should be consuming around 15 cc of formula at each of the four feedings. 

Introduce new foods gradually. Just as with human babies, taste buds develop slowly as does digestion of certain foods. In addition, squirrels can easily choke on slimy offerings (grapes, peaches and other very soft fruits). Begin with a firm vegetable like zucchini and over time offer tiny morsels of new veggies and fruits. See list. Do NOT give frozen fruits and vegetables and do wash and peel most fruits and vegetables because of pesticides. In addition, you do not want peels littering the habitat. Certified organic food is a good choice if possible. Although it would seem natural to allow a squirrel to eat any kind of seed, be aware that this can be DEADLY. Look over the food list provided to acquaint yourself with this important information. As you are introducing new foods and baby is eating more solids, it is okay to move toward feeding the formula only 2-3 times daily. 

An improper diet will lead to maladies and/or sudden death. Although you might be tempted (and coerced by a squirrel) into feeding too many nuts, it is essential that a proper diet is offered FIRST and nuts are offered later. Squirrels of all ages need a balance of certain nutrients -- calcium and magnesium especially -- to survive. Without the proper diet, a sudden seizure can occur, much like a stroke can occur in humans, and paralysis and most likely death will occur even though a squirrel might only be a few months old. As a responsible caregiver, you will want to provide food ONLY from the food list, water (after milk feeding has ceased), and a vitamin supplement.

Always wash food (with water only) and pat dry with clean, dry paper towel.
Size: A small portion not more than 1/2 teaspoon per meal.
Quantity: Four veggies and four fruits twice daily. Do not give too much of any one item as health issues may develop. Offer nuts last.
Do NOT give junk food to a squirrel. It is harmful! This includes (but is not limited to) such things as cookies, cake, candy, chocolate, crackers, pizza, tortilla and other chips, commercial nut/fruit mixes, etc. Cereal is particularly harmful. Do not leave food in habitat for more than a few hours because of spoilage.

Foods that are calcium-rich are marked with a + symbol. Please read the entire list to learn what foods interfere with calcium absorption and should be offered separately.

Allowable Veggies:

Romaine Lettuce +
Swiss Chard + Turnip Greens + Collards + Kale+ or Tender Leaves from top of Beets +
Broccoli +
Squash (butternut, yellow summer squash, zucchini), peeled if not organic
Cucumber (peeled if waxed or not organic)
Endive
Red or Green Bell Pepper (peeled)
Okra (1/2 inch)
Sugar Snap Peas (1/2 pea)
Snow Peas (1/2 pea)
Fresh Corn (seldom) 1" slice cut in half or scrape corn from cob. Wash well (pesticides).
Green Bean (1/2" piece). Give seldom and apart from calcium-rich foods; blocks calcium.

Fruit:

Note: Feed berries and grapes apart from foods that contain calcium.

Orange + (Remove peel, seeds and stringy parts.) Serving: 1 teaspoon
Banana (peeled) Serving: 1/2 slice cut in half
Seedless Grapes (only) Peel to avoid old skin in habitat. Serving: 1-2 daily 
Avocado + (no pit!) Always taste first even if it looks okay. Serving: 1/2 teaspoon
Blueberries, organic preferred. Serving: 2-3 daily 
Blackberry or Strawberry (Are high in pesticides. Organic preferred.) Serving: 1/2 daily
Red Delicious Apple (peeled, no seeds). Serving: around 1 teaspoon. Other types of apples are fine, but might not be liked.
Mulberries (fresh from tree if not chemically-treated) Serving: 4 per meal
Peach or Nectarine (Pits are toxic!). Fresh and peeled. If not fresh, buy peaches in glass jar in produce section. Canned peaches can have an odd metallic taste.
Pear (Peeled) Serving: 1/2 teaspoon
Dried cranberry, raisin or currant (only from the health food store and only unsulphured and natural). Keep refrigerated. Serving: 1-2 once daily.
Fresh Fig (dried is too tough) Available during winter holiday season, usually at a health food store in the fresh produce section. Keep refrigerated. Serving: 1/2 teaspoon.
Pineapple (peeled) Serving: 1 teaspoon
Mango (Peel is toxic. Remove pit.) Seldom feed this. Taste first. Serving: 1/2 teaspoon
Kiwi (peeled) Taste it first. Serving: 1/2 teaspoon. This fruit spoils quickly.
Cantaloupe (peeled) Serving: 1/2 teaspoon

Nuts:

Note: Do NOT overfeed nuts as problems can occur including obesity, failure to eat a balanced diet of fruits and veggies (holding out for nuts), heart problems, and undesirable behaviour such as "protecting- the-nuts aggressiveness." Researchers have claimed that peanuts are not healthy and may cause illnesses in squirrels.

NUTS:    Pecans   Walnuts   Hazelnuts   Brazil Nuts   Almonds 

Seeds:

Sunflower Seeds (striped and black oil). Only feed this seldom as it can lead to health and behavioral issues. Squash, pumpkin, or watermelon seeds are okay, but dry (bake) them yourself and avoid commercial pumpkin seeds. Do not add salt.

HABITAT for ADOLESCENT SQUIRRELS:

Squirrels that are mature enough to be released (5 1/2 months old; 7 months for some who are not ready) should be kept in a large pre-release cage outside with a rough cedar nesting box high up in the cage until it is time for release. Be sure to have proper shade and protection from the weather and predators during this transition time. Allow 3-4 weeks in a pre-release cage: 4 feet x 4 feet x 7 feet. Provide natural limbs for climbing practice from any of the following trees from outside: hackberry, apple, oak, sycamore, or maple. Provide food and water for released squirrels and oversee any problems while they grow accustomed to the wild. Don't release during harsh weather conditions. Wait. 

Squirrels that are not going to be released should have a large-sized habitat where exercise and climbing is possible when they are old enough, around 5 1/2 months. Handicapped squirrels may require a different dwelling. Place a rough cedar house in the habitat or a ferret cube with metal clasp, not plastic. Be prepared to replace ferret cube many times as a squirrel will chew the hanging device. Do not use paint on anything! Fasten climbing limbs from the outside with the hardware safely installed to avoid any possible accidents on protrusions. Provide clean pieces of fleece or other fabric that will not easily thread for the sleeping area. SEE information earlier in the baby habitat text regarding washing bedding and cleaning habitat. Avoid dyes and perfumes when washing. Remove squirrel from area if you are vacuuming as the noise can be harmful.

Provide a fabric (never plastic!) dog toy that you have altered for sleeping with or wrestling with. Alter as follows: 1) Use a seam ripper to make an opening and remove old stuffing and squeaker. 2) Re-stuff with pieces of clean perfume-free fleece that you have cut up into small pieces. 
3) Sew up seam.

Provide an area for eating such as a rough cedar shelf or a non-painted metal surface such as can be found in bird cages (but not where feet can fall through). Never use any unnatural shelving like that found in hardware stores or furniture departments. Use metal dishes for food and a glass water bottle (attached from the outside).

Chew sticks are necessary not only for activity, but because squirrels must chew so their teeth won't grow up into the skull. Only give apple, maple, sycamore, oak or hackberry. Do not confuse hackberry with elm. Use a search engine to find a photo of hackberry so you can identify it. Remove the leaves. Do not give pecan branches. Some pet supply stores carry KA-BOB Apple Orchard Sticks which can be given to squirrels. Do not offer other items that list them as good or healthy for furry friends. Be a label reader. 

No plastic in habitat. When the squirrel comes out to interact and play, squirrel-proof the area. Electrical wires, uncapped outlets (put in a plastic plug), unclosed toilets, hot burners, and so much more can lead to death. Do not provide any hamster toys such as exercise wheels. 

PROPER FEEDING OF SQUIRRELS IN THE WILD:

Feeding squirrels in your own back yard, in the park, or other place in nature is an enjoyable and uplifting experience.  Both parties benefit from the experience. In addition, it is a good way to teach children to be kind to animals and to teach them to be good stewards on our planet. In a world where too much violence exists, children can feel frightened and worried, and they can see violence as a normal way to live. Set an example so that they can be part of making this a better planet for all living beings. 

Various feeders are available for squirrels. Feeder boxes can be filled with a mixture of two types of sunflower seeds. striped and black oil. On top of this, or separately, you can offer unpeeled, seedless red grapes, washed blueberries, and small pieces of unpeeled apple. You can install other types of feeders that will hold an apple or field corn. A ladle or container can be hung from a stockade fence or can be attached to a tree to keep small fruit separated from the seeds. Remove uneaten food before it spoils. Birds will also enjoy these treats. Feeder boxes will provide food for squirrels and discourage flocks of birds from eating everything before the squirrels have had a chance to eat. Peanuts are often the food choice people make when feeding squirrels, but be aware that researchers have linked peanuts with health issues in squirrels. Avoid or limit feeding peanuts, especially salted. Pecans and walnuts are a better choice.

Despite what you might have read elsewhere, squirrels do enjoy water. During the winter months when all is frozen, you can use an electric dog dish to provide water. 

Always try to place food and water close to an escape route should predators interrupt dining. Sometimes this will not be located in a place where you can readily enjoy watching the squirrels; however, the safety of the squirrels should be the priority.

PREDATORS OF SQUIRRELS:

Humans cause more squirrel deaths than do predators according to sources. These deaths occur from hunters, vehicles, and evil-doers who intentionally end lives. See ARTICLES section.

Predators include hawks, eagles, falcons, owls, and other large birds. Additionally, snakes, foxes, racoons, coyotes, weasels, and oppossums cause death. 

AILMENTS:

Photos: Will Clark, Florida

The following photos are provided to help people to visually identify certain skin changes in squirrels. The first two photos show mange which should not be confused with normal molting squirrels experience yearly, shown in photos 3 and 4.

Photos 5 and 6 show squirrels who have been infested with botfly. Photos 7 and 8 show a fungal infection/ringworm.

Other conditions exist, such as malocclusion (not pictured), where incisors (teeth) are overgrown which prevents a squirrel from being able to eat, chew, and swallow normally, or drink sufficiently.  Unresolved, this condition can lead to death. 


  
Photo 1: Mange                 Photo 2: Mange


  
Photo 3: Molting                Photo 4: Molting


  
Photo 5: Botfly                  Photo 6: Botfly


  
        Photos 7 & 8: Fungal Infection: Ringworm     
 
 

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