Treating Dehydration in Squirrels
Minor dehydration, less than 5% can be quickly resolved with supplying a rehydration fluid, such as Pedialyte®. As dehydration becomes more pronounced the animal must be rehydrated over a period of 24 to 48 hours. All lost fluids must be replaced to a normal level. Severe dehydration can result in seizures and death. Once dehydration exceeds 12%, few animals can recover.
All orphans should be assumed to have some degree of dehydration and provided rehydration fluids. The degree of dehydration can be assessed by conducting a few simple tests.
Testing for Dehydration
Gently examine the squirrel. Dull sunken eyes and dry or tacky mucous membranes (mouth) are a sign of serious dehydration.
Perform a skin turgor test by gently grasp the skin on the back of the squirrel between two fingers so that it is tented up. The skin is held for a few seconds then released. Skin with normal turgor snaps rapidly back to its normal position. Skin with decreased turgor remains elevated and returns slowly to its normal position. Decreased skin turgor is a late sign in dehydration. It occurs with moderate to severe dehydration.
Note: very young baby squirrels have naturally loose skin that will demonstrate some tenting normally.
Stimulate the baby to urinate, if there is little or no urine output (Oliguria) or the urine is a dark brown, dehydration is strongly indicated.
Hydrating the Squirrel
Once you determine that a squirrel is dehydrated, it is imperative that you administer the proper fluids in the proper way as soon as possible. Below, you'll find a list of what you need and how to safely feed it to the baby.
Small syringe or dropper. (Tip: Ask for a syringe at your local pharmacy - most will provide it for free)
Warm (not hot) rehydration fluid - Any unflavored hydration fluid appropriate for human infants can be offered orally to rehydrate a squirrel, such as regular unflavored Pedialyte® or other store brand (available at most grocery or drug stores)
In a pinch, you may dilute adult rehydration fluids with 1/3 hydration fluid and 2/3 water as long as it uses sugar and not artificial sweeteners or use the recipe below.
In a pinch, a suitable oral rehydration fluid can be made by dissolving 3 teaspoons of sugar with one teaspoon salt in four cups (1 quart) very warm water.
Cool until fluid is comfortably warm.
The baby must be warm before you can provide hydration.
Do not feed a cold baby.
Feed the baby a rehydration fluid by mouth using a 1 cc syringe or eye-dropper taking care that you dribble the liquid very slowly into its mouth, allowing sufficient time to swallow. Forcing fluids will result in aspiration into the lungs which often kills the baby within a few days from pneumonia.
Offer a small amount of fluid (at room temperature or comfortably warm) every hour for up to 6 hours. Beyond six hours, begin transitioning the baby to formula.
As a general rule, the baby's tummy can hold up to 5% of its body weight. Do not attempt to rehydrate too quickly or overfeed.
Tips for Success
Always stimulate the baby to go potty after every feeding. Newly found babies often need to go potty - badly! Don't be surprised if the baby doesn't have to go since it may be dehydrated.
Never feed a cold baby and keep baby warm during feeding.
Let the baby take fluids at a slow and steady rate. If fluid 'bubbles' out of baby's nose or it appears to yawn, you are feeding too fast! Allowing the baby to aspirate fluids into the lung can result in life threatening aspiration pneumonia
Loosely hold the squirrel in a semi-upright position and never feed a baby on its back.
The only fluids that should ever be offered to a baby squirrel are rehydration formulations for human infants, such as Pedialyte or a milk replacement formula appropriate for squirrels (such as Fox Valley Day One). Inappropriate fluids will make dehydration worse and/or cause life-threatening diarrhea.
NEVER feed a squirrel any of the following fluids:
Drinks containing artificial sweeteners
Juice, sugary drinks, or full strength adult human hydration fluid like Gatorade®