Squirrels are one of the most prevalent rodents in the world and many people consider them welcome visitors to their backyards. There are often times when people will see squirrels exploring their backyards because of how common they are. There are times when people come across a seemingly abandoned baby squirrel, with no sign of parents in sight.
When this happens, you may feel conflicted on whether or not you should disrupt the squirrel, potentially meaning that it cannot be returned to the wild, or taking it in and caring for the baby until you can figure out the next course of action.
Should You Nurse a Squirrel?
Before you pick up a baby squirrel to care for it, you need to make sure that you are able and ready to take on the commitment of caring for a baby squirrel. Much like caring for any other baby animal that does not have a mother to handle these mundane tasks, it is highly time-consuming and resource intensive.
Your first step should be to try and reunite the squirrel with its mother. There are a few ways to do this, ranging from playing squirrel cries to bring the mother closer to creating a nesting box where the baby can be kept safe until the mother returns. No matter how you do it, this should always be the step you take first.
If the mother does not come for the baby, your next step should then be to think about whether or not you are able to commit the time, resources, and energy to caring for a squirrel. If you are interested in raising the squirrel as a rescue, you will also need to make sure that you can provide the time and space it would need.
Attempting to Reunite a Squirrel with its Mother
When attempting to reunite the baby with a mother, there are a few ways you can go about it. Your first step should be to look around to try and see if you can spot the squirrel nest nearby. This will give you a sense of how far the baby has fallen or travelled from the nest.
If the babies are warm and appear to be healthy, there is a better chance that the mother will come back for the babies. This is where the nest box comes in. You will want to place a small box filled with padding, bedding, or something soft near the tree or where you found the baby squirrel and gently place it inside. If the baby is young enough that its eyes are closed, you will need to add a heat source such as a bottle of hot (but not scalding) water.
You should watch from a distance to ensure that no predators are hunting the baby, but far enough away that the mother will not see you, so that the mother feels safe retrieving the babies. You can play the sound of baby squirrel cries and leave the phone or speakers near the box to further attract the mother. If the mother does not come for the squirrel within two hours, then you need to bring the baby in for nursing, as it is likely the mother will not come at all.
Checking the Baby’s Health
If you find yourself bringing in a baby squirrel, whether it is because it is visibly injured, chilled, or because it is getting dark (mother squirrels will not search for their young after sundown), the first thing you should think of when considering how to care for a baby squirrel is to assess its health.
When caressing the baby squirrel’s face, it should move its head at least a little bit. Not doing so can indicate injury to the neck or spine. You should gently squeeze each paw and the tail and gauge how the baby reacts. If it moves away, then this is good. If it doesn’t move or moves unnaturally, that limb may be injured.
You should then gently clean the baby. With warm water and a small amount of dish soap on a soft washcloth, you should carefully clean any visible cuts, move away debris, and wash the nose and face of the squirrel. You should also try and clear its nostrils if you can. Using the damp washcloth simulates a mother’s tongue grooming and helps the baby. You will also have to serve the mother’s role of helping the squirrel relieve itself.
Assessing the Age of the Squirrel
To help you assess how much care and food you will need to provide for the squirrel, you will need to get a sense of its age. Squirrels under three months of age need care from their mother, or in this case, you acting as the nurse for the squirrel.
Newborn squirrels, up to one week in age, will have no fur, closed eyes, and a body approximately three inches long (excluding the tail). Two-week-old squirrels will have fur beginning development on the back, with eyes still closed. Three-week-old squirrels will be about four inches long and their lower teeth will start coming in.
Four-week-old squirrels will be about five inches in length with fur beginning to grow on their underside now, and their eyes will begin to open. At five weeks, they will be about six inches long with their upper teeth coming in. At six weeks, they will develop their rear teeth, be able to sit up on their own, and hold their own food. Between seven and eight weeks, its fur will have fully come in and it will begin being active. Until 12 weeks, the squirrel will learn how to climb and the squirrel can be released if it is otherwise healthy.
Making a Formula for the Baby Squirrel
When caring for a young squirrel, you will want to think about what to feed a baby squirrel. Depending on the age of the squirrel, you will be using anything from a syringe to a feeding bottle with a special nipple. As babies, squirrels have sensitive digestive systems and should only be fed puppy milk. Esbilac is often available at pet food stores, and you should be getting the powdered version for the formula you will make.
You will want to introduce this milk to the squirrel’s system slowly. You will want to begin with one part powdered puppy milk and three parts of salt and sugar water (Pedialyte also works). The next stage will be two parts puppy milk and two parts liquid. After that stage, you will want to go to three parts puppy milk and one part liquid, until the final stage of undiluted puppy milk.
Each feeding stage should last for about two feeding sessions that happen every two and a half hours. Ideally, you will also feed the squirrel at least once during the night. The amount and frequency you feed the squirrel depends on its assumed age and the species of squirrel, with American Red Squirrels eating a little over half as much as Eastern Grey Squirrels.
Checking Your Local Regulations
One incredibly important thing to keep in mind is the fact that in several states, it is illegal for people who are not part of a rehabilitation organization to try and nurse baby squirrels. Missouri, specifically, outlaws caring and raising injured squirrels. Always make sure to check your state and county regulations on caring for injured, orphaned squirrels.
Likewise, if you are unable to bring the squirrel to a rehabilitation center or another organization that focuses on returning animals to the wild, you are going to have to make sure that it is legal for you to own a pet squirrel. Most states do not allow for squirrels to be kept as pets, which means that you will not be able to get veterinary care for the squirrel.
Many states that allow for squirrels to be pets will require you to get a permit. Other states are relatively unclear on the legality of having a squirrel as a pet. As such, it is important for you to make sure that you are within the confines of the law, otherwise you should get in contact with an organization that can care for the baby squirrel for you.
Caring for a baby squirrel is a taxing commitment, meaning that it is important for you to make sure that you try and reunite the baby squirrel with its mother. If the squirrel is unhealthy, not warm to the touch, or if the mother doesn’t come for the baby in two hours, it is up to you to care for the baby.
You will want to start by assessing its health and age before rehydrating it and getting the ingredients and supplies for formula milk. Make sure that you look for rehabilitation centers or places that will help return your squirrel to the wild once it is healthy, unless you are ready to commit to keeping the squirrel as a pet.