Baby squirrels are sensitive creatures, especially in their lives' earliest days and weeks. Because of this, you must know what to do if you find an abandoned or injured baby squirrel to give it the best chance of survival possible. You need to know the proper way to feed a baby squirrel to ensure that it gets the nutrition it needs and how to spot issues or complications, so you know how to deal with them effectively.
What To Do When You Find a Wild Baby Squirrel
The first thing you should know about injured squirrels is that their best chance at survival is at a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center. In many states, it is illegal to own pet squirrels or hold wildlife such as squirrels because of how specific the care, feeding, nutrition, caging, and eventual release are to ensure a squirrel's survival and thriving in the wild.
Wildlife rehabilitators have the experience and supplies to care for squirrels to give them their best chance at life. You should always reach out to your local wildlife rehabilitation center whenever you find an abandoned baby squirrel.
If you don't have a wildlife rehabilitation center nearby or that it may be a few days before you can get to a rehabber, there are a few ways you can care for a baby squirrel to try to help it survive.
Determine The Age
You found a young squirrel on the ground that you think is an orphan; try to determine its age before proceeding further, as you should not intervene with a juvenile squirrel.
Baby squirrels at 3-4 weeks old are naked and will have eye slits and ears slightly open. At about 5-6 weeks, they will have their eyes open and visible front teeth. Between 6-7 weeks old, they will begin to upright. At 7-10 weeks, they look very much like adults, and at the young age of 10-12 weeks, they are independent. If they look like an adult squirrel and have a 6-inch body (excluding a fluffed out tail), it's a juvenile squirrel. If a young squirrel is approaching humans or pets, try to scare it away if it's approaching you or pets.
If the infant squirrel is less than 5-6 weeks old, it's best to try reuniting the infant with its mom. Infant squirrels have the best chance at survival when it's reunited with their mother. Sometimes healthy young squirrels can be found on the ground and are not orphans. Do not take the baby animals and let the mom "rescue" their baby.
The very first thing you should do when you find a baby squirrel is to attempt to reunite it with its mother. A storm can destroy Fox or gray squirrels' leaf nests, and the young fall to the ground. Look around the surround where the baby squirrel is found. Are there squirrel nests round? Was there a storm recently? Squirrel nests can either be in tree cavities or in "dreys." If you can find the nesting tree, return the squirrel to its nest- if it's possible.
If you can't find the squirrel's nest and the baby is warm and seems healthy, the chances that the mother squirrel will return for her baby are very high. Wearing thick gloves, move the baby squirrel to a container with a soft cloth or cloth diaper. Make sure to use a container that it won't be able to escape from and that the mother can get in and out of.
If it's a chilly day and the baby isn't fully furred yet, line the container with a few soft clothes and something warm like a hot water bottle underneath. Then leave it near the tree that the baby came from. Be sure to keep predators away from the area—dogs, cats, hawks, foxes, or snakes—while also keeping yourself out of view of the mother so that she can feel safe enough to retrieve her baby. Give the mother about two hours to come back and get her baby.
If the baby's eyes are still closed, put a warm water bottle wrapped in a towel or sock near the baby to keep it warm while you wait. Be sure the water is not too hot and that the bottle won't roll around in the box and crush the baby.
If the orphan's wild animal appears sick, injured, crying nonstop, or cold, the chances are that the mother won't return for the baby. In this case, you will need to care for it yourself while you wait to take it to a wildlife rehabber.
Warm and Hydrate
The first thing you will want to do for an abandoned baby squirrel is making sure that it is warm and hydrated.
Put the baby in a box lined with soft cloths and if the baby is cold, use a heating pad or a warm water bottle to warm the baby up. You will need to change the towels out often as they get soiled, but be sure that the cloth you use doesn't have loose threads or loops that could get caught around the baby's feet, head, or teeth. If a heating pad or warm water bottle is not available, you can also place uncooked rice or bird seed in a sock and warm it up in the microwave for 20-30 seconds. Wrap it in a soft towel and put it with the baby.
Place and keep the baby squirrel in a warm, dark place away from any pets or small children.
Always assume any orphan infant squirrel is dehydrated to some degree. To hydrate an infant squirrel, you can use Pedialyte and a 1cc to 3cc syringe. Be sure to dribble the liquid on the baby's tongue and make it lap at the liquid to avoid fluid aspiration. Don't let the baby suck on a dripper since the flow is too much.
If you don't have Pedialyte on hand, you can make your own with a cup of warm water and a pinch of salt and sugar.
Assess the Baby's Physical Condition
It will be important to assess the baby squirrel's condition since many baby squirrels are abandoned because they are sick. A few common conditions or problems include—
- Broken bone
- Open wounds or cuts
- Severe dehydration
- Head trauma
- Any fly eggs (looks like small grains of rice)
You should get the baby squirrel to a vet if it is injured or sick in any way. And especially if you rescue it from a cat's or dog's mouth.
Orphaned Baby Squirrel Care
Remember to wear gloves at all times to handle wildlife.
Once the baby squirrel is warm and hydrated and any physical conditions assessed and treated, you can begin to introduce a feeding formula. Pedialyte works well for hydration, but eventually, you will want to use something with more nutrients.
You can begin with unflavored Ensure, a human supplement found at most drug stores and pharmacies. Water it down a little at first and slowly increase the ratio of water to Ensure. Never use cold or hot formula, and always lukewarm. Only feed the baby squirrel while it is awake and upright to avoid fluid aspiration, and use a needless syringe that is no bigger than 3cc.
Eventually, you will want to transition the baby squirrel over to a milk replacement. Esbilac puppy milk replacement is a good choice for most mammals. Never give cow's milk, soy milk, or other human milk replacers to wild animals, as they will make the squirrel sick and probably kill it. Also, avoid feeding baby food or formula to baby squirrels as it can make the wild animals sick.
Feed the baby every 2-4 hours. Be careful not to overfeed, and baby squirrels will overeat if you let them, which can lead to further complications and be fatal. The baby's tummy should be round but not tight when it's adequately full.
A baby squirrel younger than five weeks old will need to be stimulated to poop and pee. Use a warm and wet Q-tip or cotton ball and flick lightly across the genital area. You may need to do this before and after feeding. Some infant squirrels eat better when stimulated in the middle of a feeding.
An infant baby squirrel requires a lot of love, attention, and affection, which should not hinder the release process. If possible, allow someone with experience in wildlife rehabilitation to do the release as if you just "let go" of the squirrel, as it may not survive due to the predators or weather in the surrounding area.
By following these steps carefully, keeping the baby squirrel warm, hydrated, and fed, you can help an abandoned or sick baby squirrel survive. Just remember that to give a squirrel the best chance at thriving back in the wild, you should take it to a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center as soon as you can.