Raising an orphaned squirrel
There are often many questions about caring for an orphan squirrel, which need immediate answers. Hopefully this page will answer some of those questions.
All states have registered animal rehabilitators that are trained to care for orphaned and injured animals. Whenever possible you should contact your States Department of Natural Resources, Department of Fish and Game, the local chapter of the S.P.C.A. or a Veterinarian for a referral.
Since this is not always practical in most emergency situations, the following should provide at least an understanding of the situation, and some care you can administer.
Generally, in the spring, the female squirrel will give birth to a litter of three to four babies. They are born almost blind; one to two inches long and without fur. They would not survive long outside the nest. The mother will nurse her young approximately 75 days after birth. She will then teach them the foraging, climbing and social skills required to survive on their own.
Many things can create an orphan situation. The nest could be knocked down by a storm, tree trimming or just movement by the wind. This could cause one or all of the babies to fall. A predator could take the mother and/or some of the babies.
But the most common reason for a baby squirrel to fall from the nest is the lack of space. As the babies grow, more room is needed. This may cause one or more babies to be inadvertently push out of the nest. They are usually several weeks old at this stage. The mother will pick up the baby and if not injured will return it to the nest.
We as humans often find this apparently helpless little creature on the ground and instinctively want to help. It is sometimes better to wait and watch up to several hours, to see if the mother returns, and let her correct this situation. If this doesn't happen, or there are other life threatening circumstances, it may be acceptable to intervene.
It is very important to examine the baby for injuries, if the animal is bleeding or appears distressed in any way you should get a professional medical opinion before you proceed. As you could be doing more harm then good.
The first thing is to determine if the baby is dehydrated. Check the mouth and nose for dryness. Look for dry, red, or tacky mucous membranes. Next, check for skin pliability. This can be done by gently pinching the skin on the infant's back, and raising it slightly. If the skin remains in a "tented" fashion for more that a second or two, the animal is likely dehydrated.
Prior to any treatment, the baby squirrel's body must be warmed to at least 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Wrapping the baby in a warmed towel for several minutes can do this.
To reintroduce fluids, use a 1cc syringe filled with warmed "Pedialyte" this is a hydrating fluid for human babies. It should be available in any drug store. An alternative fluid would be "Gatorade". Be sure it is warmed to body temperature before you start feeding. You should allow the baby to set the pace of sucking. This takes a little practice, just remember slower is better. Follow the feeding chart below, and recheck every four hours or so, for signs of improvement. Hydrating should last no more than 24 hours. This is very important . . .
Next, what to feed your new arrival. A formula of powdered "Esbilac" mixed with water is the recommended choice. Esbilac is a milk replacement for puppies. It can be purchased at most pet supply stores; you should also pick up a 3cc syringe for a newborn or a 10cc. syringe for squirrels four weeks and older. Esbilac comes in powder form and also premixed liquid. If you are feeding one squirrel, get the smallest size can. Naturally the powder will keep longer then the liquid form. But you can prolong the life of both by pouring the mixed formula into an ice cube tray and freezing. This gives you about sixteen one-ounce doses, which you can then defrost and warm in the Microwave oven. This method is helpful if you have a lot of mouths to feed.
The basic formula should consist of 1 cup of water, 1/2 cup of powder Esbilac, and 1/2 cup of whipping cream. The cream is added to fortify the formula, and add a little extra incentive to eat. An alternative small batch mixture would be 2-tsp water, 1 tsp Esbilac, and 1 tsp of whipping cream. You'll have less waste with this teaspoon method.
If your squirrel has trouble with the regular Esbilac, such as diarrhea or bloating. PetAg makes an Esbilac formula with goat's milk. This can be a good alternative.
Be sure the formula is warmed to 98 degrees F. but no higher then 102 degrees. Cradle the infant in the palm of one hand, then administered the formula slowly. Let the squirrel set the pace of feeding.
The frequency of feeding depends on the age and weigh of the infant squirrel.
The following are guidelines from which you should start, adjust these amounts as needed.
Under one week of age (umbilical cord still attached), will require 9 feeding's. These should be scheduled every two hours, starting at 6 a.m. and the last one at 10 p.m. Quantity should be around 1cc. or 1/4 teaspoon.
Age 2-3 weeks, feed 5 times a day, start at 1 1/2 cc of formula and increase to 3 cc
Age 4-5 weeks, feed 4 times a day, start at 3 1/2 cc of formula and increase to 5 cc
Age 6-7 weeks, feed 4 times a day, start at 6 cc of formula and increase to 9 cc
Age 8 weeks, feed 10 to 14 cc twice a day. Begin weaning onto small pieces of solid food.
After feeding, you must make sure the infant can and will relief itself. To stimulate this process use a dampened Q-tip and gentle rub it across the genitals. It is not necessary that you get results each time, but the pattern should be established early.
Never feed a cold squirrel!
If the squirrels body temperature is not between 98 and 102 degrees F. wrap the animal in a warmed towel and repeat this step until the body temperature is in the normal range.
It is also important to keep the baby squirrel warm at all times, using a baby blanket or other suitable cloth to form a coil for the babies to sleep in. Then place it in a box. Keep this box in a warm part of your home. If the box is placed directly over the heat source, such as a heating pad, never allow it to exceed 100 degrees F. Heat only one half of the box's floor area. Also, never allow direct light to shine on the baby. As the babies eyes are very sensitive at this early stage.
For the squirrel's protection, house pets should be kept away. Baby squirrels may even become accustomed to pets, which would be dangerous when released to the wild.
It is much easier to care for and protect the baby squirrel if it is kept in a cage, box or other container. It should be at least two feet by two feet and at least twelve inches high to start. Putting shredded newspaper in the bottom, will help with the inevitable clean up. An old tee shirt slightly coiled makes a nice bed. Never use a material that unravels, such as a towel.
As the baby squirrel grows, there will come a time when it will refuse the formula mixture. Ideally, you should wean your squirrel on a commercial dry mix. Purina makes Lab Chow, which has all the nutrients your squirrel will need. If this is unavailable, you should start with small slices of apple or pear. Seeds are also important, sunflower seeds "in the shell" should be part of the diet. A source of clean fresh water is essential for both drinking and grooming.
At this stage the squirrel will be teething, you should provide a hardwood branch for it to chew on. And it would be advisable to keep it contained in a large cage or you will risk damage to your home and furnishings. You should also provide an eight by eight by twelve inch high nesting box with a three-inch entry hole, if you haven't already. It does not need to be fancy. It can even be a cardboard box, although wood is best. Give your squirrel small twigs, straw or bits of cloth so it can try to build a nest. This box is an important part of the squirrel's life. It needs to have a place where it can hide as well as sleep.
Now would be the time to consider releasing your squirrel back to the wild. This will be the hardest part of its life and yours. And the usual response from children is "Why can't we keep it as a pet?" In the United States, a permit is required to keep a wild animal. While this might sound funny to some, a squirrel is a "wild" animal. And as a wild animal its behavior can be unpredictable. The only safe way to keep a squirrel in captivity is in a cage or another suitable enclosure. This will not be an easy, or pleasant task, since the squirrel cannot stand being confined.
If you have raised the squirrel carefully, keeping contact to a minimum, then the transition to the wild will not be difficult. Even if human contact has been great, release is still an option, it simply requires more time and thought.
How to tell the approximate age of an infant Gray squirrel;
Pink with no fur, umbilical cord attached is under one week old.
Body hair emerges at ten to twenty one days.
Lower incisors cut at nineteen to twenty one days.
Upper incisors cut at thirty to forty two days.
Eyes begin to open at twenty eight to thirty days.
Ears open, at twenty eight to thirty five days.
Out of the nest for the first time at thirty to forty six days.
Out of the nest alone at fifty four to fifty eight days.
Foraging for food at forty five to fifty one days.
Social skills practice at sixty days.
Can live independently at sixty eight to eighty four days.
Please remember these times are only approximate, and are for squirrels living in the wild.