Don’t you just love watching squirrels?
It’s incredibly relaxing to watch them hop, climb and forage. They’re impossibly graceful and whimsically charming. Everyone has, at least once, wondered what it would be like to keep a squirrel as a pet.
Feed The World… Starting With Squirrels
The odds of you ever keeping a squirrel as a pet are awfully slim. Even hand-raised squirrels need to roam for miles to fulfill their innate need to forage and explore.
But you can enjoy endless entertainment by putting out a squirrel feeder. Bird enthusiasts consider squirrels to be pests for stealing from their birds’ food supply, but you can support both communities by hanging both a squirrel and a bird feeder. Or, if you’re committed to team squirrel, just get a squirrel feeder and watch the fun begin.
A squirrel feeder can be as simple as a cob of corn hanging from a tree with a piece of twine. But if you’re serious about squirrel-watching, you’ll want a covered feeder that keeps out the rain.
The Pennington Cedar Squirrel Snacker is a classic choice that feeds both squirrels and birds. Unfortunately, few squirrel feeders are bird-proof!
Every “squirrel person” has a knee-slapping sense of humor. It’s true. When squirrels finesse up inside this feeder to reach the goods, it looks like they’re wearing an oversized horse head mask. Hilarity Ensues.
As an added bonus, most birds won’t be able to steal your precious squirrel feed. Be sure to check out the Amazon reviews for these, they’re hilarious!
What To Feed Wild Squirrels
Nuts and seeds are a big hit with squirrels – they’re calorie-dense so your furry friends can cultivate mass for the winter.
Unsalted roasted peanuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, roasted pumpkin seeds and pecans are all acceptable. You can use peanut butter as a fatty spread to help other foods stick to your feeder.
Wash and refill your squirrel feeders at least once a week to prevent mold, sooner if it rains or snows.
What To Do When You Find An Orphaned Squirrel
If you find an orphaned squirrel, first assess whether it really needs help. If its eyes are open, and it already has a fluffed-out tail and can climb trees, it is old enough to fend for itself. If its eyes are closed, and especially if it is covered in ants or fly eggs, it probably has fallen from its nest.
The best thing for a baby squirrel is its own mother’s milk. Much of the time, the mother will come back for her baby if you simply leave it close to the tree in a box lined with paper towels. In the meantime, call your local wildlife rehabilitation center
– they may be able to give you tips specific to the current weather and your local area. Your veterinarian might be able to help or may refer you to a squirrel expert.
You need to give the mother squirrel one full day to come back for her baby. If the baby is healthy, they will be able to survive without food while they wait. In the meantime, keep them warm with a heating pad, microwaved sock full of rice, or hot water bottle, with a towel between the heat source and the baby to prevent scalding.
Do not leave the baby out at night, as the mother will not travel in the dark. Instead, keep them warm inside your home, but don’t feed them or give them water. Then, leave them out for their mother in the morning.
If a full day has passed, the baby squirrel is an orphan and will need to be rehabilitated. It’s always ideal to leave this up to experienced professionals. However, many wildlife rehabilitators do not have the time, space or resources to save every baby squirrel that is orphaned, especially because it is so common between the months of March and June.
Keep in touch with your local wildlife rehabilitators, updating them and asking questions as you sustain the baby squirrel. Do not, however, post about the baby squirrel on social media, or make a big deal about it. It is illegal to have a squirrel as a pet in most jurisdictions, and even caring for a wild animal without a permit can leave you with a fine of up to $1000.
Even so, conditions are not always ideal. Chances are, you will either have to hand-raise the squirrel or leave it outside where it would quickly become a fast meal for a predator. Know the laws in your area and choose whatever is right for you and the squirrel.
Determining A Baby Squirrel’s Age
It’s pretty easy to estimate your baby squirrel’s age because they tend to progress very quickly.
As newborns, they will be hairless and pink, with their ears flat against their head.
At 1-2 weeks, their ears will start to open up, and you’ll notice dark coloration on their eyes and back.
At 3 weeks, they start to grow a very light coat of fur.
At 4 weeks, their fur becomes thicker and they start to really look like a squirrel.
At 5 weeks, their eyes have opened. They start to sit up and look and act much like a grown squirrel, but their tail is not yet fluffy. They will start to regulate their own heat and will no longer need a heat source.
Though 6-12 weeks, their tail starts to fill out and they start to explore solid foods.
From 12-16 weeks, they’ll continue growing, and will be ready to venture on their own.
Feeding A Baby Squirrel
Taking care of a baby squirrel is hard. Remember, the best thing for them is their mother’s milk, and the second is care from an experienced wildlife rehabilitator who will already have replacement squirrel milk on-hand and may even be able to raise your baby with other orphans.
If you can, connect with your local wildlife center and see if they can give you the formula, if they’re not able to take the baby in.
That said, you really might not be able to get any help for your baby squirrel. If so, rehabilitating it yourself is possible – time-consuming, but possible.
How To Feed A Baby Squirrel
It is very common for baby squirrels to become very ill from aspirating (inhaling) their milk. Hold your squirrel upright during feedings.
Bottles meant for larger animals, and eyedroppers have too large of a flow, which can cause aspiration.
It’s best to use a syringe without a needle, fitted with a nipple or rubber tubing. You can ask your drugstore for a 1mL oral syringe meant for dispensing medicine for children. The best and easiest tool you can use is a Miracle Nipple kit designed for this purpose.
The absolute best formula you can feed your baby squirrel is a rodent-specific formula fortified with vitamins, minerals and probiotics.
For squirrels under five weeks old (eyes not opened yet) use Henry’s Healthy Pet Foods Fox Valley DAY ONE 32/40 Formula for Squirrels, Rabbits, and Opossums, 16 oz
For squirrels over five weeks old, use Fox Valley DAY ONE 20/50 Formula for Squirrels, 16 oz
While you are waiting for your online order to arrive, your squirrel can survive on a homemade formula that is high in fat. A mama squirrel’s milk contains 12-24% fat – one of the fattiest animal ‘milks’ on earth, second to only whale and seal milk! So, if you’ll be making your own formula at home, it has to be very high in fat.
A baby squirrel can also be raised on Esbilac puppy formula, add 1/8 to 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream per cup of formula.
If you can’t get that, you can use whole cow’s milk that has been boiled and cooled, with 1/8 to 1/4 cup of heavy whipping cream per cup of milk.
To aid digestion, you can add about 1/4 cup of plain yogurt per cup of milk. If you’re using cow’s milk, add the yogurt after the milk has been boiled and cooled to preserve the live active cultures.
Feed 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of milk per one ounce bodyweight each day. The younger your squirrel, the more feedings they will need. If your baby’s eyes are still closed, you may feed them every 2-4 hours, less often at night – you will need to be well-rested to care for your squirrel, and they can go up to four hours without eating overnight.
Between 4 and 8 weeks old, your squirrel can eat every 6-8 hours.
By the time they’re 7-8 weeks old, you can start to introduce your squirrel to healthy solid foods.
In the squirrel world, there are junk foods and there are healthy foods. Healthy foods include nutrient-dense rodent blocks and vegetables like broccoli, all types of lettuce, brussels sprouts, cabbage, and bok choy. Slightly less healthy foods like avocado, corn, green beans, sweet potato, and sugar snap peas are good but should be fed in limited amounts.
Believe it or not, other fruits and veggies, and nuts are high in natural sugars and fats that will make your squirrel gain too much unhealthy weight and will spoil their appetite for more nutrient-dense foods. Wait until your squirrel is fully weaned to introduce these foods.
Weaning happens gradually. By the time your squirrel is 16 weeks old, they should be completely weaned.
Always feed a nutrient-dense food like rodent blocks or rodent food first. Squirrels generally prefer yummy “junk” foods, so it’s important that you clear out any food caches and offer ‘the healthy’ food while they are hungry. Once they eat their healthy food, you can offer snacks like nuts and fruit.
Toileting A Baby Squirrel
After every meal, you will need to help your baby squirrel pee and poop. In the wild, their mother would lick their genital/anus area to stimulate urination and a bowel movement. Of course, you don’t have to lick the baby. Just use a warm, moist towel in a circular motion.
Keep an eye out for diarrhea, a sign that the squirrel is not digesting the formula. You may need to dilute it to make it easier on their tummy or add probiotics or yogurt to help replenish their gut flora.
Handling And Bonding
It’s inevitable that the squirrel will bond with you. They may visit you after they are released. Do your best to raise a squirrel that will be able to live out in the wild. They need miles and miles of space to roam, and will not reach their full potential if raised as a domestic pet.
Avoid allowing your pets to interact with the squirrel. Not only could you put the squirrel and your pets in danger, if they become too friendly, your squirrel may someday be unable to distinguish a friendly cat or dog from one that wants to eat them.
Your Squirrel’s Cage
Your squirrel’s cage should be as large as possible once they reach 6 weeks of age; for younger squirrels, a small cage is sufficient.
Your squirrel will need a nesting box to simulate the small sleeping areas that they prefer in the wild. Fleece or old pieces of t-shirts work well as washable bedding.
Once weaned, hide their food to teach them to forage. A squirrel’s front teeth will grow for their entire life, so they need to gnaw on branches, deer antlers or wood to keep them shaved down. Toys meant for rabbits are good for this purpose. Some squirrels also like to wrestle with small, stuffed toys.
When To Release A Baby Squirrel
The ‘Release’ should happen gradually. At first, put the cage outside for a few hours during the day.
It’s preferred to hang the cage in a tree so your squirrel will develop a preference for safe, high sleeping areas elevated away from predators.
By the time they’re 14-16 weeks old, you can leave the cage door open and allow them to come and go as they please. You can continue to provide food, water,
and a warm sleeping spot until they are ready to find their own resources and shelter.
Keeping A Squirrel As A Pet
Squirrels make terrible pets. They may bite and scratch, and while they rarely carry rabies, they’re just not generally cuddly like animals that were selectively bred to love human attention.
Without adequate mental stimulate, squirrels tend to go stir-crazy – they may do backflips in their cage, race around and gnaw on their cage bars. They need more than just a few hours each day to play in your living room – they need to forage, climb, explore and socialize with their own kind.
Eventually, your pet squirrel will need to see a vet that specializes in wild animals, which is hard to find and usually very expensive. If you are caught illegally keeping a squirrel as a pet, they will be taken away by animal control and you will be fined.
You can get a license to rehabilitate wild animals, but this does not mean that you may keep squirrels as pets – only that you may care for them. In some states, all wild animals that cannot be rehabilitated must be euthanized unless they’re kept for educational purposes. Exotic pet permits are typically for animals that are purchased from exotic animal dealers, not those found in the wild.
Instead of a squirrel, consider a rat – they’re extremely affectionate and intelligent, and there’s a surprising number of unique breeds like hairless, dumbo and rex (curly-haired) varieties.
A special thanks to our friend Kim “the squirrel lady” who helped us with this post with what she learned from her experience raising Earl The Squirrel.