How to Take Care of Baby Squirrels
Many are interested in taking care of baby squirrels and keeping squirrels as pets, because these little creatures are among the most adorable animals that are commonly found in many places. People adore their playfulness and active nature, as well as their appearance, with their cute little furry bodies with long fluffy tails and generally friendly demeanor. Baby squirrels are no less cute, and sometimes, they need our help when they fall from trees and helplessly wait for someone to rescue them. How can you take care of baby squirrels?
As a general rule, if you found a baby squirrel bathe it, provide heat, rehydrate, and feed puppy milk. Increase food and feeding interval gradually. Continue baby squirrel care by providing play and exercise. Feed older squirrels rodent food, mineral block, and fruits. Acclimate it and release it.
When you see a baby squirrel in peril, the first thing to do is to let its mother come to its aid. If the mother is nowhere to be found, the next thing to do is to take the matter to wildlife rescue and rehabilitation professionals, who are experts in such work.
If they are not available either, it rests upon you to try to take care of it by yourself. This guide will help you succeed in doing that.
How To Take Care Of Baby Squirrels
You will find that there are two commonly occurring squirrel species present in the US, and these are the American Red Squirrel and the Eastern Grey Squirrel. It is easy to tell the difference between them.
The former has a red-brown color on the head and dorsal side or back. Its undercoat is white, and its size is smaller than eastern grey squirrels. American Red Squirrels can be found all over North America.
Meanwhile, Eastern Grey Squirrels can have varied colors, particularly gray, black, or brown plus golden hues. This species is mostly present in the eastern region of the US as well as Canada.
These two squirrel species develop roughly similarly and can be taken care of with the same techniques.
Characteristics of baby squirrels based on age
When they are born, baby squirrels are completely helpless. They need intensive care during this time.
How to tell how old a baby squirrel is, you may ask?
It has certain characteristics at various stages of its growth, and it is possible to estimate its stage of development depending on its behavior and appearance, as follows:
- Neonate up to one week old: no fur; pink body; closed eyes; three-inch long body (tail excluded); dark stripe running down the midsection of the snout for American red squirrels;
- 2 weeks old: fur starts developing at the back; underside still has no fur, closed eyes;
- 3 weeks old: body except tail measures around four inches long; development of lower front teeth; closed eyes;
- 4 weeks old: body measures around five inches long; underside now has fur; eyes now open;
- 5 weeks old: body six inches long; development of front top teeth;
- 6 weeks old: development of cheek/back teeth; sits on its own; can hold its food using the front paws;
- 7-8 weeks old: seven to eight inches long; fully grown fur; more active;
- 8-12 weeks old: starts to learn to climb; body still not reached its full size; may now be released outside if it is healthy;
You will need to take care of baby squirrels for approximately three months, after which you may continue to support and release them outside, using a squirrel feeder placed in an easily accessible position. Prior to 12 weeks old, baby squirrels cannot fend for their own.
This squirrel feeder will help ensure proper nutrition to the growing animal while they learn foraging for food on their own.
Determine if a baby squirrel is orphaned
If you ever see a baby squirrel by itself, you should make sure that its mother is not available anymore to take care of it. Only then is it necessary for you to take it.
Take the animal if it is injured or if it seems malnourished of dehydrated. An injured baby squirrel cannot be healed by its mother. The injured baby may need veterinary attention, depending on how severe the injury is. At the very least, human care is more effective for an injured baby squirrel than its mother.
If the baby was carried away by your pet cat, dog, or any other predator, its mother will probably not find it anymore.
A starving or dehydrated baby squirrel is an indication that its mother was not caring for it, or was not able to. Perhaps she was trapped, eaten by a predator, removed from her habitat, or otherwise dead, either from injuries from falling or from other natural causes.
However, if the baby seems to be healthy, try to leave it first where you found it until night comes. Monitor the baby from an ample distance to make sure that it stays safe.
Leaving it in its original location will allow its mother to find it and take it back. You should keep out of sight to avoid scaring the mother.
The mother could be making a new nest, so that she needs time for the new nest to be finished before she carries its baby there. It is possible for her to be currently transferring her other offspring to this new nest.
It is also possible that the baby squirrel fell from its nest due to winds or perhaps a predator attempting to take it away. The mother might then be looking for it.
Making a makeshift nest
While you’re waiting for the mother to retrieve her baby, you can assist the baby squirrel in keeping warm by making a temporary nest for it. Surround it with warmth by having bottles filled with warm water placed under old clothes, a blanket, or a towel.
Do not cover the baby, because it will make it hard for its mother to see it. Putting it in a box, even if its lid is open, will be equally obstructive.
When placing the baby in the nest, try to position it so that it is secure and comfortable. It is okay to hold them; the mother is not going to be bothered by human smell on the baby.
However, the mother may shy away if the baby is chilled, and thus you should keep it warm. Once a squirrel who may likely be its mother comes to it but leaves again after a while, it is not necessarily a bad sign.
If it is its mother, leaving it may indicate that she has ascertained that she knows where her offspring is, confirmed that it is reasonably healthy, and maybe needs to create her new nest or look for more food.
Squirrels are diurnal, meaning they are active at daytime. And so, if you observed that the mother is not there by night time, it is safe to assume that the dark prevented her from coming back.
The mother would not want to leave her baby by itself, even if she has already made her new nest. She will return to it though, to check on it and even feed it at least.
Adopting the baby squirrel
The fear of humans is a partly instinctive and partly acquired behavior. Those baby squirrels that are already mobile but abandoned may overcome this fear and go near humans for help if they are hungry and desperate.
Being desperate may mean that a mobile squirrel has already been fending for itself for a while. Squirrels can already walk by six weeks old, but are still reliant on their mother until they are approximately twelve weeks old.
Babies cannot walk or forage. Babies that still have closed eyes, are harmless, and will let you pick them up and handle them without biting. Caring for baby squirrels can be rewarding, although it takes much time and effort.
Initial assessment and cleaning the baby
After you have decided to care for the baby squirrel, the first thing to do is to perform an initial health assessment and clean the baby.
Pick up the baby gently with the use of a soft cloth and take it to home. Check for spinal and neck injury by gently moving its head. Squeeze the paws and tail gently; no reaction or a seemingly unnatural movement may indicate a broken tail or leg.
Gently bathe the baby with a soft cloth, mild soap, and warm water. Look for possible wounds, cuts, dirt, and external parasites. Wash the face and nostrils. Make sure the latter is clear to enable unobstructed breathing.
Stimulate the anus and genitals with a Q-tip. This normally releases waste material. You might need a minute or two before you can stimulate it to pee or defecate.
If the baby is a male and it does not urinate within those few minutes of stimulation, check if its penis is swollen. Baby squirrels tend to suck on anything that resembles nipples, and may mistakenly suck on a male sibling’s penis, causing it to swell and become injured.
A swelling penis may be remedied by having its lower body dipped in warm water for 20 minutes to soften the wound’s scab for removal. This will then let the baby urinate freely.
If your baby squirrel was alone for a prolonged time prior to being found, it might already have a brown urine, which may indicate dehydration.
For cases of deep lacerations, broken bones, and persistent failure to urinate, a veterinarian is needed. You can also ask help from a wildlife rescuer or professional. Only veterinarians can determine and treat infections.
When can squirrels start drinking water?
For rehydration, use an oral rehydration solution or a half teaspoon each of salt and sugar mixed in two cups of water. Feed the baby with a feeding syringe. Feed this solution slowly.
Now let us discuss what baby squirrels eat. With the use of a feeding bottle, you can feed a baby squirrel.
What kind of milk do you feed baby squirrels? Its digestive system is still sensitive, and you should never feed cow’s milk, human formula, or other milk substitutes.
Puppy milk is safer, including similar products at pet stores and veterinary clinics. You can mix the formula in the oral rehydration solution. Feed gradually increasing proportions, until you arrive at the fully undiluted formula.
Make sure the formula is at room temperature to keep the baby suitably warm. Change the proportions after every two feedings at two and a half-hour feeding intervals.
You may consult a baby squirrel feeding chart, but to simplify matters, you can follow the general guide below.
From a newborn being fed roughly 0.5 mL to 1 mL for every feeding session, gradually increase the amount as the squirrel ages, until you can give 9 mL to 18 mL to squirrels 8 to 12 weeks of age.
As for feeding intervals, you can also gradually increase the interval as the squirrel ages, from 2.5 hours in neonates to twice daily for squirrels 8 to 12 weeks old.
Continue regularly washing its face and neck and stimulating urination after feeding it. Monitor the stool regularly as well. Dehydrated animals have dark brown to black color and could be loose. Feeding puppy milk will cause the stool to become pellet-shaped that are yellow-brown in color..
If its stomach appears bloated, dip its lower half in warm water, massaging its abdomen for 30 minutes. Skip feeding or only give the oral rehydration solution. Call your veterinarian if bloating still persists after one day.
As the squirrel ages, you can thicken the food with plain yogurt or whipped cream for added fat. Remember never to overfeed. Some symptoms of overfeeding include bloat, diarrhea, and other digestive signs.
By three weeks of age, you can start giving rodent block for chewing, as their teeth never stop their growth. Small food pellets are suitable as well.
By this time, a water bottle hanging from the side may be suitable. You can also give a salty mineral stone treat for essential micronutrients like iron and calcium.
By six weeks of age, they can consume sunflower seeds (unsalted). Raw fruits like slices of apple, banana, and grapes are excellent choices.
You should always provide the baby ample heat. You may use heating pads or a heater. Monitor it every 15 minutes.
The baby squirrel’s housing requirements change depending on its age. While it is not yet mobile, a small box with an old towel or blanket is sufficient in a quiet and dark room. The box can have holes so that air will circulate and its lid can be closed.
Avoid using cloth with loose threads and holes that can suffocate and endanger the baby. Make sure everything is regularly cleaned and washed as needed.
At five weeks of age, you can transfer it to a rodent cage, dog carrier, or larger box. You may surround the cage with wire to prevent it from escaping. By eight weeks of age, you can use a larger cage with wiring, such as a larger dog crate.
Bedding is still necessary, which needs regular replacement and cleaning. Dowel rods and tree branches hanging in the cage can provide climbing opportunities.
You can try putting the cage outside for a few hours each day to acclimate the animal outside for eventual release. Do this for three or four weeks.
Squirrels need physical and mental stimulation, which they can get from play and exercise. You should handle them and play, cuddle with them, and assist them in using their body to become future agile and active adults.
Toys are suitable, and you will find that squirrels love to play and explore anything. Such items as bark, sticks, woodchips, nuts, leaves, pinecones, sod, grass clippings, feathers, and dirt are suitable as long as they already have a well-developed coating of fur to protect them from injury.
These items also help introduce them to the wild habitat they will eventually be living in.
By 12 weeks of age, your healthy squirrel can be released. Nail the nest box on a tree during a several-days stretch of dry and warm weather. Put towels in it so that your squirrel can still have a secure place to hide in.
You can feed it food and water at a considerable distance from its tree to avoid getting other animals to discover the nest box.
Eventually, it will start living on its own. Your reward may come as a regular visit from your furry friend, because if you had it for at least three weeks, it will be able to remember you as a human it can trust.
Can you make squirrels your pet?
Squirrels are not suitable pets and are even potentially very dangerous. We need to respect nature and wildlife, and domesticating a squirrel may cost much time, attention, and damage to the home. Being accustomed to human care, it also makes them unprepared and unsuited to a life in the wild.
Can squirrels be attached to people?
Within its first six months of age, squirrels easily acclimate and be accustomed to people. They will become dependent for food and show affection to humans. But at six months old, as a pet, they will have sharper and longer teeth and claws, which can unintentionally harm people, pets, and your furniture and home.
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