For the past twenty years, I've been fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to raise dozens of orphaned baby squirrels to adulthood. My first baby, Master Splinter, came to me while cashiering at a pet supply store. A woman brought the bald baby in after rescuing it from a couple of twig wielding boys at the local park. She thought it was a mouse or a rat but, having already been familiar with what feeders looked like, I knew it was something much more exciting!
Below, I'm going to share some basic tips for getting started with baby squirrel care. If you've just come into possession of a precious one, please get that baby warmed up. These little ones, especially the hairless, are not able to regulate body heat the way an older squirrel can and will need your help.
I am not a veterinarian or formally trained wildlife rehabilitator. This post is based on experience and internet research and I do not claim, at all, to be an expert and this is not an exhaustive guide to squirrel care. Laws are different in every state - please check local guidelines before attempting to interact with wildlife. This post also contains affiliate links for products I recommend and trust.
Clarissa Summers is an expert in caring for orphaned animals and I have relied on her published tips for nearly all of my decisions. Here is a link to her site:
The Baby Needs Warmth before Anything Else
If you're not too squeamish - keep the baby up against your skin for as long as you can. Similar to "kangaroo care" with our own babies, your own body heat and heartbeat seem to have a magically healing and comforting effect on little orphans. No matter how long you suspect the baby has been out, heat has to come before feeding and watering. Without the proper body temperature, a baby squirrel will not be able to digest anything it is fed, which can spell immediate disaster. Hold the baby in your hands or on your chest (skin-to-skin is best) and comfort it for at least 20 minutes before anything else.
Is this a Job for Me?
Before you consider raising a squirrel on your own, please research and see if there is a qualified wildlife rehabilitator available to take the case. It's fun to say you're raising a squirrel but, truthfully, it's a full time job and, without the proper equipment, chances of survival are slim. The first hours are critical, you can not sleep through the night, and most of the babies found are already suffering internal injuries from the initial fall. Some babies are found because they are already sick and the mother has rejected them from the nest, making your chances of success even slimmer. Please, again, look into finding an experiences rehabilitator before you consider taking the job on yourself.
Depending on how young the squirrel is, the basic necessities will be a high-sided container with a ventilated lid, a heating pad with temperature control and WITHOUT automatic shut-off, towels, paper towels, whole milk, food grade Vitamin-E, and a smooth medicine syringe or eye dropper. Whenever I call my husband to tell him I've got another one, he goes straight to the basement where I have my kit packed up and ready to go so we only have to worry about buying the milk and Vitamin-E.
Again, please visit Clarissa's site for feeding instructions. I have raised all but one of my squirrels on her scalded milk formula and have had beautiful, healthy babies. Others recommend puppy milk (never kitten), but there are so many unnatural things in those mixes that are bad for these delicate babies that I wouldn't want to risk it. Scalded milk is the way to go - trust me!
Parasites and Diseases
One of the questions I am asked most frequently is whether or not I'm worried about getting rabies from my squirrels. The answer is a resounding NO. From what I've read, very rarely has a squirrel been discovered with rabies and, truthfully, any baby attacked by something with the disease will probably be dead before you find it. If your baby comes to you with some hair, it'll behoove you to look through the fur for parasites. Fleas aren't uncommon but a thorough grooming over the sink gets rid of them in one go and you'll have a clean baby from then on.
I once was given a baby with dozens of white "dots" tucked in throughout his fur. It wasn't long until I noticed one of them moving and nearly had a heart attack! I have no clue what they were but I knew that my own disgust had to be put to the side to spare the baby from whatever was to come. Out came the tweezers and, one by one, I pulled them all out and flushed them down the drain. I still can't believe how terrified I was but I'm glad I did it. We both survived.
Making up the formula is easy. Scalding milk is heating it to the point just before boiling. On the stovetop, 180 degrees is the goal but you can also check visually as the milk begins frothing at the top. I've never had a problem microwaving the milk to the scalding point, you just have to keep a close eye on it as it heats and catch it just as it begins to froth. After heating, mix the milk well to avoid any hotspots. The Vitamin-E can then be added at a ratio of 3-4 drops per 1 cup of milk. Clarissa Summers also adds yogurt so feel free to see her page for the recipe.
Be sure to keep baby warm during feeding by holding him in your hand or laying him on the heat pad. Test milk to see that it cooled enough to be safe for the baby to drink and feed carefully and slowly using your syringe or dropper. At first, the baby may not understand what is happening, but it won't take long before that first taste of the milk leads baby to suckle enthusiastically. Be careful, though. It is easy for babies to aspirate (breathe in the liquid) if it is fed too quickly. You'll know this has happened because milk will usually be "sneezed" out through the nose. For this reason, I keep a facial tissue or a square of toilet paper handy to dab the nose and prevent the milk from being inhaled.
If baby does aspirate, stay calm and keep his nose and mouth dry until the sneezing stops. The baby may be able to drink again as soon as he has recovered. Aspiration is dangerous and can lead to trouble so always be careful. If it happens too frequently, you may need to rethink your feeding method.
Scheduling Feedings and Potty Breaks
As far as the schedule goes, the number of feedings and amount of milk per feeding will vary depending on the age of the baby. More likely than not, you should be prepared to wake up throughout the night to feed very small babies. Try your best to keep a regular schedule and to log all feedings.
After feeding, always make sure to help your baby go potty. When they are tiny, they are unable to do this on their own and mother will stimulate them. You can do this by "tickling" under-areas with the corner of a tissue. monitor to see that the tissue has become wet. You should also expect to see teeny poops but if they don't show up immediately, don't fret. When the first one does form, it will probably be dark and solid. As baby adjusts to the new milk formula, you can expect waste to be orange-ish and slightly wet. Failure to help the baby potty will result in back-ups and sickness. Potty time should be logged along with feedings so you can monitor baby's patterns and quickly recognize when something is wrong.
I've always raised smaller babies in a ten-gallon fish tank over a heat pad with a towel between the two as a buffer for the heat. The bottom of the tank is lined with paper towels and then covered with Carefresh Bedding. Until you can get your hands on this bedding (which babies love to burrow into), shredded paper towels can provide a nice clean bedding.
Pet supply stores sell ten-gallon size screened covers for tanks. I use that with a towel covering 75-80% of the top to keep in heat while still allowing ventilation. I prefer the top with the hinge as it comes in handy when baby is bigger and trying to jump out.
Where do I go from Here?
Hopefully, if you've made it this far, you are well on your way to successfully caring for this little orphan. Even if your task is just getting it through the night until you can reach a rehabilitator, following these steps should help to keep the baby comfortable.
In part 2 of this series, I will cover what it's like to raise a baby and how to switch to solid foods, when the time is right. Part 3 will focus on successfully releasing a home-raised squirrel back into the wild. Once again, take some time and read through Clarissa Summers' page. I'm sure I never would have been so successful at raising healthy, happy babies without her guidance and you'll be happy you took the time to do read it.