Supportive Care for Squirrels
Always treat the underlying cause of the illness and injury - be it poor diet, inadequate housing conditions, exposure to parasites, wound management, etc.
Supportive care includes following the veterinarians instructions closely, administering prescription medications on time and in the right dosage, keeping the squirrel and any dressings clean, and providing an ideal environment for the squirrel to recover.
This section discusses considerations for providing that supportive care during rehabilitation. For your safety and the comfort of the squirrel, always remove parasites as among the first order of business!
Place the squirrel’s cage in a quite location, away from all unnecessary noise and activity. Don’t expose the animal to loud children or rambunctious pets. Always keep cats away from squirrels (it’s hard to relax under a predatory gaze!). If the house has a lot of ambient noise, consider supplying gentle background sounds, such as quiet white noise, wind, rain or ocean waves.
Create a comfortable ‘den like’ nest from warm soft snag-free fabrics of fleece or soft cotton. Placing a towel over the part of the cage housing the nest provides additional privacy and helps reduce stress.
Always keep the squirrel’s bedding clean and dry. If the animal has limited mobility, clean soiled areas immediately with-fragrant free baby wipes or warm water and place paper towels under the hind quarters. Viva brand is cloth-like and very comfortable.
The room temperature should be comfortable for you. Not too hot, nor to cold. No direct sunlight or cold drafts. Provide a supplemental source of heat (such as a heating pad set on low under half of the bedding, allowing the squirrel room to move off). Do not allow the squirrel to have access to live electrical cords or other toxic materials that may be chewed.
Except for brief periods where the animal is under extreme stress, the squirrel should not be left in a dark room for long periods during normal daylight hours. Squirrels are diurnal (except for flying squirrels which are nocturnal) and require access to lighting cycled to match the normal seasonal conditions. A sick squirrel may benefit from dim lighting, but not complete darkness, except at night.
Ensure the room has good ventilation, affording fresh or filtered air, and a humidifier if the squirrel’s respiratory system is compromised. Squirrels have an extremely acute sense of smell. Don’t expose the squirrel to strong smells from scented hand soap, perfume, scented laundry products, lotions or use fragrant animal bedding, such as cedar wood chips. These can irritate the squirrel’s respiratory system. Old bathroom rugs make a great substrate that can be reused until they fall apart. Wash and dry with fragrance free products.
Sick infants need quiet and supplemental heat. Avoid handling except for routine care. If the baby is alone, place a small (clean and scent free) stuffed animal for the baby to snuggle with. For eyes opened infants, avoid placing toys in the environment that may be scary looking to a sick little squirrel or ingested if chewed on. If the baby is so sick that it is unable to move toward or way from the supplemental heat, take extra care that the baby is not cold or overheated. The idea is to surround the baby with warmth. Alternate the side (right, left or on tummy) on which you lay the infant during routine care.
Juvenile/Adult Hydration and Diet
Always offer cool clean water in a dish and only use a water bottle if the squirrel is use to drinking from one. If the squirrel does not appear to be drinking on its own, drip small amounts from a dropper or syringe into its mouth. If the squirrel is not drinking at all or you suspect dehydration, offer Pedialyte® (or other unflavored infant pediatric rehydration solution) through a dropper or syringe or speak to your vet about providing subcutaneous fluids like lactated ringers (LRS) with no more than 2.5% glucose.
Squirrels do not digest glucose well; therefore, never offer sugary drinks, juice or undiluted adult hydration fluids such as Gatorade® to squirrels as this will exacerbate dehydration.
Feed an easily digestible diet of healthful food, and include acidophilus in the diet to keep the squirrels gut flora in balance, particularly if the animal is suffering from any intestinal problems such as bloat or diarrhea. Crush an acidophilus tablet or capsule and mix with food or a small amount of water or pedialyte and feed through a syringe. Most squirrels like the taste.
For squirrels with digestive issues, Emeraid is a recovery food available from your veterinarian that contains essential nutrients that help support proper gut physiology and digestion (see More Resources below). Also, some juveniles and adults will take readily take Fox Valley formula as an alternative source of easily digestible nutrition.
Infant Hydration and Diet
Sick infants should either be fed unflavored Pedialyte® (or store brand infant hydration formula) or a quality formula made specifically for squirrels, such as Fox Valley Day One. If the problem is intestinal, switching to pedialyte or diluting the formula and supplementing with beneficial bacteria such as acidophilus, yogurt, Bene-bac® by PedAg or LA 200 by Fox Valley Animal Nutrition is generally recommended. Note: Feeding infant hydration fluids or diluted formula to infant squirrels will not meet a growing squirrel’s daily nutrition needs and are not intended for long term use.
Always discuss all recovery diet choices with your veterianarian or a wildlife rehabilitator.