Legal Unreleasable Squirrels
If you have a tree squirrel that can't be released back to the wild due to health problems or is a legal pet, here are some things I have learned about keeping them. This information is for tree squirrels, not ground or flying squirrels. If you are thinking of keeping a squirrel as a pet, you MUST read this article first. http://www.mary.cc/squirrels/tametowild.htm *Please read the legal disclaimer at the bottom. I have no pet or unreleasable squirrels and do not endorse having squirrels as pets. I named this page "pet" squirrels because "unreleasable" would not fit in the left side bar. If you need information about ground or flying squirrels, just email me. firstname.lastname@example.org
Why I have this page here. Squirrel rehabbers know how to care for squirrels short term, i.e. not longer than six months. They do not know how to care for them long term. Long term needs are very different. I have a USDA permit and F&G educational exhibit permit to keep them long term. I have learned how to keep them healthy and happy long term. I am sharing that information with others who must now keep a squirrel long term. I only keep squirrels long term if they are unreleasable and enjoy being kept and used for educational purposes to help educate the public about squirrels. Only a very few squirrels fall into this category. I euthanize most unreleasable squirrels.
In some countries pet squirrels are legal. Sometimes people who sell the squirrel do not teach them how to keep them healthy and happy long term. They only give basic feeding instructions. I want to help those squirrels be healthy and happy.
Some people will read why it's illegal, wrong, unhealthy to keep a wild squirrel as a pet, but they will still break the law and do it. Most do it for fear that the squirrel they saved and raised will die because of cars, natural predators or lack of food. They will do it with proper information or without. I might as well give them some good information. I want to help those people at least know how to keep the squirrels as healthy and happy as they can be in and outside of a cage. If I do not provide this information, the squirrels will die painful deaths from malnutrition, they will self-mutilate from boredom, they will die of cage injuries, they will be miserable. I am helping them. Anyone who does not provide this information is condemning them to a painful death.
To those of you who think that I am encouraging illegal caged pet squirrels, that is the last thing I am encouraging! I just realize that some squirrels may end up being kept rightfully so or not so they might as well be kept as healthy and happy as possible instead malnourished, unhealthy and unhappy. If you really care about the animal, you will provide the information. A caring being will realize that it's not right to keep a wild squirrel as a caged animal and they will eventually set it free. Shame on anyone who does not help that squirrel in the process.
Tree squirrels need tall cages with room to climb around, the bigger, the taller, the better for adults. Baby squirrels need smaller cages so they don't fall and hurt themselves. Newborn babies should be in incubators. Ferret cages will do okay for adults. You want something at least 3' tall with shelves and ladders for adults. The one at right is from PetsMart and is $169 with everything in it. I think a squirrel would probably like more climbing room so you don't have to put all the shelves and ladders in. Tree squirrels can jump and climb better than ferrets. They even have some 70" tall cages. Tree squirrels like to be off the ground so be sure to elevate the cage on something sturdy. A cage can be on top of a bookshelf or cabinet and can go to the ceiling. One can drape fabric over the top and back. It keeps the wall clean and makes her feel more secure. One can also drape one over the front when it's bed time. One can put newspaper on the bottom of the cage and change it every other day. (see litter training below) Remember that squirrels are strong. Make sure the doors are a little tough for you to open or your squirrel will get out. Sometimes you need to bend the latches to make them tighter or use twisty ties. If you pick up Ferret magazine, they have some nice stock and custom cages in there also. If you don't take your squirrel out of the cage for exercise, you will need a much larger cage. Fish & Game regulation size for pre-release of tree squirrels is 4' x 6' x 6' tall. This is a great, cheap, fast place to get them. Check out walk-in aviaries. I have some photos of some below. http://www.californiacageworks.com/For permanent residents it's even larger so get the biggest cage you can afford. There are plans on the internet to make you own cages. Search flight cage, large walk-in bird cage. You basically just need six pieces of hardware cloth, wire and metal cutters to build a cage. California Cageworks above sells materials to make a cage.
Some people have large outdoor cages for their squirrels either as the main cage or extra cage. If you have a large pre-release type outdoor cage, be sure they have protection from the sun, rain and wind, and a nest box which can be purchased from wild bird house stores.
Nest box: Squirrels like a nice safe place to sleep. Some squirrels like to be in a giant sized igloo but wood nest boxes are fine too, so is a small cardboard box with a hole in it. Petco sells parrot nest boxes for $10. Just make sure you get one with a big hole 2-2.5" diameter so they can get in it. You can also hang those nest boxes outdoor on a tree or post if they will eventually be released.
Bedding material: Your squirrel needs something to sleep in. One can put two men's undershirts inside the nest box and she makes a nice cozy bed out of them. It's better not to use towels as they can get their claws stuck in the loops of thread. Fleece is very nice also. One can wash the t-shirts once a week. You can also use newspaper that you run through a shredder.
They also like hammocks. Hang this from the ceiling of the cage. They like playing in them and sleeping there too. Make sure you get the ones with metal clips or they will chew through the plastic ones. They also like the ferret sleeves and pouches that hang the same way. One can wash the hammock once a week. You can also just use a washcloth to make your own hammock or any piece of material. They love fake fur and fleece.
Toys: Squirrels like to play with toys. A small stuffed toy their size or smaller with do. Remember to take the eyes, nose...off so they don't chew and swallow them. Don't get the ones with beans inside, just natural stuffing. They make these especially for dogs, cats and ferrets so they're safer. Squirrels love to wrestle with their stuffed squirrel, throw him around, chew on his arms, do somersaults...The ones at right are ferret toys from Petco but I saw some fleece and sheepskin ones for dogs that looked very similar. They like those hanging parrot toys with wood and rawhide. They also like the natural wood bird perches that attach to the side of the cage or you can get some tree branches and wire them to the cage vertically and horizontally so they can climb and sit on them. I also just take a piece of fireplace wood, drill a hole through it and wire it to the cage.
Wheels: Some squirrels like wheels, especially ground squirrels. Make sure you get the jumbo sized one that is tail safe. They can hurt their back from arching too much if it's too small. Be sure to bolt it firmly to the cage so it doesn't tip over if they swing on it. I haven't tried those plastic balls that they run inside on the floor. I think it might freak them out but I don't know for sure.
Harness, leash, collar: Someone wrote in and told me to be sure to include harnesses and leashes. Some people like to take their squirrels out for little walks or just around town. I also saw a ferret carrying bag that perhaps some squirrels might enjoy. Search Petco and Petsmart for ferret items.
Things to chew on: Squirrels teeth grow 6 inches a year so they need things to chew on. Give them flavored wood chews made for rabbits, sterilized bone chew for rabbits, pieces of hard wood, sterilized deer antlers, sterilized cow hoofs, cuttlebone for birds (no need to put it on a holder, they have grape and orange flavors), corn cobs, pumice stone, whole nuts with shells and mineral blocks for small animals and birds. They also like to chew on fruit tree branches, pine tree branches and other branches.
Exercise: Squirrels are awake and active for a few hours after sunrise and a few hours before sunset. They are resting or sleeping the rest of the time. During their awake hours they are very active. They need to run and climb. You can take them out for an hour a day and let them run around one room in your house. Make sure all electrical wires are covered and secured so they can't chew through them. Of course make sure they also can't escape and make sure your cat or dog won't eat them. You can have a tall cat tree that goes to the ceiling that they will love to climb and play on. Squirrels also love to climb the screen door. You can add heavy duty metal mesh to the screen door so she can climb it without ruining it. You can make your own cat trees with carpet, wood and sisal rope. There are free plans on the internet, search cat tree plan. You can even make them out of a small fallen natural tree. Just be sure to bolt it securely. I hear when they are very tame, they will climb all over you. Their claws on sharp. Some people trim them with cat nail clippers. I don't recommend this as they need their claws to climb. They also like to look out windows. Make sure the screens are secure and not rotten or they will get out. I suggest a perch next to a window so they can look out. You could just put a box or table under a window also. You don't want a bored or restless squirrel so make sure they have plenty of things to do. If they start pacing, rub on the cage a lot or try to get out all the time, they are bored and need fun things to do though they may do this the first few weeks of captivity. It's very important for their healthy survival that they have things to do.
Dishware: You can get small stainless steel, thick ceramic or the super hard and tough plastic bowls. I find it neater if they clip to the cage bars. Squirrels are messy eaters and food will get everywhere no matter what. I also use a water bowl that attaches to the bars. You can find these in any small animal aisle at pet stores. You can use bird dishes as well. If your cage doesn't have a high pan you might want to have the newspaper go up three inches on the bottom sides so food doesn't end up all over your floor.
Vitamins: They sell mineral blocks and wheels for small animals. This is also good for their chewing. They also sell vitamin supplements made for small animals and birds in pet stores. Follow the instructions on the bottles, either liquid or powder. I use a powdered supplement which I mix with applesauce. My exotic vet gave me the vitamins. Squirrels need calcium for strong healthy bones. Cuttlebone, dog bones will provide some but be sure to augment their supply of Calcium with mineral blocks with Calcium and the powder supplements. You can crush up calcium tablets and sprinkle it on their food also. I also give them a little powdered Vionate which my vet gave me.
Water: Make sure your squirrel has plenty of fresh water at all times. Some prefer water bottles, some prefer bowls. You can even put the water bowl under the water bottle so it can catch drops and they can have their choice. If you use a water bottle, make sure the tip doesn't get clogged or the ball stuck or they won't be able to get to the water. Check it daily. Also be sure to get a glass bottle, not a plastic one like the one pictured at right. They chew through the plastic ones. You might also want to get a chew guard.
Veterinary care: You should have the names, phone numbers and addresses of an exotic veterinarian or two handy. Make sure you call them to verify that they treat squirrels. Keep in mind that squirrels are not legal pets in several states. If they treat rabbits, rats and ferrets, they will probably treat squirrels but it's not guaranteed and they may not be experts. An exotic vet would be preferable. I suggest you buy the "Illness and Injury" manual below and read it in case you ever have a problem. Take it with you to your vet if needed. Use the drug dosage chart for a pet rat.
Fleas: You can use Advantage initially. Just be sure to use the amount recommended for a kitten the weight of your squirrel. For a full grown squirrel which weighs about 2 pounds, this would be about two drops of Advantage once a month. Generally after the first month you won't need it again. You can use a syringe to measure the cc's to be more precise. Get the dog sized dosages and just put the two drops on the back of the neck. Do not use it on squirrels until they are at least 8 weeks of age just to be safe. It may be wise to put one drop on as a test first.
Diet: Most important thing, DO NOT feed your squirrel "squirrel food" that you buy at the pet store as it's main food. That food is meant as a supplement for outdoor squirrels. Outdoor squirrels can easily balance their own diet but indoor guys depend on you to do that for them. If you only give your squirrel "squirrel food", it will eventually become malnourished, probably experienced rear end paralysis, seizures then die. Indoor "pet" squirrels need "rodent blocks" as their main staple along with some zupreem monkey chow biscuits, then some fruits, veggies with a tiny bit of nuts and seeds as dessert only. Fat squirrels are not healthy and won't live full lives. Indoor squirrels can live to 20 years. If your squirrel is experiencing any of the above symptoms, email me immediately and we can hopefully get him healthy again in no time.
One can feed an adult squirrel a variety of things. For my outdoor squirrels I always have a bowl of dry food available with unsalted all natural peanuts and unsalted all natural sunflower seeds. I buy the big 5 lb. bags of peanuts and sunflower seeds made for wildlife at Target. The bird aisle in pet stores also sells them a lot cheaper than the grocery store. They also like walnuts, hazel nuts, almonds, pecans and other nuts, shelled and unshelled; just remember, always unsalted. They don't like safflower seeds. One can feed seeds and nuts as dessert only for the indoor squirrels after they're eaten their veggies and fruits. Indoors squirrels don't get as much exercise as outdoor squirrels so they can get fat. Some eat raw corn on the cob. One can just slice a 3/4" piece off for her. Some people are against giving corn. One can give her grapes, cherries, bits of apples, melon, tomato pieces and avocado pieces. Peel the grapes for baby squirrels and see the baby squirrel diet. Some also like all natural no salt no sugar peanut butter. I've heard some like to eat dried corn, butternut squash, lettuce, broccoli, nut balls, suet, endive, turnip greens, cucumber, okra, green bell pepper, pears, green bean, sugar pea, sweet potatoes, Zupreem primate chow, pine nuts, pumpkin seeds, acorns, pine cones, spinach, mustard greens, carrots, raw soy beans, plums, banana, kiwi, mango, strawberries, strawberry tops, buck eyes, blueberries, blackberries, raisins, pineapple, fig, dates, peach, nectarines, apricots, whole wheat cheerios and all natural corn puff cereal. Some feed their squirrels rodent blocks and food made for mice or rats which is sold in pet stores (see photo above, Kaytee forti-diet mouse and rat food). They also like sun dried watermelon, cantaloupe, squash and pumpkin seeds. They also like wild gourds, fresh rosemary, fresh lavender, green pine cones, rose petal clippings. Every squirrel is different so experiment with the recommended foods and see what your squirrel prefers. Just try to give them a variety of things so they can get all their vitamins and minerals. One can feed her twice a day at 8:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. during a squirrel's normal feeding hours. One can give her one small animal bowl full of food. One can put one grape cut in half, one whole cherry, applesauce with her vitamins mixed in, a piece of raw corn on the cob...Some people take the cherry pits out, some peel the grapes, everyone has different ideas on feeding. Just don't put a peach, plum or apricot pit in there. Don't throw in an entire piece of fruit or whole ear of corn either.
I suggest 50% rodent blocks and monkey chow then 40% fruits/vegetables then 10% nuts/seeds for a healthy adult squirrel.
Of course baby squirrels need a different diet depending upon their age. At 3 months of age they can eat the adult diet. Under 3 months please use the baby diet indicated here
Free "Raising Infant Tree
Squirrels" manual for rehabbers
Poo & pee: Squirrels can be litter trained. Without training they will go where they please but they won't poo or pee in their nest box, hammock or bedding. My rehab squirrels generally just pee in one corner of the bottom part of the cage after being in the cage a couple of weeks. Keep an extra bit of newspaper in that corner and clean it daily. You can then place a ferret corner litter box in there with some soiled pieces newspaper so they get the idea. You can use torn pieces of newspaper as litter or regular cat litter depending upon their preference. Clean that box out every time you see it dirty and they will always use it. This makes keeping their cage clean and nice smelling very easy. Just change the newspaper every two days and wash out the cage once a week and the odor should be fine. When they are outside running around the house, just watch where they run around. After you put yours back in the cage you can just pick up the little poos with the mini vac and put them in the trash. If they pee outside of the litter box, it's a very small amount which you can blot up with tissue. You can also have a ferret litter box outside of their cage. They will generally pee in a corner on the floor and poo off a high object. Place the litter box where they go outside and they should soon get the idea and use it. Male squirrels may mark their territory with some urine if they see other squirrels around. As long as you clean that room frequently, there should be no problem. Air fresheners are nice too.
If you have any suggestions you'd like to add, please email me. I'm always trying to find new things that squirrels will enjoy.
All pet supplies pictured above came from PetCo and PetsMart.
This is a great, cheap, fast place
to get big cages. $279 for 4 x 6 x 6'. Check out walk-in aviaries)
*Legal disclaimer: It is illegal to keep native squirrels as pets in most states in the US but not all. Please check with your local Fish & Game for specific laws. It is legal to have pet squirrels in some countries in Europe, Asia and other countries. I do not advocate keeping squirrels as pets. I do not have a pet squirrel. Exotic non-native squirrels are legal pets in some if not most states with a permit from local animal services. If you have a permanent resident squirrel, you probably need a Fish & Game permit. If you live in a sanctuary, you may be exempt. If you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you may temporarily keep an injured squirrel. You must put to sleep all permanently disabled or legally un-releasable squirrels. Use this information at your own discretion. I assume no responsibility for the content of this information. Please verify everything yourself. I do not authorize any other use of this information for legal reasons. I have compiled this information to help people who have legal squirrels.