Many people view squirrels as animals that can be a welcome part of a backyard environment. Their bushy tails, bright eyes, and soft fur make them appear to be friendly. Whether you find yourself in a situation to take in an abandoned squirrel or you are fostering a baby who cannot be returned to the wild, there may come a time in your life when you consider taking in a squirrel as a pet.
Before you do so, it is important to note that squirrels have different care requirements and needs than many other rodents that you would typically be caring for, making it important for you to know the task that you are undertaking before you take it.
The Average Lifespan of a Wild Squirrel
Trying to determine how long do squirrels live is not as easy as one may think it is at first. For one, baby squirrels die extremely young fairly often, which brings down the average lifespan of a squirrel. Likewise, there are many dangers and hazards to squirrels that impact their average lifespans, even if they would naturally live longer, not to mention the differences between breeds.
To begin with, the average life expectancy for newborn squirrels is a handful of months. Assuming that a squirrel is able to make it to adulthood, which is at nine months, squirrels can then live between 5 and 10 years. With this in mind, there have been recordings of wild squirrels being able to live for 12 or more years.
There are many factors that influence this lifespan. Squirrels are prey animals, so many of them do not die due to old age. Squirrels also live in areas that have their homes removed for urbanization, meaning that they may die unnaturally because of this. There is also human interaction, often through vehicles, that ends most squirrels’ lives prematurely.
The Average Lifespan of a Domestic Squirrel
When a squirrel is brought into captivity, many of the factors that drastically reduce its lifespan are eliminated. Squirrels that live in captivity are not exposed to natural predators, and they generally are not going to lose their homes to deforestation. The chances of a squirrel that lives inside being run over by a vehicle are also considerably slim.
Because of this, there are many recordings of captive squirrels living approximately 20 years, with the record age of a captive squirrel being a little over 23 years. There are still many risks that can come up in a squirrel’s life, ranging from diseases caught from its time in the wild to simply the species of the squirrel affecting its lifespan.
There are many, many different species of squirrels out there. Some squirrels will only live for six years in captivity and a handful of years in the wild, while others can have a lifespan comparable to that of the average housecat. Squirrels are not common or recommended pets, so there is not a lot of information about their lifespans in captivity.
Health Risks That Domestic Squirrels Face
First things first, if you are planning on keeping a squirrel as a pet, you will want to make sure you have at least two or three contacts of exotic veterinarians who are willing to care for squirrels. These may be vets who care for all forms of small animals or rodents, or these may be vets who specialize in caring for wild animals. Having more than one contact is important, in case one contact is unavailable and your squirrel is direly ill.
With that being said, squirrels are relatively hardy animals compared to others in the rodent family. This is, of course, dependent on having a solid diet, proper environment, and adequate enrichment. Keep in mind that because squirrels are not commonly kept as pets, there is not much research done on the types of diseases that squirrels may be susceptible to.
Common signs of illness in squirrels resemble that of most rodents. This will include lethargic behavior, decreased or lack of appetite, difficulty breathing, discharge from the mouth and/or nose, and dull eyes. If you notice these signs, you should get in contact with a veterinarian as soon as you can to determine the source of the problem.
The Diet of a Domestic Squirrel
When a squirrel is removed from its outdoor environment, the way that it will eat will change. Outdoors, squirrels are opportunistic feeders who will eat whatever they can get their hands on. They are omnivores, meaning that they require both animal and plant nutrition to keep them healthy. When brought into captivity, the source of the squirrel’s food will naturally change.
Assuming that you are caring for a squirrel that has been weaned and is not reliant on milk or formula, your goal is going to be to get your squirrel used to eating rodent food. As a rodent, your squirrel will be able to get the nutrients that it needs from most commercial rodent food blocks. If the squirrel you are caring for has had a lavish diet outside, it may take an adjustment period for it to fully transition to this food source.
Once your squirrel has fully transitioned into eating rodent food pellets, you will want to introduce other nutrients into its diet. Sudden and complete changes can be hard on a rodent’s digestive system, which is why you take things slowly. Common nutrients that you will want to add include nuts (not peanuts), seeds (not sunflower seeds or acorns), and fruits and vegetables.
Special Precautions for Caring for a Domestic Squirrel
Caring for an animal that does not have a history of domestication is not an easy task and should not be undertaken unless you have done this before or are ready for the risks that come with it. Important notes to keep in mind include the fact that squirrels are notoriously hard to train. It can take months of continuous bonding exercises for squirrels to even begin trusting you, let alone trying to obey you.
Squirrels also are very prone to playing rough, and this cannot be taught out of them. You will get scratched and bitten, and this is part of what comes with owning and caring for a squirrel. With proper handling and bonding, you can reduce the number of times it happens, but it will be inevitable. Squirrels cannot transmit diseases from their species to ours, but it is still unpleasant to experience.
One last thing to note is that squirrels not only need a considerably large cage to feel comfortable in, often tall enough to be from floor to ceiling, but they also need designated outdoor time. This means that you need to bond with the squirrel enough that you can put a harness and leash on it, or even further, be able to keep it by your side and use commands. If you do not have the time or space to dedicate to this process, a squirrel may not be the right choice for you.
Caring for a squirrel is not a task that should be taken lightly, although if you find yourself in a position of caring for a squirrel that cannot be returned to the wild, it can be an enjoyable and memorable experience. Squirrels have a lot of risks that drastically affect their lifespan in the wild, but in captivity, it can be compared to that of the average housecat. When caring for a squirrel, you will have to pay special attention to its diet, handling it, and building trust with it if you want to have a meaningful relationship with your new furry friend.