People have wanted to keep squirrels as pets for a long time. There is a documented history of people keeping them as pets for at least the past three centuries. The real question, however, is if it is a good idea to keep them as pets both in the short and the long term. Let us look at the answer to this question.
Squirrels can be cute pets and can be tamed and domesticated, but they should not be made into one. They are not easy to care for; their energy and sharp nails and teeth cause a lot of damage in your home. Their diet is hard to obtain. They turn the home into a waste dump, and they are essentially wild.
Can squirrels be tamed? Yes.
Should you do so? No.
While many might think that it is easy to care for pet squirrels, they can quickly change their mind once they see and realize the difficulties that caring for these cute but troublesome creatures entail.
A lot of people think that they are lovable, and that is usually enough reason for them to keep squirrels as pets. But we shall examine why this is an erroneous and potentially disastrous idea.
Disadvantages of Keeping Squirrels as Pets
It is easy to see why people are attracted to squirrels because they are such small, furry, and cute mammals.
People are amused by them because they usually have friendly interactions with squirrels in parks.
It is customary for people to feed them. Squirrels also look amusing as they scurry back and forth from the trees as part of their daily activity.
In cartoons, squirrels are also depicted as cute, intelligent, and funny. There are memorable squirrel characters in fiction as well. Therefore, it is not surprising to see people get tempted to take them as pets.
However, once people start keeping squirrels, they realize that they may have bitten more than they could chew. They begin to experience firsthand that squirrels are still wild animals that are difficult to take care of.
Let us enumerate all the disadvantages that squirrels bring to you and your household if you decide to keep them as a pet.
Squirrels are hyper active
People found that these critters are very energetic and require a large space for running and moving.
They need a spacious environment to satisfy their hyperactive nature.
The forest, with its abundance of trees to climb and scurry onto, provide ample room for the needs of squirrels; in comparison, homes could not provide the same.
The hyperactivity of squirrels is one of the main reasons why people are attracted to them. Watching them run around accepting food offered by people is very entertaining.
Unfortunately, once you take them into your home, this nature becomes a source of headache.
Squirrels need a very large cage, aside from lots of time outside their cages.
They need up to three hours of activity time outside the cage, day in and day out.
This is akin to having five Labrador retriever dogs in a very small apartment with only one bedroom.
They require a lot of time from owners
It will take you no time to realize that squirrels will eat up all of your time and majority of your resources.
They need to be watched over all the time, so you cannot go out of the house even for a short vacation without needing a sitter for the squirrel.
Their required diet is also hard to find and time-consuming to fulfill, as we will discuss in another section later.
Squirrels’s nails are dangerous
Squirrels have very sharp nails because they need them for climbing and holding on to the bark of trees.
Imagine what these nails can do to soft human skin.
Wounds, punctures, sores, swellings, and irritation are not uncommon skin conditions experienced by people with squirrel pets.
They bite with sharp, piercing teeth
Squirrels have very sharp teeth that can crack open hard nuts. With these teeth, they do not hesitate to bite to their fullest when they feel like doing so.
They do not have the bite inhibiting reflex behavior exhibited by domestic animal pets. When they feel like biting, they will bite and will have no compulsion to hold back.
Squirrels can also chew anything and everything. They also lack a chew inhibiting reflex characteristic of many domestic animals. When a squirrel wants to chew something, it will not hesitate to chew it.
If you take a squirrel as a pet, prepare to have your things chewed upon and destroyed.
Your tv remote control, your curtains, your precious antiques. They will chew a wide variety of things from the drywall to the furniture, the wallpaper, and almost anything else.
Why do squirrels have a penchant for chewing anything and everything? One main reason is because their teeth, just like rabbits and similar lagomorphs and rodents, does not stop growing all throughout their lifetime.
They need lots of chewing surfaces so that they can wear down their ever-growing incisor teeth.
If they cannot chew their teeth down, they will have a serious dental problem, and this will impede their ability to eat properly, leading to compounding illnesses and disease.
It can even lead to death if their ability to eat is impaired in the long run.
They have this chewing behavior in order to keep themselves healthy.
Squirrels kept as pets in a household will therefore need to resort to chewing the furniture and whatever things they can find inside the house to fulfill this biological need.
Varied dietary requirements
Another necessity of squirrels that make them unsuitable as pets is their need for a natural and balanced diet that is relatively hard to obtain.
To be able to adequately and regularly provide this to them will cost you much time, money, and effort.
Part of this difficulty comes from the fact that some of their food items are not readily available.
Squirrels eat nuts, fruits, and even insects.
If you have a squirrel pet, you will need to spend hours gathering these items either by buying them or collecting them from the wild and then preparing them daily.
You may also need to cook the food and provide supplements in order to ensure complete nutrition.
Just by describing this process, I am sure you are already reeling from the responsibilities inherent in keeping a squirrel.
Their need for a regular supply of insects alone makes feeding them a seriously daunting task.
Squirrels have learned another negative trait in living among humans, and it is their penchant for eating junk food.
To get them, they will plead and beg humans to give them some, and if the humans do not oblige them, they will proceed to get them anyway.
In this manner, squirrels are like children who eat the items that taste great instead of what’s right.
They turn your home into a waste dump
Squirrels are very clean and neat.
But they restrict this cleanliness and neatness only in their own living areas. They do not care about being messy everywhere else.
They will routinely throw all their garbage on your floor, such as partially consumed food bits; stale food they refused to eat; wilted vegetables and fruits; partially consumed or unconsumed insects; shells of nuts; and of course, their urine and feces.
Squirrel pet owners will have to deal with insects crawling all over debris spread by their pets, and they will have to regularly clean urine and feces excreted by the squirrels outside their cage.
They have a habit of hanging on their cage’s side to aim their excreta on your floor.
When they run around your home, they will also defecate and urinate as they go. It is not unusual for your house to suddenly become a large squirrel’s toilet. Squirrels also eat their own feces.
They will, however, keep one place clean: their own living space.
Squirrels are wild animals
This is the most compelling reason why squirrels are not suitable pets.
Squirrels are essentially wild animals.
If you love them, set them free. They are meant to roam the forest and the trees in complete freedom where they really belong.
There are rare instances where squirrels need to be taken care of by humans in captivity, and this usually involves medical issues.
Some of these squirrels also become unsuitable for release once they have recovered because they have grown so accustomed to human company and care that they have lost their ability to live on their own in the wild.
In this case, they will already be in captivity for their entire lifetime.
Abandoned baby squirrels and some debilitated ones may also need veterinary attention and care. Due to humane considerations, they need to be taken into wildlife rescue centers and nursed back to health.
When people insist on making wild animals their pets, they are not doing themselves or the animals any good.
Squirrels, tame or not, can shred your home to ribbons; give you nasty scratches, bites, and wounds; destroy your furniture, carpets, and your other possessions; turn your place into a trash heap of excreta, and take up much of your valuable time.
Making a wild animal species your pet will damage it more than benefit it. Respecting and loving wildlife means letting them remain wild.
The Care and Feeding of Squirrels
Even though it is not a good idea to keep a squirrel as a pet, there is still the need to take care of them in certain special circumstances.
In addition, in certain areas where squirrels can be legally kept, even if people know the consequences, they still prefer to keep them just the same.
There are people who love a challenge and see the difficulties of squirrel care as a worthy goal to accomplish.
And so, despite the discouragement, or perhaps even because of it, they will keep squirrels anyway. People will not be deterred by the difficulties.
For some people, it is a passion, so that no difficulty is insurmountable.
Another reason for keeping squirrels is during occasions when they need temporary or permanent rehabilitation for various reasons.
For example, if baby squirrels have been abandoned, it is a responsibility borne by wildlife rescuers, rehabilitators, wildlife veterinarians.
Squirrels are also rescued when they have been in an accident or if they have been acquired for any reason and need to be nursed back to health. For these various reasons, taking care of squirrels is warranted.
Formula feeding for baby squirrels
Squirrels are mammals, and thus need milk for sustenance while they are still babies.
In the absence of their mother’s milk, it is important to feed babies formula replacement which also contains the needed protein, carbohydrate, and fat components found in natural squirrel milk.
For squirrels under four to five weeks, or “eyes closed” squirrels, one appropriate formula is the 32/40 Day 1 Fox Valley milk formula for rabbits, squirrels, and opossums.
Once the babies become “eyes open” squirrels at more than four weeks old, you may use the 20/50 Fox Valley milk formula.
It is important to remember that you should never feed them human milk formula nor milk from cows. The nutritional combination of these products are not appropriate for rodents like squirrels.
Also, no prepared milk formula should ever be used if it has already been prepared for more than 24 hours. As with all feeding, clean containers should always be used in handling the mixed formula.
Make sure that the milk is warm during feeding.
Warm only the exact amount needed for the feeding session; repeated warming of food, especially milk, will cause the nutrients to degrade and be lost.
In addition, there is a higher possibility of bacterial contamination.
Make sure that the temperature of the formula is right just prior to feeding. You may use a thermometer for this purpose. Make sure to maintain the warm temperature during the entire feeding session.
You can thoroughly stir the formula to avoid creating hot spots, because the formula can be overheated and injure the baby squirrel if do not take enough care.
If there are portions left after the feeding session, immediately refrigerate in order to avoid spoiling the leftover formula.
Hand-feeding the young
When feeding a young squirrel, it is advisable to wrap their bodies with a warm towel while holding the stomach facing down and their head up.
Never feed them while they are on their back or in an upright position. This position is meant to prevent the young animal from getting the milk formula into their lungs instead of their stomach.
You can use a syringe with a 1-cc capacity to slowly feed the animal. Keep it slow so that there would be little possibility of getting the formula into the lungs.
Hold the syringe firmly in your hand with the so-called “hitchhiker” position, the thumb being on the plunger while the rest of the fingers being wrapped around your syringe barrel and plunger shaft.
At no time should you lose control over your syringe. You should have complete control. In very small squirrels, you should administer the formula in small drops.
Keep in mind that the maximum stomach capacity in which most mammals are comfortable is five to seven percent of their body weight.
The exception is the rabbit, with 10 to 12.5 percent body weight. This capacity should never be exceeded in each feeding.
Young squirrels do not readily drink cool milk; this is nature’s way of preventing bloat, because bloat may result in feeding a formula that has gone cold.
Test your formula’s temperature on your wrist’s inner side. Also use a thermometer every time the syringe is refilled and prior to placing it in the young squirrel’s mouth.
You may keep your formula warm even through multiple feedings by putting it afloat on a container with warm water.
Keep the temperature of the formula at approximately 100 ⁰F. In case you use a meat thermometer, remember that the temperature reading will slightly be higher.
Do not change the formula or the diet suddenly, for it could lead to digestive problems.
If you have to change the formula, give the animal a rehydrating formula first, following it with a diluted milk formula replacer for a minimum of two to three feeding sessions before you offer the milk replacer formula completely.
Feeding schedules vary by weight, age, and species. If you need to cut out the frequency of feeding, you should space the remaining feedings accordingly.
Below is an example of a suggested feeding schedule for your animal depending on the frequency of feeding.
- four times per day: 8 am, 12 noon, 4:30 pm, and 9 pm
- three times per day: 8 am, 2 pm, and 8 pm
- twice per day: 8 am & 8 pm
- once per day: 8 am
Weaning the young at five to eight weeks of age
At any stage of their life, it is important never to overfeed squirrels.
For the weaning age, you can use a shallow bowl to mix baby cereal with a little formula plus a few pieces of soaked dog food for puppies. Keep the mixture relatively thick.
Remember never to let your mixture mash encrust on the young animal’s fur.
Any formula mash which spilled on to their body should be cleaned off. You may use a damp cloth or sponge for this purpose. Make sure to always prevent the young squirrel form getting chilled.
Feed this formula mixture throughout the day. Check the progress of growth as well as any unusual signs or abnormalities, such as loss of fur.
Monitor the animal for clicking, sneezing, or any other abnormal signs of respiratory distress. These may be an indication that the formula may have mistakenly entered the lungs.
If this occurs, stop feeding the bowl mixture for a number of days and instead supplement by hand feeding. Also consult the veterinarian in case a treatment plan is necessary.
In between formula feedings, you may opt to feed your squirrel:
- little portions of dry puppy chow
- soaked puppy chow
- fruits chopped into chunks the size of their paws such as apples
- sweet potato
- vegetables such as green beans and broccoli
- 1-inch slice of corn on the cob
- deshelled nuts
If you are going to add new foods, add only one type of new food item into their meal per day.
Discontinue the new food item immediately if diarrhea ensues.
When young animals have diarrhea, they can easily get dehydrated, so monitor them for this possibility. After two to three days, try once again to feed the new food.
The importance of a balanced diet
Squirrels, along with other mammals, especially young ones, need a varied and balanced diet.
This should include all the essential macro-and micronutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and especially calcium.
Squirrel base diets are comprised of puppy chow and rodent biscuits. You should only give seeds, nuts, fruits, grain, and corn as treats and only in small amounts.
It is important never to feed bones and organs of beef, organs of chicken, luncheon meats, hamburger, hotdog, cow’s milk, iceberg lettuce, onions, honey, or bread.
As for calcium, good sources include:
- kitten and puppy formula food
- canned cat and dog food
- appropriate milk replacer formula
- hard-boiled eggs
- Timothy hay
- cooked chicken neck
- green beans
- mustard greens
It is important to emphasize the provision of good calcium sources.
Foods that have little calcium or have a skewed ratio of calcium to phosphorus – that is, they have more phosphorus compared to calcium – will likely develop nutritional deficiencies in as little as a few days.
This deficiency needs to be immediately corrected.
Otherwise, severe and irreversible calcium deficiency symptoms could manifest.
Such symptoms include easily fractured bones, bowed legs, spinal deformity, hind leg paralysis, and rubber jaw.
These could then cause death.
These signs may indicate MBD or metabolic bone disease. It is indispensable to provide proper nutrition with the right proportion of nutrients for good health and survival.
Upon the gradual decrease of the provision of formula food, a corresponding increase in the provision of solid foods should be made.
You should also ensure that your squirrel eats all the foods that have been presented to it, and not just choose to eat their favorite items.
Limit those foods that are considered treats. Also try offering foods that squirrels naturally find in the wild, like acorns and buds and twigs of maple trees.
You may find it necessary to supplement your regimen with more hand-feeding sessions daily if the animal’s growth and weaning is slow. Each animal is individually different.
The importance of providing complete nutrition cannot be understated.
Upon completely forming the teeth, squirrels can already eat two to three nuts of the native variety each day. Hypocalcemia (insufficient calcium) may arise, however, with feeding too many nuts and seeds.
You may assist the squirrel in cracking nuts at age five to seven weeks. They should, however, learn to do it themselves prior to their release; stop assisting them after they reach eight weeks old.
Squirrels want to eat the “tasty” food items first. You can add early on some rodent chow or rodent blocks; these are nutritionally complete.
Weighing for monitoring growth
To monitor the squirrels’ growth, measure its weight every two to three days.
This will help you assess if enough nutrition is being provided. While learning to consume solid foods, it is hard to determine if squirrels are getting enough nutrition.
Weighing the animal serves as a good indicator of proper growth and complete nutrition.
A little loss in weight is normal during weaning; just make sure that the weight loss does not progress for a longer period.
The History of Keeping Squirrels as Pets
Historically, squirrels are popular as pets. The early colonists of America have been recorded to have kept much wildlife as pets, such as raccoons, badgers, and even large mammals like buffalo.
Among such wild animal pets, the squirrel was the most popular. Benjamin Franklin had even written a tribute to a friend’s pet squirrel that was named Mungo in 1722 when the animal died.
By the middle of the 18th century, people have been commonly buying squirrels for pets. Family portraits commonly depicted pet squirrels, with some paintings still found in many famous museums today.
By the 20th century, people began seeing squirrels not as pets but as pests. Squirrels have been shown to be a nuisance when they invade and colonize people’s homes and wreak havoc on their houses.
Can Squirrels be Tamed?
Is it advisable to tame wild squirrels present on your yard and property? They are undoubtedly cute and cuddly, but unfortunately, their habits may not be as lovable or adorable.
They can do real damage to your house, and they become even bolder when they feel safe around the human owners of the house and yard.
Squirrels can indeed be tamed. All it takes is a little dedication and patience. Taming a squirrel simply needs you to wait for them to feel safe enough to approach you. Just place their favorite food near you and allow them to approach. Make sure you do not startle them.
With time and in succeeding sessions, gradually move the position of the food closer and closer to you until such time that they allow you to feed them from your hand.
Once the squirrels get used to you and feel safe around you, they will always happily approach and expect you to provide food. Soon, other squirrels may be encouraged to join their tamed comrades.
There are actually people who willingly let squirrels inside their home once they have become tame. But should you really tame them, or should you have squirrel removal professionals remove them?
Squirrels can be a real problem, because when they are already perfectly comfortable around you, they will feel even more welcome in your property, especially when you even invite them in.
Their next step will be to colonize your attic and make nests there. And then, they will start chewing your wires, pipes, ducts, boards, and so much more, which can lead to serious property damage as well as a fire hazard.
They also spread their waste everywhere, and can potentially transmit parasites and infectious diseases.
In addition, tamed squirrels lose their ability to survive on their own in the wild, and they start to perceive humans as a lesser threat, which puts them at increased risk for unfriendly humans.
Providing food in the squirrel feeder is one thing, but taming them and having them come to you for food is ultimately detrimental to their survival.
The Legality of Keeping Squirrel as Pets
In many US states, it is illegal to keep squirrels as pets. Some states impose licenses before you can keep one, while in other states, aspiring squirrel pet owners should undergo wildlife rehabilitation training.
People, however, have been going around such requirements and are getting away with it, because the fluffy, cute squirrels they want to keep as a pet are small enough to be easily be hidden away in their home.
As a wildlife species, squirrels have been protected by exotic animal and pet laws. They are encompassed by wildlife conservation laws and are considered illegal to keep as pets in many states.
According to animal experts, this is good for squirrels because they are basically wild animals that should stay wild, despite their cute appeal to humans.
Do squirrels show affection to humans, and how?
Squirrels show their affection to humans by licking and nibbling. Since they are still essentially wild animals, they also bite to show their affection regardless of how tame they are.
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