Caring for Orphaned Ground Squirrels

ground squirrel

Female golden-mantled ground squirrel

Suppose that you are out in the forest and you come across a baby ground squirrel that is obviously orphaned, with little doubt about it. What do you do? Having an idea of what steps you should and can take might be the difference between the little critter living or perishing. If they die, it would be unfortunate, because these are easily tamed animals, they are entertaining and interesting and they aren’t especially difficult to care for. Indeed, most pets are harder to keep than a pet squirrel.

It is important to know that the young squirrel is indeed orphaned though. If the mother is found nearby, dead, it would be reasonable to assume that the little one or ones are abandoned and may not survive without a little help. It should also be noted that the goal of rescue and rehabilitation is to return the animal back to the wild when possible, though it can’t always be done.

Squirrel species and age

It is a good plan to get an idea of the age and kind of squirrel. Googling squirrels will give you an idea of type, especially since you will know what area it came from. As for the animal’s age, look at such things as fur, teeth, upright ears and so on. The less developed the squirrel is, the younger they normally are. If the squirrel has no fur or very short fur, there is an excellent chance that it is only one or two weeks old or less and would best be cared for by the nearest wildlife rehabilitator or wildlife vet.

If it is furry and beginning to get teeth though, provided that you have the patience, you can raise it to the point that it can be released. It could also be kept as a pet, if it is legal in your location and the animal isn’t an endangered species.

In some US states, it is illegal to keep a wild squirrel as a pet and many squirrel species are on the endangered list. So the usual goal is to rehabilitate the squirrel until it can be released back into the wild. Also, it is illegal in many place to turn squirrels and other rodents loose into the wild unless the animal is being returned to the wild.

Need for warmth

Let’s assume that you have a squirrel that is old enough for you to care for. How do you do it? Ground squirrels and tree squirrels are different. However, you must keep the little squirrel warm. Squirrel young usually require between 98 and 99 degrees F. Pine shavings for bedding are fine, but the animals still must be kept out of drafts and cold. Try to avoid using cloth for bedding, as their claws can get caught in the material. Shredded paper towels or clean toilet paper would be a better choice.

Feeding baby squirrels

If the little critters are not fully weaned, do not feed cat milk supplement, goats milk or cows milk. The fat to protein ration is wrong for squirrels. You can feed it puppy supplement, available in stores or vets offices, fed every couple of hours.

Pedialyte (fruit flavored) is good if the animal is showing signs of being dehydrated, but it doesn’t have many noticeable calories, so go light on the amount you use. Use an eye dropper, small bottle or syringe without a needle (usually available in vet supply stores) to feed the fluids, and do not overfeed them. Baby squirrels will often accept more food than they should have and overfeeding can harm them.

Feeding too fast can cause them to get fluid in their lungs and this should also be avoided. Dry puppy food, carrots, strawberries and dandelion greens can be given to the baby very early on, to get it used to eating ‘real’ food. Dried grass is good for them to chew on. A salt block like those for rabbits is also good, especially if it contains minerals. As the animal gets older, quality hamster or gerbil food can be given to the creature.

Limbs and branches can also be supplied to give the squirrel something to chew on, though you should make sure that they haven’t been sprayed with pesticides. A squirrel’s teeth grow continually throughout their lifetime so the wood helps them wear the teeth down enough that the growth doesn’t become a problem.

Bathing squirrels

It is very common for young squirrels to have fleas. To deal with these, bathe the baby in warm water, using ‘no more tears’ baby shampoo, making sure that you keep the baby’s head above the water. Little squirrels can actually get to the point where they enjoy their baths.

Setting up a tank

A large cage with fine mesh to prevent the squirrel from getting out can be great for containing the squirrel. However, ground squirrels are burrowing animals, so the cage should be used with a container such as a fish aquarium, which can be filled with dirt, with a way for the animal to go back and forth to the dirt at will. It isn’t uncommon for them to dig a tunnel one day and then fill it in and dig a new one the next day. They will also often bury a cache of food in the soil.

Squirrels are meticulously clean animals and they will often use the same spot over and over to do their bathroom duties. This should be cleaned periodically in order to keep the animal healthy.

Raising a squirrel can be fun and a joy, but remember that they are still wild animals and must be respected. They require time, effort and commitment, too. Still, they are quite endearing. Many species, for example golden mantled ground squirrels (Spermophilus lateralis), are diurnal, too. This means that they sleep at night, so you’ll be able to enjoy them during the day.

Whether the animal is going to be turned loose in the wild or kept as a pet, the care of orphaned squirrels is a better alternative than allowing them to die. I raised a pair of squirrels that were a complete delight and who enjoyed riding in my shirt pockets. They are good pets and interesting ones. Chip and Dale were among the best pets I’ve ever had.




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