CARE AND FEEDING OF BABY SQUIRRELS
by Theda Kane (Wales, UK)
Squirrels are not fully weaned until the age of ten weeks or so. Unlike
hedgehogs, baby squirrels will not usually overeat but will refuse food
once they have had enough.
Squirrels tend to wake an hour or two after dawn and go to bed an hour or
two before sunset.
They are not nocturnal and therefore do not usually need feeding during the
Baby squirrels feel the cold and do not like bright light. Ensure that a
warm, dark nest is available made of suitable bedding. My squirrel Oz had a woolly hat lined with a
piece of velvet or fake fur for night-time use. (He spent a great deal of the daytime inside my t-shirt, asleep next to my heart, but I can understand that not everyone would be willing or able to put up with that!)
Like all babies, the younger the squirrel, the more sleep it will need. I
estimated Oz to be about 5 weeks old when I found him. At first he slept
for a few hours every morning and afternoon. As he grew older, he gave up
the morning nap. The afternoon nap became shorter and was then
dispensed with altogether by the time he was 4 or 5 months old. Squirrels
are very sensitive to temperature and light - Oz would sleep more on dull,
wet and/or cold days; less in good weather.
Wild squirrels do not make good pets. However great the temptation to keep
your baby, it must be set free as soon as it is able to fend for itself.
This is hard, but really for the benefit of all parties concerned.
Squirrels are very active animals who do not take kindly to confinement.
The squirrel kept in a restricted space will not only be deeply unhappy, but
runs the risk of atrophied muscles and possible deformities.
For this reason, you cannot keep a squirrel in a small cage as you would a mouse or
hamster. If it must be caged, the cage should be as large as possible. A
bird aviary or flight would be ideal. Failing that, the squirrel must be
allowed out to exercise as much as possible. I was able to give Oz free run
of my bedroom during the day, with supervised access to the living room as
well. Climbing the curtains, burying food in my houseplant pots and
performing gymnastics on the clothes-airer helped to keep him fit and to
develop his natural instincts and abilities. However these activities could
never be enough to keep him happy, a point which he made clear to me as he
grew older by his increasing frustration and consequent outbursts of
swearing and general bad temper. Quite simply, he needed to be outside
climbing trees and generally doing Squirrel Stuff.
So when to let your squirrel go? Obviously squirrels, like people, develop
at their own speed but I would suggest around the age of five months or so.
Indicators that your squirrel is ready to strike out on its own include
signs of frustration as mentioned above, a growing interest in whatever is
happening outside and attempted nest-building activity. (Oz made strenuous
efforts to construct a drey in my underwear drawer although he never
actually slept in it. ) Some people suggest
releasing a squirrel as soon as it is weaned but I feel that this is too
early to expect a baby to fend entirely for itself. I also doubt the wisdom
of simply abandoning the baby to its fate if it has spent the last several
months as a 'house squirrel'. I began by letting Oz out during the day and
calling him in at teatime. He very quickly learned to let himself in and
out via the bedroom window and chose, for the first few weeks, to come home
to sleep each evening. Gradually he took to staying out overnight more and
more often until he was living outdoors full time. He returned regularly
for a free meal and occasional cuddle (especially if the weather was bad)
for another couple of months before finally vanishing for good.
One very important thing to remember is never pull a squirrel's tail or try
to pick it up by the tail.
A squirrel's tail is a fragile and easily damaged thing, but without it the
squirrel cannot keep its balance when jumping or climbing. Tails are also
used in communication.
Squirrels, like other rodents, need hard things to gnaw. I provided Oz with
a selection of wood (ranging in size from smallish sticks to large logs)
gleaned from the garden. You can buy flavoured hardwood gnawing things from
the petshop which are useful and not expensive. These may not entirely
prevent your squirrel from eating the furniture but will help quite a lot.
Squirrels are very messy feeders - a lot of what they eat ends up on the
Out of doors, this provides food for birds and insects. Indoors it
makes for additional housework, especially if your squirrel, like Oz, is
'free range'. Squirrels will also hide food for future need. Window
ledges, pockets, footwear, houseplants and cushions all provided Oz with
places to secrete anything he didn't immediately wish to eat. As this
included fresh foods such as broccoli florets or bits of sweetcorn, it was
necessary to check around and remove anything perishable on a regular
It is also impossible to housetrain a squirrel. I became used to cleaning
up small puddles and piles of droppings from wherever they appeared. This
was generally not too much of a problem, apart from the time when Oz peed on
my computer keyboard and fused it!
Squirrels are highly intelligent animals and baby squirrels are insatiably
curious. They will investigate anything interesting, especially if it
resembles (however remotely) food. I had to give up wearing stud earrings
as Oz kept taking them out of my earlobes and putting them in his mouth. He
also methodically removed all the buttons from my favourite cardigan and
persistently stole my cigarette lighter. Because he had the run of my flat,
I got into the habit of keeping all powerpoints turned off unless actually
needed, in case he decided to chew any electrical flexes. Similarly, holes
or gaps into which a squirrel might go had to be blocked up and the toilet
lid kept closed.
Now, all this might seem like a lot of trouble to go to for one small rodent
but really was no more than one might have to do for most pets. In fact,
Oz was far less destructive than many a 'house rabbit'. And the pleasure of
seeing him growing in strength and agility as he racketed around the flat,
for me, far outweighed any inconveniences.
Squirrels use quite a large vocabulary of sounds supplemented with body
language. Oz's most commonly used 'words' were:
"buhbup" - uttered very softly - this was an affectionate greeting, often
accompanied by Oz
rubbing his face against mine.
"prrp" - uttered quite quietly - a happy noise, made repeatedly
"brrrrrp" - uttered more harshly and emphatically and accompanied by much
this indicated excitement.
Oz would do this whilst
looking out the window as he grew older and started wanting to be outside.
"rrk! " - squirrel swearwords.
Squirrels (like people) will swear
at anything which annoys or
"bgrrk!" threatens them. Oz called me a "Big Erk" on a number of
occasions as he grew
older and more short-tempered.
The most important fact to bear in mind is that squirrels are vegetarians.
On no account try to feed your baby on cat or dog food - this will kill
For the first 4 - 6 weeks, feed Carnation milk (warmed to blood heat, never
straight from the fridge). A plastic eye-dropper makes a good feeding
bottle. Anything from 2 to 6 such drppers full will comprise a feed,
depending on the age and hunger of the baby. It will refuse more when it
has had enough.
At around 5 - 6 weeks of age, start introducing solid foods. Small pieces
of apple and seedless grapes (peeled) are good to begin with. You can
also try other fruits such as pears, bananas or kiwi fruit, walnut meats
(which are quite soft) and small portions of cooked green vegetables
(broccoli, green beans or fine beans). At first, these will be in addition
to the milk feeds and therefore only eaten in tiny amounts.
Over the next
several weeks, the baby will voluntarily take more solid foods and less milk
until it finally refuses milk entirely. Oz elected to give up his teatime
milk first, then lunch but continued to have milk first and last thing for
several weeks, though in smaller and smaller amounts as his intake of solid
As the weaning process proceeds you can introduce other foods such as
shelled hazelnuts, peanuts, raw mushrooms, raw carrot chunks and sunflower
seeds. Cherry tomatoes are conveniently squirrel-sized. Monkeynuts are
good to play with even if the contents go uneaten.
Try substituting raw
green vegetables for cooked ones. Like people, squirrels have individual
tastes which develop as they grow older. Oz was very partial to sweetcorn -
initially he had a teaspoon of tinned corn niblets, progressed to whole baby
corn (raw) and then to pieces (approximately one inch long) of raw whole
corn ears. Similarly, he at first would not eat raw vegetables and later
would not accept them if cooked. He also lost his taste for grapes which he
had at first loved.
Do not give almonds or brazil nuts - both contain chemicals which are
harmful to squirrels.
For this reason, packets of chopped mixed nuts are not suitable, as they
invariably contain both.
The sort of packaged dry food sold in pet shops for rats or hamsters is
okay but must be supplemented with fresh foods, as above. If a good variety
of fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds is provided there is really no need to
buy packaged food as well. (I did but Oz mostly ignored it and it ended up
on the bird-table.)
As the baby is weaned it will need fresh water every day. Oz used a gravity
feed waterbottle, of the type used in hamster cages, to begin with as he was
used to being bottle fed. However, he quickly taught himself to drink out of
a bowl (the cat's bowl, as it happened) and thereafter
refused to use the water bottle.
As Oz spent more time outside, he gradually began to ignore a lot of the
fruit and vegetables I offered him, as he learned to find his own food. He
was never averse to accepting sunflower seeds, sweetcorn, walnuts or hazel
nuts from me however. (The hazel nuts he mostly took outside and buried.)
He was also grateful for an on-going supply of fresh water.
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