5 Common Feeding
Complications in Squirrels
The most common cause of health problems related to the gastro intestinal tract in babies is improper feeding or diet. That is not to say that illnesses such as diarrhea do not result from other problems. All information on this website is provided for reference only. We are not licensed veterinarians! Please discuss all diagnosis and treatment options with your veterinarian or other wildlife resource.
Many new rehabilitators make common mistakes that can cost the life of a baby squirrel. If you are new to syringe feeding baby squirrels, please review the Feeding Technique Page and the recommended readings.
Aspiration occurs when the baby inhales fluid into the lungs during feeding. Signs of aspiration include bubbling fluid from the mouth or nose. In a normal baby, this can occur when the formula is allowed to flow too quickly into the baby’s mouth.
To reduce the risk of aspiration:
Avoid using a pet nurser bottle with a nipple that flows freely when inverted. Instead, attach a nipple to a smaller syringe that allows you to control the rate of flow. The size of the nipple hole is correct when the formula drips out when inverted.
Always feed the baby in an upright position in warm conditions with good lighting so that you can monitor the squirrel’s swallowing reflex.
Permitting the baby to breathe fluid into the lungs may result in a bacterial infection that can rapidly progress into
a life threatening condition called ‘Aspiration Pneumonia.’
Symptoms of Aspiration Pneumonia are:
Audible breathing or a ‘clicking sound’ in the lungs
Open mouth or labored breathing
A runny or congested nose
General malaise with minimal interest in feeding
What to Do If a Baby Aspirates
If the baby does aspirate fluids, pull the nipple away from the mouth, hold the baby in both hands face down and quickly by gently tip the baby forward and down to help gravity drain the fluid from the nose and lungs. Blot fluid from the nostrils and mouth. When the baby is calm and the airways are clear, resume feeding. If the baby shows any signs of illness contact your vet or wildlife resource immediately.
Bloat usually is the result of over feeding, feeding a cold baby, or feeding an improper diet. Never feed a cold baby or offer any of the following foods: Cow’s milk, fruit Juice or sugary drinks, Diet or alcoholic beverages, or solid foods (even baby food) to a squirrel under 7 weeks old.
To help resolve the issue, feed the baby a hydration fluid safe for infants, such as pedialyte until the problem resolves. If the proper persists, contact a wildlife rehabilitator or your vet.
Some success has been achieved by administering human baby gas drops (simethicone), warmth and gentle massage. Of course, prevention is the best course. Don’t feed a cold baby or more than 5% of its body weight, use proper formula and follow all mixing instructions to the letter. Always, stimulate a baby under five weeks to eliminate after each feeding.
Healthy babies eliminate urine and feces several times a day when stimulated. Normal feces are firm and light colored. If the stool appears non-formed, loose, runny, or foul smelling, something is not right in baby’s gut. This can occur with the baby is not properly transitioned to a new formula, fed the wrong formula, fed too frequently, or fed too much at feeding and ‘over extending’ the stomach.
To correct, switch the baby back to an electrolyte hydration formula such as baby pedialyte or lactated ringers (with no more than 2.5% lactose) for a few feedings and then from the schedule to transition the baby back onto formula. If problems continue, the baby should be seen by a vet.
Baby squirrels can dehydrate in just a few hours without the care of their mother or the safety of the nest, particularly on a warm day. On intake, most neonates arrive with some degree of dehydration.
Physical signs of dehydration are sunken eyes, overly wrinkly and/or dry skin (some wrinkles and loose skin is normal), lethargy, hypothermia, dark or hard feces, dark urine (if any), dry mucous membranes, pale gums, and signs of shock. It’s best to assume that the baby is at least 5% dehydrated on intake. After warming the baby, provide immediate warm appropriate hydration fluids.
#5 Genital Nursing
Severe and life threatening injuries can be done when a squirrel (or one of its littermates) mistakes a penis for a nipple. This is not sexual for your squirrel. The squirrel (or one of his littermates) is either not being fed frequently enough or not fed a proper diet. Correct the diet by only feeding a formula appropriate for squirrels and treat the penis with ophthalmologic antibiotics and YUK anti-lick gel. Genital nursing usually occurs on male squirrels but can also affect females.
Genital nursing is a very common problem that can rapidly become life threatening if the urethra is blocked due to swelling or scabbing such that the squirrel can no longer urinate. Check all squirrels at each feeding for signs of redness at the tip of the genitals, swelling or elongation of the genitals, dark purple sores, discharge or scabbing. Move quickly to separate out any squirrel that shows signs of genital nursing. Even moderate cases can require a Vet's care to mitigate permanent damage that may require the squirrel be humanely euthanized.
To treat the injury, gently soak off any scabs that may be preventing the squirrel from urinating with a warm wet cotton ball and gently stimulate the squirrel to eliminate. If you are unable to get the squirrel to urinate for 24 hours, take the squirrel immediately to a veterinarian.
Some squirrels will not be deterred by the foul taste of an anti-lick gel and must be separated from other squirrels until they are old enough to fend off the overly oral squirrel.
Topical Antibiotic Use in Squirrels
For small babies that are unlikely to lick at the wound site, a standard triple antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin can be applied to the penis. Older babies (with their eyes open) will generally lick at the wound and ingest the ointment, which can seriously imbalance their digestive system and result in life threatening diarrhea. Instead, use Neo PolyDex or another ophthalmic ointment where a topical antibiotic is indicated. Also, treat the genital area with an anti lick gel to discourage further damage.