HOW TO CARE FOR BABY SQUIRRELS
Last Edited: July 9, 2019
You found a baby squirrel, now what?
Make sure the little squirrel is really a baby, just because the squirrel is tiny doesn't mean he's a baby. If the squirrel has a fluffed-out tail or a body longer than 6”, he's probably fine on his own. If you’re sure this is truly a baby and doesn't have visible wounds, the main goal is to get the baby squirrel warm and to reunite with its mom. Usually, the baby has just fallen from the nest. Check your surroundings to see if there is a fallen nest nearby, if there are other squirrels, etc. Do not leave the baby squirrel in the yard unless you know for sure when the nest fell and where. If the mom is going to come and get the babies, she will do so right away after the nest or babies have fallen. If the mother is not in sight, the baby could need help right now because it is getting colder by the minute and seen as prey for many animals. If you believe the baby fell recently and the mother is nearby you can keep it warm in a nest box until she retrieves it.
Make a nest box using a small plastic container (lid off) and fleece blanket to put the baby squirrel in. Use gloves or a soft cloth to pick up the baby and put it in the box outside. If you use a cardboard box it will dehydrate the baby. Towels will catch on its nails and injure it, use a soft blanket or shirt. Baby squirrels are too young to generate their own heat so having a temporary heat source is essential. Monitor the baby to make sure it stays at a normal body temperature (approx. 96-101° F). You can pour some uncooked dry rice or uncooked dry beans in a small sock, tie it off, and heat in a microwave for 30 seconds until warm (will need to reheat about every 2 hours). If you don’t have rice and beans, you can use a water bottle filled with warm water and put it in a soft sock for the squirrel to cuddle up to. If the mother doesn’t come within 30 mins, bring the baby inside. If it is nighttime, or there are potential harmful animals nearby (dogs), bring the baby inside immediately without waiting for the mother. Only until you’ve seen that the baby squirrel has been alone for some time and the mother is not retrieving it, should you remove it from the environment.
If the mother did not retrieve the baby, you should bring it inside full time and consider it a rescue. Once the baby is inside you can place the lid on the plastic container, but make sure there are holes in the top of the lid. If a squirrel rescue is not nearby, and you are dedicated to rescuing and raising the squirrel yourself, start acquiring what you’ll need. The baby squirrel should be moved into a more stable home than a plastic container, it would be best to get a Nest Box filled with soft bedding. Made with 100% natural cotton fibers, this nesting material is soft, cozy, and makes squirrels feel safe and secure. Remember, towels and other materials will catch on its nails. Fleece Nesting Pouches are a great option for safety and comfort. You can use the heating tricks above temporarily, but will need a no-auto-shutoff heating pad eventually. Place a Heating Pad underneath one side of the box. That way if the squirrel becomes too hot, it can simply move to the other, cooler side of the box. This heater is animal-safe and provides continuous, adjustable heating temperature to your pet. If the squirrel is too young to move itself, set the heating pad on low and monitor the baby’s temperature to see what the best placement and settings of the pad will be.
When the baby is warm, check for injuries using a light cloth. Carefully clean baby with blue Dawn soap or Instant Shampoo, which is a no-rinse formula that gently loosens dirt, dissolves oils, and deodorizes a squirrel's skin and coat. Remove any visible parasites (fleas, larva, eggs, etc.) on baby’s skin using an old toothbrush and/or tweezers. Then use a Q-tip to stimulate the genital area, rubbing their "nethers" with a wet and warm cloth gently. There are many helpful vidoes on youtube that will show you how to stimulate your squirrel to make them pee, demonstrate proper feeding techniques, etc.
Before feeding, make sure the baby squirrel is warm. Baby squirrels cannot digest food when cold. Use O-Ring syringes with Wonder Nipples attached. The steps of feeding are - rehydrate baby first (using homemade fluid), then feed baby (using pedialyte, homemade milk replacers, and then squirrel milk replacers). Steps of hydration are listed below in FAQ. After being rehydrated, you can temporarily give your baby squirrel unflavored pedialyte for the first 24 hours of care, before beginning milk feedings. Pedialyte is very high in sodium and can only be used for a short time. Kitten formula is not usable, squirrel babies need much more fat and way less protein than kitten milk provides. You can use one of our Squirrel Nursing Sets to give the baby the Specialty Milk Replacer Formula to feed it. Specialty milk replacer provides nutrients for strong animal development (read FAQs for more info). If you don’t have the correct formula on hand and must wait for it to be shipped, you have two choices for a temporary formula for any age baby….homemade goat milk formula or esbilac puppy milk with probiotics (read FAQs for more info). Do not use these homemade formulas for more than a week, as they are not fortified with vitamins, minerals, and protein. Skip down to the FAQ section to read as much information as possible about your baby squirrel.
Babies less than five weeks old will need to be stimulated to poop and pee, they do not do it themselves naturally. Use a warm, wet cotton ball or Q-tip, and flick lightly across the genital area. You are simulating the mother squirrel’s tongue. Some babies may need stimulation before and after feeding, a few may eat better if you potty them in the middle of a feeding.
When do you feed your baby squirrel?
Day 1 to Week 4: Use the Squirrel Nursing Set, feed every two hours. Weeks two and three, feed every three hours.
Week 4 to Week 7: Continue to use formula. Feed every four hours.
Week 7 to Week 9: Still feed formula. Introduce solid foods, like Deluxe Squirrel Diet, which is high-protein pellets mixed with healthy nuts. Try to feed majority pellets and leave the nuts behind at first. Make sure you have a Glass Water Bottle, Stainless Steel Cup or Ceramic Feeding Dish for the water and solid foods. These dishes are chew-proof, dishwasher safe, lead-free and much more sanitary than plastic. During the transition to solid foods do not give nuts, fruit, or treats of any kind. Concentrate on formula, protein pellets, and healthy veggies. It's important they learn to love these healthy foods before being introduced to sweet fruit and treats that will make them picky.
Week 9 to Week 10: Still feed some formula, feed two times a day. Introduce even more solid food, such as Apple Sticks, which help maintain clean and trim teeth. Begin to feed healthy Veggie Blend Treat, which contains sweet potatoes, carrots, and green peas. Use Squirrel Booster Multivitamin or Squirrel-Cal if you wish, to make sure your squirrel is getting the nutrition and calcium it needs.
Week 10 to Week 12: Once the squirrel is eating its healthy foods well, you can feed nuts, fruits, and treats. Add in the nuts of Squirrel Complete or try Premium Nut Mix. Explore other treat options. You can also feed your squirrel fruit now, like Papaya & Mango, made with real fruit. All during this process, continue to offer formula until the squirrel weans himself at around 14-16 weeks of age. Never wean a baby squirrel off formula; let them wean themselves.
How do you know how old your squirrel is?
Less than 4 Weeks: Pink, no hair at all for first few weeks of life. After two weeks, soft hair grows around nose and mouth. After a month of life, light hair starts growing all over back, and lower front teeth begin emerging. Some white hair begins to grow on belly and legs.
4 -7 Weeks: Hair gets thicker, including on legs and belly. Tail hair is short, and tail begins curling over the back. Eyes open, becomes fully furred, sleeping less with more active periods. Keep your squirrel in a box until seven weeks, then start planning for a cage.
7 - 9 Weeks: About ½ full size, tail is fluffy. Should be placed in a cage with plenty of room to play. A great forage accessory for a squirrel is a Chew Stack that attaches to the cage and is made of natural wooden blocks, cylinders, and cubes. Use a large Nest Box that can attach to the cage and helps mimic the natural nesting techniques squirrels use in the wild. Make sure to fill the nest box with bedding. Clean the cage frequently and use cage liners and wipes.
8 Weeks: Looks like a miniature squirrel. Very active and will shred fabrics.
9 - 12 Weeks: More muscular, about ¾ full size. Can release at 12 weeks. Upgrade your cage with the Brisbane/Congo cage Accessory Kit, that adds two shelves to your squirrel’s existing cage.
For young squirrels less than 8 weeks old, it's best to keep them in a travel carrier or small cage less than 20 inches tall, such as our Zanzibar Cage or ZooPro Travel Cage. Once the squirrel is 8-weeks or older a full-sized cage is better, to give it space to exercise and explore, along with a wooden nest box containing nesting material and other cage accessories. It's recommended to keep the bottom of the cage padded with towels as youngsters may fall and hurt themselves.
Is it dangerous to leave the baby squirrel in the yard? I want to reunite it with its mom.
Do not leave the baby squirrel in the yard unless you know for sure when the nest fell and where. If the mom is going to come and get the babies, she will do so right away after the nest or babies have fallen. If the mother is not in sight the baby needs help right now because it is getting colder by the minute and seen as prey for many animals.
Should I feed the baby squirrel first or give it water?
Feeding can actually cause death by pulling fluids from the system of a severely dehydrated animal in order to process the food that you feed it. It must be determined if the baby is dehydrated first. Give it plenty of fluids, then give it food.
How do I check for dehydration?
Pinch the skin on the back of his neck. If it doesn’t spring back immediately, the baby is dehydrated. If the pinched skin stays up like a tent for more than a second, the baby is badly dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration: lack of appetite, lethargy, pale gums, spiky fur, dry skin, looks thin and wrinkly. Note: These tests are not reliable in very young babies; assume every baby is dehydrated when you first find them. Use a homemade rehydration fluid if baby is dehydrated. If the baby isn't badly dehydrated, you can begin formula feeding within a few hours. Even if the baby is badly dehydrated, you will need to begin formula feeding within 6 hours.
Is there a homemade formula I can give the baby if I don’t have pedialyte or milk replacer available?
A homemade rehydration fluid is made by mixing 1 ½ tablespoons sugar with 2 cups warm water. Always warm up before feeding by filling a coffee mug with hot water, filling the syringe with the fluid, and place filled syringe in the mug for a couple of minutes. Test by squirting a drop on the inside of your wrist, it should feel very warm but not hot on your skin. Store in refrigerator if not feeding immediately. Discard after 24 hours.
How do I feed the baby squirrel?
Always hold the syringe so that the tip (where the baby is drinking from) is higher than the end (where you are holding). Hold it so the tip points up toward the mouth and the baby is sucking it in, it should not be spilling downward forcefully into the baby’s mouth. Place the syringe tip on the baby’s lips and squeeze out one drop for him to taste. Don’t squirt a steady stream. Let him swallow one drop before squeezing more. Go very slow, it sometimes takes a feeding or two for them to catch on. Newborn babies are fed drop by drop. With older babies you can squeeze slowly for one second, wait for him to swallow, then squeeze again. If fluids dribble out his mouth or nose, you’re going too fast. Stop and tilt the baby’s head down so the fluid drains out (support his head and neck). Then wipe his nose and mouth with a tissue. Start over, slower. If the baby isn't badly dehydrated, you can begin formula feeding within a few hours. Even if the baby is badly dehydrated, you will need to begin formula feeding within 6 hours.
How do I make homemade goat milk formula?
3 parts goat milk, 1 part plain yogurt, 1 part heavy cream. Leave out the cream for the first few feedings and then add it in gradually. If diarrhea occurs, reduce or eliminate the cream for a few feedings. You can buy goats milk at almost all grocery stores. Remember this is only temporary, specialty milk replacer needs to be ordered and fed as soon as possible.
How do I make esbilac puppy milk formula?
Esbilac puppy milk (powder not liquid) must say “with probiotics and prebiotics” on the label. Dilute 3 parts water to 1 part powder for the first few feedings and then slowly increase the powder until you’re mixing it full strength according to label directions. You can find esbilac puppy milk at pet stores and Walmart. Remember this is only temporary, specialty milk replacer needs to be ordered and fed asap.
How do I make specialty milk replacer?
To use this milk replacer, add 250 g of powder to 400 ml of pre-boiled water. Mix to make a paste, then add 1 liter of pre-boiled water and mix thoroughly.
What sex is my baby squirrel?
If the genital opening appears near the anus, it's a female. Male baby squirrels have a larger space between the genital opening and the anus (scrotum sac).
How much bedding material should I use?
Make sure the bedding is 1- 1 ½ inch thickness to provide ample support.
How high should the temperature of the heating pad be?
Ideally you want your baby squirrel’s body temperature to be around human temperature (approx. 96-101° F).
How much time does it take to open its eyes?
Most squirrels should open their eyes at about five weeks of age. Do not try to open them yourself, you could cause permanent damage.
What do you do if your squirrel is being stimulated but isn’t peeing?
Check the privates very closely. Squirrels will self nurse on their privates when they are hungry and it is possible there is a small scab that has blocked the opening. If you see any scab, soak it for a while with warm water (you can just hold a warm, wet cotton ball on it) until it softens and can be gently rubbed away. Make sure to be observing the area frequently afterwards and keeping it clean. If nothing is there, your squirrel is probably just dehydrated and needs to be given even more fluids. Give plain tap water if you need to give extra fluids between feedings. If your squirrel is still not peeing, take the squirrel to the vet. They will be able to give you good tips and might be able to get it to pee.
What should I do if my squirrel is not drinking water?
Try using a dropper and drop a small amount in their mouth, but make sure they swallow it. Wipe away excess moisture with a cloth. If they are too weak to swallow, they could choke. Remember, baby squirrels cannot digest anything when they are too cold.
How do you treat baby squirrels for fleas?
Wash them with warm water and soap. Use tweezers to sift through the hair and pick out fleas. Fleas will usually not die just by squishing them, and can jump out of tissues if you try to roll a flea up in one. You must try to rip the flea apart, or flush directly down toilet.
Can I feed a baby squirrel ‘squirrel food’?
No. Feed the baby squirrel milk replacer until it is old enough to properly eat and digest solid foods (around 7-9 weeks old).
How often should I feed my baby squirrel?
See the above ‘Feeding’ information. Make sure that the feeding schedule is consistent. Example of a three hour feeding schedule: 6am, 9am, 12pm, 3pm, 6pm, 9 pm, 12am, 3am, etc.
How should I feed my baby squirrel?
Hold your baby squirrel upright in your hand. Make sure your squirrel is wrapped in a soft fabric while your hold it. Never feed a baby squirrel lying on its back. Make sure after feeding, you help the baby urinate and defecate using a Q-tip.
What happens if my baby squirrel bloats?
Watch the stomach to make sure that it does not become too bloated. If this does occur, skip a feeding and decrease the amount of formula for the next feeding. Lengthening the amount of time between feedings and stimulating to encourage the elimination of waste will also help.
What do I do if my baby squirrel aspirates during feeding?
If the baby does aspirate fluids, pull the nipple away from the mouth, hold the baby in both hands face down and quickly by gently tip the baby forward and down to help gravity drain the fluid from the nose and lungs. Blot fluid from the nostrils and mouth. When the baby is calm and the airways are clear, resume feeding. If the baby shows any signs of illness contact your vet or wildlife resource immediately.
How do I know if my baby squirrel is dehydrated?
Physical signs of dehydration are sunken eyes, overly wrinkly and/or dry skin (some wrinkles and loose skin is normal), lethargy, hypothermia, dark or hard feces, dark urine (if any), dry mucous membranes, pale gums, and signs of shock. After warming the baby, provide formula.
What do I do if my baby squirrel is experiencing diarrhea?
The baby squirrel is experiencing diarrhea if the stools are non-formed, loose, runny, or foul smelling. It is a strong indicator that something is not right in baby’s gut. This can occur with the baby is not properly transitioned to a new formula, fed the wrong formula, fed too frequently, or fed too much at feeding and ‘over extending’ the stomach. To correct, switch the baby back to an electrolyte rehydration formula such as the milk replacer formula for a few feedings. If problems continue, the baby should be seen by a vet.
When will my baby squirrel start to ‘play’ and explore their surroundings?
Baby squirrels do three things. They eat, they potty, and they sleep. When their eyes open, they will start exploring their habitat and become more alert.
When do I stop giving my baby squirrel formula?
Between around 10 weeks. After that time frame, the squirrel will most likely reject the formula. If not, let the squirrel wean themselves off.
When can my baby squirrel start eating solid foods?
Between 6-7 weeks.
What if my baby squirrel’s habitat starts to smell?
Change the bedding in the your baby squirrel’s box. If the smells persists, get a different box. Use an odor eliminator, like Elimina, an odor eliminating spray that eliminates smell internally. Spray Elimina on animal's food daily, the smell from the waste will be virtually undetectable in 3 days.
How often should I clean the squirrel’s cage?
Change the cage liners every couple of days and clean the cage once a week.
Do squirrels hibernate?
Your pet squirrel will not hibernate however, they do sleep a lot. Squirrels are awake and active for a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset. They are resting or sleeping the rest of the time. Certain species of wild squirrel do hibernate, like the ground squirrel.
How do I trim my squirrel’s nails?
Use a nail trimmer like the Pro Nail Trimmer, a double-bladed trimmer that has a long-lasting, sharp cutting edge with a comfort grip handle great for left or right hand use. Make sure you hold the paw firmly and only trim tip of nail with a single stroke. Do not cut the nails too short or the nails will bleed. Repeat as needed, every 1-2 weeks.
I cut my squirrel’s nails too short and now they are bleeding. What do I do?
Wipe away the blood and dip the nails in some flour or press the flour into the tip. Make sure the nails have stopped bleeding before putting your animal back in its habitat.
Can squirrels use cage accessories, such as wheels and stones?
Yes! Some squirrels like wheels, especially ground squirrels. Make sure you get a jumbo sized one that is tail safe. They can hurt their back from arching too much if the wheel is too small. Make sure to bolt the wheel firmly to the cage so it doesn't tip over if your pet decides to swing on it. Pumice Stones are perfect for squirrels because it satisfies your pet's natural gnawing instinct and won't splinter like wood chews, even after hours of chewing. The chew block also promotes dental health and naturally wears down teeth.
What do I do if my squirrel bites me?
Lightly tap the nose, blow in their face, and sternly say no. Next time you handle them, wear gardening gloves for protection.
What if I want to release my squirrel into the wild?
Start weaning off human contact. Provide lots of toys and other cage accessories. Start to take the cage and your pet outdoors to help adapt to the smells and sounds. Do this for a few days or a week. Then leave the cage outdoors. Put some weather protection on top of the cage. Introduce natural foods such as pine cones, acorns, natural branches. Provide natural nesting material so your pet can build his own habitat. Once your pet learns to be self-sufficient and be scared of humans release him by opening the cage door. Release your squirrel in the spring or summer, never in fall or winter. Baby squirrels do best if not released until at least 4-6 months old.
What if I want to keep my squirrel?
Make sure it is legal; some states require a license or permit. Try to take the squirrel to a rehabilitator, someone who will train your pet to be ready for the wild, who will place him in a home and with other squirrels.
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