Orphaned Squirrel Rehabilitation Series: Part 1

Squirrel Rehabilitation Series: 

Part 1 - Is this Squirrel Truly an Orphan?  

    As many of you know from our posts early in the year, in 2018 Evolution Through the Ages CEO (Jacob Stagray) was responsible for the successful rehabilitation of a 3-week-old baby squirrel.  This process was extremely intricate and required an exorbitant amount of energy and focused commitment. Although this process required ample time and energy, t’was an exceptionally worthwhile and rewarding experience; however, if not performed properly, rehabilitations of baby squirrels can have deeply saddening and traumatic results (baby squirrel death). For this reason, when I began my squirrel rehabilitation endeavors, I began by scouring Google to find articles on the most effective process to ensure squirrel survival.  The following was my primary resource for educating myself in proper care techniques for orphaned squirrels:

 This is an exceptional article that provided every detail, and then some, of the process of how I could successfully perform each step of the rehabilitation process.  I cannot imagine having been successful with my rehabilitation and release process if it were not for their detailed instructions.  The vast majority of the advice in this blog post will be paraphrased from their advice; with additions of specific examples how I modified to better accommodate for my Nutterbutter squirrel experience.

      I continuously checked into this website to ensure I was properly carrying for my furry friend.  I additionally desire to help inform people on the proper maintenance and care for these temporary housing mates, so I have decided to use their article to supplement my own from my personal squirrel rehabilitation endeavors.  If at any time you find this article misleading or lacking clarity on your specific question of interest, I would recommend venturing to the original link; as they delve into many more topics and to much greater depth.  I instead, I intend this article to be a useful FIRST resource to help guide people to additional information and avoid common perils and pitfalls of the rehabilitation process.

     The first thing you must assess when deciding if a squirrel needs your intervention with a rehabilitation is the following:  


   Infant squirrels, whether tiny eyes-closed infants or slightly older eyes-open (but un-weaned) babies, usually represent 1 of 5 scenarios:

1.   The mother is gone
·     Trapped/Removed/Killed

2.   The nest has failed/fallen 
·       High winds/ heavy rain/ tree trimming/ may contribute to this cause.  Young may be found on the ground or in a fallen nest.

3.   The mother is moving her young, 
·      One infant has fallen or been separated from the remaining family members.

4.    Predation of the nest has occurred 
·      For example, if a cat or crow raids the nest.

5.   The family pet brings a baby home 
·       This scenario can follow any of the first four; if a pet finds a baby squirrel on the ground.

    The first scenario often implies the young squirrels are orphaned and in desperate need of immediate rehabilitation:

1.    Eyes-closed infants will be dehydrated and starving-- usually having waited for their mother for a day or more before wiggling out of the nest. 

2.   Slightly older eyes-open babies often approach and follow people; even climbing up a pant leg.  
·      Baby squirrels rely on their mother for a long time
·       Weaning gradually after about 8 weeks and remaining with mother until 12 weeks of age
·      So a fluffy little 6-week-old (eyes-open) baby, although mobile, is still totally dependent for survival.

   In the second and third (but only occasionally fourth and fifth) scenarios, the young may still be reunited with their mother, so long as they are not injured (unless the injury is superficial). 

·       If the mother is still there, she will take her young back, given the opportunity, even if you have touched them.  She will pick them up one at a time and carry them off to safety providing she has a safe and warm enough den site to take them to.
·      Eyes-open babies who have been missing their mother for only hours rather than days (i.e., mom is still nearby) may be more wary of stranger’s interactions compare to a squirrel from the first scenario; because they will not yet be so desperate.
·      An injured baby should not be attempted to be returned to its mother.
·      Older, mobile and fully furred youngsters are hardier, and the mother is more likely to have an alternate nest site that will suffice for them in an emergency – and she will often choose to move older babies if the birth nest is threatened.


Warming the Baby and Checking for Injuries


1.  Use soft cloth to pick the baby up

2.Wrap it up in the cloth, snugly, head and all, and let it calm down and get warm by holding it in your hands. You want it completely warmed up, to your own body temperature.
·        Mother squirrels do not seem to recognize a baby as their own if its body temperature is not normal, and babies cool down quickly once they lose the insulated protection of the nest (of course, this applies especially to spring litters when outside temperatures can be quite cold).

3.   If there is more than one baby, or it is very cold you will want to put them in a small box with several layers of soft cloths while they warm up. 

4.   Make sure bedding is non-raveling since wiggly little animals can quickly become strangled in threads or holes. 

5.   Provide external heat by setting the box half-on, half-off a heating pad set to low, or put a hot water bottle well-wrapped in a soft cloth in the box beside them so they can snuggle against it.  

6.   Make sure there is enough room in the box for them to wiggle away from the hot water bottle (or to the part of the box not on the heating pad) if they get too hot. 

7.   Cover them over (head and all) with soft cloths. 

8.    Close the box securely since even tiny babies may escape; but make sure to punch breathing holes in the top.  

9.    Place the box in a warm, dark, quiet place and check them often, every 10 or 15 minutes.
·      while their body temperature returns to normal (your body temperature).


1.   In a safe spot, with good light – in a small washroom for example, unwrap the baby and check it all over for injuries. 
·     At this stage, it is important for an adult to carefully assess the squirrel in a quiet room without children or pets present. 
·     It is handy to have a few more clean cloths and a basin of warm water and a washcloth (white is best so you can see any blood) to clean away dirt from a suspected injury.
·     Try to use a light cloth like those used for human babies so that you can feel the orphan through the cloth.  
·     The washcloth should be wrung out in warm water and then made to mimic the mother gently licking the baby clean – all over. 
·     Go slowly and take your time, and this will calm the baby and make your examination easier. 

2.   When cleaning the baby, please pay special attention to the face, checking for dried blood in the nose, and mouth, to make sure it can breathe easily.  
·     Also pay attention to the genital area – try to see if the baby pees when gently stimulated with the soft warm cloth or a Q-tip or tissue and note the color of the urine.  Stimulate for a full minute or two, using light feathery strokes.
o  On males stimulate the penis – a small nub about ½” above the anus
o  On females stimulate the little nub very near the anus.  

3.     Remove any external parasites you see (fleas, ticks), and any fly eggs. 
·      Fly eggs are whitish specks that will be stuck to the fur or inside/around wounds, eyes, ears, nose, mouth, or genitals – hatched eggs are tiny whitish larvae.  
·     If there are many such parasites it is a good indication the mother has been missing for days – and in that case you will need to carefully bathe the baby in a basin of warm water with a little diluted dishwashing liquid (“Dawn” is good) to get rid of the parasites.  
§ An old toothbrush will help dislodge sticky fly eggs.  
·     Thoroughly dry and warm the baby after its bath.

4.     In terms of injuries to look for: 
·     Very young infants will be naturally weak, so it may be harder for you to tell, but look to see that the legs are held in the right position, not twisted or dragging limply.  
·     Older eyes-open youngsters should use all four legs and hold their tail up a bit.  
·     Falls can result in broken legs, and head or spinal injuries. 
·     Try lightly pinching each paw and the tail, since if the baby can feel the pinch it will pull away.  
·     An injured baby is not a candidate to try to return to its mother – please take it to a veterinarian for an assessment.


·     The squirrel is NOT a candidate for attempting to reunite with mom if it:
1.   Injured; unless the injury is superficial
2.   A lot of fleas or fly eggs/larvae (which is a good indication the mother has been missing for days)
3.   Thin and debilitated; perhaps with urine that is dark in color – indicating dehydration
4.   Is an eyes-open baby that has been following people around

     If you believe the mother is still around, and you attempt to return the young to her, please be patient and very vigilant.  Put them as close as possible to where you found them or where you know the nest to be (mom will not know to look anywhere else), and monitor carefully from a distance or from inside a building.  

    Do not cover them with any materials, or even put them in an open box, they need to be left out exposed in plain view so the mother can see them or she will not find them.  However, this is a balancing act, because they also need to be kept safe and warm.  Place them in a little depression created by bunching a thick soft cloth into a saucer-like nest, and put this improvised nest on top of a hot water bottle (that you refill every few hours). 

    If you add a couple of pop bottles filled with hot water beside the hot water bottle and wrap it all in an old wool sweater, the heat will last longer.  Remember, mother squirrels do not seem to recognize a baby as their own if its body temperature is not normal.  The mother may come, and check, and then leave only to come back in several hours for them.  She may be off preparing a new nest for them or simply anxious, cautious and scared.  

    She can pick up and move only one baby at a time, so sometimes the process will take hours.  Please do not leave them unmonitored, or out after dark since mom is active only during daylight, and they will be vulnerable to predation, especially after dark.  If the mother has taken one or more of the babies bring the rest in once it gets dark for overnight care and try again early the next morning. 

    You can try a third day also, but after that it is unlikely the mother is still around. 




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