If you have a baby squirrel whose mother has died or stopped caring for it, you need to feed and nurture it on your own. This is a challenge that regularly faces wildlife rehabilitators, and as a pet owner you can follow their proven techniques.
The first step in caring for a baby squirrel is to determine how old it is. Different squirrel species mature at different rates, but the common Eastern grey squirrel that lives throughout America has foolproof milestones for figuring out age.
- If your infant squirrel is pink and hairless, he's a newborn. Squirrels start to grow hair at 7 days old.
- If his eyes are closed and his ears are flat against his head, he's less than 3 weeks old. A squirrel's ears begin to open at 3 weeks and fully lift up at 4 weeks. His eyes begin to partially open as early as 3 weeks old, but don't fully open until 5 weeks.
- Lower teeth emerge at 4 weeks and upper teeth at 5 weeks.
- By 6 weeks old, your baby squirrel starts to sit upright and resemble a small adult squirrel.
Rehydrating a Newborn
A newborn squirrel can quickly become dehydrated when not cared for by his mom, so before you start feeding him you need to rehydrate him. He will not be able to digest his food properly if you skip this step and go straight to feeding.
Things You'll Need
Fruit-flavored or unflavored Pedialyte or other infant hydrating fluid
Eye dropper or small syringe
Gently pinch the infant's skin and see if it remains tented, or immediately returns to normal. If it quickly flattens out, he's only slightly dehydrated, and should be fed only Pedialyte for 6 hours. If it tents for a little while but then returns to flat, hydrate with Pedialyte for 8 hours. If it stays tented for an extended period of time, he is severely dehydrated and needs to be rehydrated for at least 12 hours.
Hold the baby squirrel upright in one hand -- never lay him on his back for feeding. Fill the eye dropper or syringe with Pedialyte and feed the squirrel as much fluid as he will take, until his belly is full and round but not overly bloated. If he drinks healthily, repeat this process every 1 1/2 to 2 hours for the designated amount of time. If he refuses to take much liquid, give him more every 30 minutes until he is drinking steadily and then start normal treatment.
Feeding the Infant
Things You'll Need
Powdered or pre-mixed Esbilac puppy milk replacer
6 cc syringes
After the first 6 to 12 hours, you can start feeding your baby squirrel a milk-replacement formula. Esbilac is made for puppies, but it has the correct formulation for baby squirrels.
Mix one part Esbilac powder to four parts lukewarm water for the first feeding -- if your Esbilac is premixed, dilute it with equal parts water. At each subsequent feeding introduce one more part powder until your formula is the standard one part Esbilac to two parts water.
- If the baby squirrel is up to 2 weeks old, feed him 1 to 4 cc every two hours.
- From 2 to 6 weeks, feed him 4 to 6 cc every 3 to 4 hours.
If formula bubbles out of the baby's nose, he is aspirating and in danger of getting pneumonia -- back off feeding and tip him forward to allow the liquid to drain out. When you return to feeding, go slowly and let him suck at his own pace.
Feeding the Older Baby
Things You'll Need
Rodent food such as hamster mix or rodent block
Hard-shelled nuts with shells removed
Fresh fruits and vegetables
At 6 weeks old, when the squirrel's eyes have been opened for a week, start feeding him small cubes of bread that have been soaked in Esbilac formula. Expect him to get quite messy while eating this mixture. Dried formula on his fur will cause it to fall out, so it's important to wash the formula off his fur and dry him gently with a soft towel after each feeding.
Also offer a good quality rodent food and nibble foods such as unsalted nuts without shells, cubed fruits like apples and grapes, and small pieces of vegetables including broccoli, kale and sweet potato.
At 7 or 8 weeks old, spread peanut butter between two slices of bread before cutting it into cubes and soaking it in Esbilac. Once he can stand up on his own and pick up food in his paws, feed him these little sandwiches without the milk.
Your baby squirrel needs to continue receiving formula several times a day until he is 9 or 10 weeks old. If he is eating well on his own, you can start cutting one feeding every few days until he is no longer taking formula.
Baby squirrels do not need to be burped like baby humans do. However, while his eyes are closed, you need to help your squirrel eliminate waste after every feeding. His mother would do it by gently licking his genitals, so you are going to replicate that process by stimulating him with a damp cloth or tissue.
After the squirrel has finished eating, use the cloth or tissue to gently stroke his genitals and anal area downwards towards his tail. He should urinate, and maybe defecate. Young infants will have soft, yellow stools. Once his eyes are open, you can stop this practice after every feeding, but continue once or twice a day until you notice him routinely eliminating waste on his own.
Heather Vale is a writer, interviewer and seasoned journalist. She has authored news, entertainment and informational programming in TV, radio, print and online media. She is also a certified childhood fitness and nutrition specialist with a background in mind-body-spirit health, self-help, business, technology and pet breeding. Vale holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts in visual arts from York University.