Despite belonging to the rodent family, squirrels do not have the notorious reputation extended to mice and rats. Even though they can chew through bird feeders and ravage vegetable gardens, these adorable furry mammals are given an easy pass. Therefore, it is no surprise that the baby squirrels are even more lovable. In many states, depending on the law, you can adopt and keep these tiny squirrels as pets. But, how do you take care of them? What do baby squirrels eat?
Unlike many other baby mammals, infant squirrels are defenseless weeks after birth. They need constant care from their mothers, who nurse them and keep them warm. However, if you need to take care of a young squirrel, this article has all the information you need.
Saving baby squirrel from predators isn’t enough to take care of it, here’s what you will need.
Read on to learn what do baby squirrels eat and how to take care of a baby squirrel and what food they can consume for healthy growth.
What Do Baby Squirrels Eat and Drink?
Whether you have taken in a baby squirrel or found it abandoned in your backyard, following the steps mentioned below is essential to ensure its safety and health.
When you get a baby squirrel from a licensed breeder, you are usually provided with all the information, including the correct age and dietary needs. However, when you find an abandoned baby squirrel, you first need to determine its age to feed it properly (more on this later in the article).
Baby squirrels need their mother’s milk for the first few weeks of their life. They start to wean at about 6 to 8 weeks, after which you can introduce solid food. If the mother is not around, you need to feed the baby squirrel a milk replacer. We recommend using goat’s milk replacement or puppy’s milk replacement formulas, but never cow’s milk, soy milk, or infant formulas.
Keep the baby squirrel warm before you intend to administer the baby squirrel formula. The same goes for Pedialyte, which is essential for rehydration. A warm water bath usually brings the body temperature up, but it will need a constant heat source to maintain it. A nest box with a blanket bed works well to keep the core temperature.
Placing the box near a heater or over a heating pad ensures the baby is warm enough to be fed the formula at regular intervals. If you do not have a heating pad, fill hot water in a plastic bottle covered with a sock, and place it close to the animal, ensuring it doesn’t topple over. Alternatively, you can use a hot water bottle.
In the case of multiple baby squirrels, placing them in one box helps them feel secure and allows them to stay warm through bodily heat transfer.
The Importance of Rehydration
Before you feed the baby squirrel the milk replacer, you need to ensure it is not dehydrated. You can check for dehydration by stimulating the genitals using a soft cloth or any warm damp cloth. Massage the genitals gently; if the urine is dark yellow, the baby squirrel is dehydrated. Here’s how squirrel poop looks like. Another test is to very softly pinch the squirrel’s skin above the shoulders to see if it will hold its shape for more than a few seconds; if it does, then your pet squirrel needs immediate rehydration.
Initially, especially if you have an orphaned squirrel, rehydration takes priority than feeding the formula. The best rehydrating solution is Pedialyte; however, if you cannot get your hands on it, you can make a homemade alternate yourself. Just take two cups of water and add half a teaspoon each of salt and sugar.
Pedialyte or homemade replacement water solution should be administered through a feeding syringe. Do not use an eyedropper or a baby bottle with baby squirrels, as it may cause them to choke. The feeding syringe comes with a cone-shaped opening, making it easy for you to control the liquid and feed the baby squirrel safely.
To fill the vial with the solution ( and later with puppy milk or goat milk replacement), dip the opening in the liquid and pull back the plunger. After that, you can allow a few drops of the solution to be dropped on the baby squirrel’s tongue to avoid fatal aspiration.
When feeding, hold the baby squirrel upright so that you do not risk choking it by feeding it on its back—using cotton gloves to keep the kit upright. Do not wash the gloves unless soiled. The baby squirrels become acquainted with the gloves, which have their scent, and feel secure when you use them for feedings.
For rehydration, start slow and feed regularly at short intervals. Baby squirrels may not be able to drink too much at once. After each feeding, stimulate the genitals to observe the urine. Light yellow urine indicates adequate hydration, and then you can move on to feeding the milk replacer.
Safe Feeding Practices
Feeding the baby squirrel the wrong formula can have catastrophic results, including life-threatening diarrhea and shock. While there are recipes for homemade formulas, it is safer to buy Esbilac puppy milk, readily available at pet shops. However, ensure that you purchase the formula from pet stores in the nearby area to avoid waiting for a long time for subsequent feedings.
Esbilac puppy milk is available in powder as well as liquid form. We advise you to go for the powdered version to settle the concentration accordingly. Read the formula instructions to ensure that the formula is made and mixed correctly. Dilute the formula with water or the rehydrating solution for the first few feedings. Gradually take the formula to full strength spread over feedings in the first 24 hours.
You can feed one part puppy milk and three-part warm water to Pedialyte. Then, move onto equal parts puppy milk and water. After that, use one part Pedialyte or warm water and three parts puppy milk. Next, move on to full-strength puppy milk formula. For liquid formula, you can add water to the first feeding and then gradually decrease the additional water quantity to bring it up to full strength.
Feed at the same strength for two feedings, two and a half hours apart. Ensure the formula is warm or at room temperature when you feed the baby squirrel.
A simple way to make a homemade goat milk formula is by adding plain yogurt, heavy cream, and egg yolk. However, we would not recommend administering homemade recipes as they may not provide the required nutrients to the baby squirrels.
Feeding the baby squirrels safely depends on their age. However, different species will have different feeding needs. The rule of thumb is to feed the kits 7% of their body weight in grams, but the build-up to 7% needs to be slow.
A tentative schedule can be as follows:
- 0.5 cc to 1.75 ccs (every 3 hours) for newborn to 1 week old
- 1 to 3 cc for (every 3 hours) 2 weeks old
- 1.75 to 5.5 cc (every 3 hours) f0r 3 weeks old
- 2 to 9 cc (every 3.5 hours) for 4 weeks old
- 3 to 12 cc (every 4 hours) for 5 weeks old
- 4 to 14 cc (every 4 hours) for 6 weeks old
- 7 to 16 cc (every 8 hours) for 7 weeks old
- 9 to 18 cc (every 12 hours) for 8 to 12 weeks old
After every feeding, ensure to stimulate the genitals of squirrels less than five weeks of age or unless you see them creating waste regularly on their own. Sometimes, you may need to use a wet cotton ball, a tissue, or even damp fingers to stimulate the lower abdomen before you feed a baby squirrel.
Keep a check on the baby squirrel’s stool for signs of dehydration. Dark and loose stool often indicates a need for rehydration. Yellowish-brown pellet-like stool shows’ that your quantity and timings for the feeding are correct. However, if the pellets seem too light, you may need to weaken the milk feed strength.
Baby animals often do not know when to stop eating. Therefore, it is easy to overfeed them. If your baby squirrel’s stomach seems bloated due to overfeeding, you should warm water to soak the kit’s lower abdomen and massage it to encourage the squirrel to pass gas or produce waste to relieve the bloat. It would also be best to skip one feeding. However, if the bloat remains after a day, contact a vet.
What To Feed A 7 to 8 Weeks Old Baby Squirrel?
While you need to regulate milk formula feedings, once you introduce solid food to a seemingly healthy squirrel, you can let it eat till it is content.
When the squirrel reaches weaning age, you can give them a rodent block to chew to encourage eating solid foods. Around six weeks of age, when you start feeding the baby squirrel the formula further apart, you can introduce other solid foods. Unsalted flower seeds, raw fruits like bananas, apples, grapes, sweet potato, pine cones, and hard-shelled nuts (out of the shell) make for a good weaning diet. Adding broccoli stems, mushrooms and other green vegetables makes for a diverse diet needed for healthy growth.
Gradually, you can also add dehydrated insects like grasshoppers to their diet for proteins. Please ensure that after introducing solid foods and decreasing the quantity of formula, the baby squirrel is still steadily gaining weight.
At 12 weeks of age, the squirrel is old enough to fend for itself. Even though squirrels do not make good pets, check your local laws if you plan to keep one as they are considered wild animals. Otherwise, a 12-week old juvenile squirrel can be released and should be able to survive thanks to its wild instincts. However, we would not advise releasing the squirrel yourself. Instead, seek help from a Licensed Wildlife Rehabilitator.
How To Identify A Baby Squirrel’s Age?
Now that we know that feeding young squirrels depends on their age. There are a few markers for baby squirrels that can help determine how old they are. That will help to what do baby squirrels eat.
- Newborn to 1 week: In the first week of their life, baby squirrels have a pink, furless body.
- 2-4 weeks: Initially, fur presents itself on the upper side, with closed eyes. Week three sees front lower teeth growing, and by week four, the underside also has soft fur. Eyes start to open but that’s not when they are most active.
- 5-8 weeks: Eyes fully open, top front teeth also showing. As the week follows, back cheek teeth also break through the gums. The baby squirrel around this age can use its front paws to hold food and sit without support. Around week eight, the fur covers the body with a fluffed out tail, and the young squirrel becomes much more energetic.
- 10- 12 weeks: Can climb despite being smaller than a fully grown squirrel and be released outside to play and explore, if healthy. Chasing each other is one of their habits. Meanwhile, stop the baby squirrels from running in front of cars on the road and as well as from traveling a bit far from seen which are very likely to be hunted by other animals.
Once you have identified the baby squirrel’s age, even those without a mother squirrel can be fed appropriately. To provide formula according to age, refer to the feeding chart above.
What Do Baby Flying Squirrels Eat?
Unlike other squirrels, flying squirrels are nocturnal, arboreal rodents. Thus, it is unlikely to find them in daylight. However, if you have one in captivity or have found one after its fallen from its nesting tree, the following steps will help you take care of it and what do flying baby squirrels eat.
Feed formula to the flying baby squirrel every 2 to 3 hours in the first three weeks of their life, with one-night feeding. By the fourth week, increase the gap between each feeding to 3 to 4 hours. There is no need for night feeding by week five, and the formula is needed every 5 to 6 hours. You can also start feeding them half-cut grapes, apple bits, and shelled nuts. Around this time, ensure they have access to distilled water in a wide bowl with shallow sides.
Through week six, continue with the same food supply, focusing more on familiarizing the flying squirrel with solid adult food, which means the inclusion of rat chow. During weeks six to seven, notice weight gain proof that the bay has taken to solid food. If the feeding routine seems to work, start weaning the flying kit.
Continue the weaning process, and by week ten, the baby flyers should completely adapt to an adult food diet. Young flying squirrels love hazelnuts, shelled walnuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, rodent blocks, mealworms, apples, and grapes even chocolates but here’s the truth. Deer antler and cuttlebone are also good options for gnawing to supplement calcium.
Note: Young flying squirrels molt when 12 weeks old for about two weeks and should only be released after the molting process is completed.
What Do Baby Ground Squirrels Eat?
Ground squirrels live in burrows underground. Thus their natural habitat is very different from other squirrel species. However, their feeding habits are pretty similar, where they prefer herbivorous food like natural vegetation, nuts, and seeds but can also eat small vertebrates and insects given the opportunity.
Therefore, formula feed is necessary for baby ground squirrels for the first few weeks of their life. With their mother in the wild, babies would remain in the burrows till five weeks, nursing and feeding till their eyes could open, then, they would move into the diet of small plants.
For baby ground pet squirrels, you need feed formula at regular intervals for the first four weeks, including one night feed. After that, you can introduce other foods along with the formula, slowly beginning the weaning process at 4 to 5 weeks when the baby opens its eyes.
Once the eyes are open, you can start with soft foods like avocados and grapes with their skin off. You can also grind calcium tablets and mix them with food to ensure they do not have a calcium deficiency. A week later, they are ready for more complex food like rodent blocks and carrot pieces. Some shelled almonds are also good to be given around this age to encourage chewing. At ten weeks, ground squirrels should be completely weaned.
It is advisable to introduce solid foods slowly. Only feeding them seeds and nuts can make them overweight, thus keeping a good mix of fruits and vegetables in the diet. Cherries, sweet potatoes, mustard greens, spinach, turnip greens, cucumber, corn, berries, buckeye, different types of nuts, pine cones, acorns, pine nuts, seeds, herbs, and flower buds even popcorn are also acceptable food for young ground squirrels.
When feeding solids, avoid plastic bowls as they will chew them up. Instead, use thick glass or ceramic that they cannot damage.
What Do Baby Tree Squirrels Eat?
Tree squirrels include more than 100 squirrel species, including red and gray squirrels. Tree squirrels are named after their habitat, differentiating these tree-dwellers from their burrowing cousins. (The flying squirrel also lives in trees, but its ability to glide sets it apart from tree squirrels.)
Since baby tree squirrels’ natural habitat allows them easy access to hard-mast like acorns and other nuts, this is what they include in their diet after they have weaned, along with seeds, flowers, buds, and sometimes, insects and other small animals. However, location and species size have a certain effect on what and how they feed.
What Do Baby Red and Gray Squirrels Eat?
The American red and Eastern gray squirrel babies only feed formula in the first few weeks of their life (up to 4 weeks), but the quantity will differ based on their size. Since red squirrels are smaller than their Eastern gray cousins, they need less feed.
For red squirrels, from newborn to 1 week, you start with 0.5 ccs of puppy milk formula feed every 2.5 hours. In week 2, increase the feed to 1 – 1-.5 cc every 3 hours.
A week later, 1.75 – 2 cc every 3 hours should suffice and in week 4, feed 2 – 2.5 cc formula every 3.5 hours. During weeks 5 and 6, feed them every 4 hours, between 3 to 6 cc. This is the time when you introduce them to adult food as well.
In week 7, you should feed them thrice a day; every 8 hours, 7 – 8 cc should be enough. From week 8 to 12, the weaning process is completed. Thus the baby squirrel only needs two feeds per day, 12 hours apart. 9-10 cc and various nuts, seeds, fruits, mealworms, and pine cones.
For gray squirrels, newborns up to 1 week have 0.75 – 1.25 cc of puppy milk formula every 2.5 hours. Next week, the time between feed increases to 3 hours, and the feed also increases to 2.5 to 3 cc. In week 3, feed 4 to 5.5 cc every 3 hours. Week 4 sees a big jump in feed with the baby grays feeding up to 6 – 9 cc of formula.
In week 5, 10 – 12 cc formula feed every 4 hours is recommended, along with some adult food. For week 6, the feeding gap remains the same( 4 hours), but the feed increases to 12 – 14 cc. 14 – 16 cc in the seventh week should be fed every 8 hours to the baby squirrel. From 8 to 12 weeks, young grays only need two feeds per day of 16 – 18 cc of formula.
Start off baby gray squirrels with crushed rat chow, shelled nuts, apples and grapes. Only add unshelled nuts o the diet after ten weeks, when the weaning process is near completion. Other foods liked by baby and juvenile grays are bananas, kale, sweet potatoes, bark from fruit and nut trees. Seed, nuts, pine cones, and twigs are also favorite foods. They also like fruit, fungi, insects, and amphibians – even nestling birds at times.
Baby squirrels need intensive care from birth until weaning to fend for themselves. Squirrels are born with hairless bodies and eyes closed shut. Their eyes open around 4 to 5 weeks after they are born, and till then, they survive on their mother’s feed. In captivity, puppy milk formula acts as a good replacer for mother squirrels’ feed.
A baby squirrel also needs a heating source to regulate its body temperature. When their eyes are shut, baby squirrels need regular post-feed genital stimulation to pass waste and urinate. Around 4 to 5 weeks, you can start introducing adult food to baby squirrels, including a chopped-up rodent block and small pieces of fruit.
You can then gradually introduce more adult squirrel food like nuts, seeds, berries, green plants, flowers, buds, fungi, mealworms, and cuttlebone to increase calcium levels. That’s all to what baby squirrels eat?