Ultimate Guide to Hand-Raising Baby Squirrels

Paul West/ Pet And Wildlife Care

Discovering a baby squirrel in need can tug at your heartstrings, and you might be compelled to step in as a surrogate caregiver. Hand raising a baby squirrel is no small feat, but with the right knowledge, you can make a significant difference in this tiny creature’s life.

In this guide, you’ll learn the essentials of nurturing a baby squirrel, from creating a cozy habitat to mastering the feeding technique. Stick with us, and you’ll be equipped with the know-how to raise a healthy and happy squirrel.

Why Hand Raise a Baby Squirrel

If you’ve stumbled upon a baby squirrel in distress, you might feel compelled to step in. Hand raising a baby squirrel is not just an act of kindness but also a commitment to nurturing a life that’s at a vulnerable stage. This tiny creature depends on someone to replicate the care it would’ve received in the wild.

When you hand raise a baby squirrel, you’re giving it a fighting chance at survival. Orphaned squirrels typically face a low survival rate without human intervention. From providing warmth to ensuring they get the right nutrients, your role is critical. You’ll form a unique bond with the squirrel, watching its milestones closely as it grows from a helpless baby to a robust, agile adult.

In hand raising them, you introduce rescued squirrels back into their natural habitat, ultimately benefiting local ecosystems. Squirrels play a crucial role in forest regeneration, as they inadvertently plant seeds and propagate tree growth. In urban areas, they’re part of the charm of city parks and green spaces, providing delight to onlookers.

By taking on this responsibility, you’ll also deepen your understanding of wildlife care and rehabilitation. It’s a learning experience that goes beyond the care of squirrels, extending to a broader sense of environmental stewardship.

There are certain requirements and legal considerations to keep in mind. It’s important to check with local wildlife authorities before you begin. Hand raising a squirrel requires a permit in some areas, considering these creatures are wildlife and not domestic pets.

Immediate and proper care is essential for their development. If you’re prepared to provide this, along with patience and dedication, the reward is witnessing the transformation of a delicate life under your care. Through careful observation and a steady routine, you ensure that your squirrel will one day return to nature equipped for survival.

Assessing the Situation

Before you dive into hand raising a baby squirrel, you’ve got to assess the situation carefully. Spotting a baby squirrel alone does not necessarily mean it’s been abandoned. Mother squirrels often leave their young while searching for food. You should observe from a distance for a few hours to see if the mother returns. Disturbing a baby squirrel too soon might lead to an unnecessary rescue, possibly doing more harm than good.

If the mother doesn’t come back, check for signs of injury or distress in the baby squirrel. Common indicators to look out for include:

  • Prolonged crying or high-pitched calls
  • Visible wounds or bleeding
  • Inability to move properly or paralysis
  • Puffed-up fur indicating prolonged exposure and possible illness

When you’re confident the baby squirrel needs your help, approach gently to minimize stress. Ensure you’re using soft gloves to prevent the transfer of human scent and to protect yourself from sharp teeth or claws.

Prepare a small, comfortable container lined with a warm towel to transport the squirrel. Temperature control is vital as baby squirrels cannot regulate their body heat well. A makeshift nest with a heat source can be a temporary home until you secure more permanent arrangements. Be cautious not to overheat the squirrel; a temperature range of 98°F to 102°F (about 36.7°C to 38.9°C) should suffice.

Temperature Range Ideal for Squirrels
98°F to 102°F 36.7°C to 38.9°C

Remember, your goal is to support the squirrel’s independence eventually, so minimal human interaction is key to a successful reintroduction to the wild. Your role is to be a silent guardian, providing the safety and care needed until the squirrel can take over its own survival.

Preparing the Habitat

Before bringing a baby squirrel into your care, it’s essential that you set up an appropriate habitat. The right environment helps the baby squirrel feel secure and promotes healthy development. Start with selecting a small, quiet room away from pets and loud noises that could stress the young squirrel.

In this room, you’ll need a nesting box or enclosure. This can be a small animal carrier or a cardboard box with plenty of ventilation. Line the bottom with soft, clean cloths that you’ll need to change regularly to keep the habitat hygienic.

Temperature regulation plays a vital role in the squirrel’s health. A heating pad set on low beneath half of the nesting box provides the warmth necessary without overheating the baby. Check the temperature frequently to ensure it’s consistently warm, mimicking a mother squirrel’s body heat.

For the first few weeks, your little charge will require constant warmth. Later, as they grow, they’ll need more space to explore and exercise. Gradually transition them to a larger cage that has room for climbing and jumping, essential activities for muscle development and motor skills.

Ensure that the cage includes varied materials such as branches for climbing and gnawing, which will help your squirrel with teething and claw maintenance. It’s also beneficial to introduce items that will later be found in their natural habitat, helping to smooth the transition back into the wild.

Remember, a baby squirrel’s habitat should be safe, clean, and encourage natural behaviors. By creating the right environment, you’re giving the squirrel the best possible start, preparing them for a successful return to nature. Monitor the habitat conditions meticulously, adjusting as the squirrel grows and its needs evolve.

Feeding the Baby Squirrel

When hand raising a baby squirrel, proper nutrition is crucial for its survival and development. Start by determining the age of your squirrel to provide the appropriate diet. Newborns with closed eyes will require a specialized formula, while weaned squirrels can handle solids.

Choosing the Right Formula

Infant squirrels thrive on a puppy milk replacer or a commercially available squirrel formula. Always ensure the formula is warmed to approximate body temperature before feeding to avoid digestive complications. A common choice among rehabilitators is Esbilac Puppy Milk, which is widely accepted for its nutritional resemblance to mother’s milk.

Feeding Frequency and Amounts

Squirrel Age Feeding Frequency Formula Amount
0-2 weeks Every 2-3 hours 0.5 – 1.0 cc per feeding
2-4 weeks Every 3-4 hours 1.0 – 3.0 cc per feeding
4-6 weeks Every 4 hours 3.0 – 5.0 cc per feeding
Over 6 weeks 4-5 times daily Gradually increase

Keep track of your baby squirrel’s weight to tailor feeding volumes accordingly.

Introducing Solid Foods

Once your squirrel opens its eyes, it’s time to slowly introduce solid foods. Begin with soft fruits and veggies, such as apple slices and sweet potatoes, and complement with rodent blocks for a balanced diet. High-calcium greens like kale and arugula are also beneficial, fostering strong bone development.

Hygiene Matters

Feeding tools must be sanitized to prevent infections. Use syringes and feeding bottles specifically designed for small animals to maintain hygiene standards. It’s paramount to sterilize these items after every meal.

Remember, young squirrels lack the ability to pee and poop on their own. Stimulate their lower belly with a warm, damp cloth during each feed to aid in this process, replicating the mother’s grooming actions. This not only promotes good health but also strengthens your bond with the squirrel.

Creating a Feeding Schedule

Hand-raising a baby squirrel involves dedication and understanding of their nutritional needs. Establishing a feeding schedule is crucial for their growth and health. When you’re getting started, know the age of your baby squirrel. Their age will determine the frequency and quantity of feedings. Typically, baby squirrels require feeding every two to four hours. However, as they grow, this frequency decreases.

Newborns to 2 weeks old need feeding around the clock. That means getting up through the night to ensure they’re well-fed. By the time they’re 3 to 4 weeks old, nighttime feedings can gradually be reduced. When they hit the 5 to 8-week mark, your squirrel should eat about 5 to 6 times during the day, with no need for night feedings.

It’s not just about quantity; quality matters too. Choose a formula specially designed for squirrels, like Esbilac Puppy Milk Replacer or Fox Valley Day One Formula. Always mix fresh formula for each feeding and keep the utensils clean to prevent infections.

  • 0-2 Weeks: Every 2-4 hours including nighttime
  • 3-4 Weeks: Every 4 hours; start reducing nighttime feedings
  • 5-8 Weeks: 5-6 times during the day; eliminate nighttime feedings

Use a small syringe or a pet nursing bottle for feeding; these tools help mimic the natural feeding process. Always check the nipple size – it should let out formula slowly, to prevent choking. Heating the formula to body temperature before offering it ensures that it’s gentle on the baby squirrel’s system.

It’s essential to monitor their weight and adjust the feeding amounts accordingly. An undernourished squirrel may be slow to gain weight or show reduced activity. On the other hand, overfeeding can lead to diarrhea, which is dangerous for their fragile state.

Temperature, feeding technique, and hygiene play vital roles in the well-being of a hand-raised baby squirrel. With careful attention and a consistent schedule, you’ll provide the foundation for a healthy transition to solid foods and eventual release. Remember that as they develop, the goal is to simulate their natural weaning process, gently shifting from formula to solid foods like nuts and vegetables.

Monitoring the Baby Squirrel’s Health

When you’re in charge of a baby squirrel’s care, keeping track of its health is critical. You need to observe its behavior and physical condition closely. Any changes could indicate health issues. Look for clear eyes, a full coat of fur, and active movement as signs of a healthy baby squirrel. If you notice lethargy, lack of appetite, or abnormal discharge from the eyes or nose, it’s time to seek veterinary assistance.

Creating a health tracking chart for your baby squirrel is an excellent way to keep tabs on its well-being. On this chart, note the following:

  • Weight gain or loss
  • Eating habits
  • Energy levels
  • Elimination patterns

By comparing the data over time, you’ll notice trends that will help you gauge the squirrel’s health. A consistent weight gain is usually a good sign, while a sudden drop in weight demands attention.

One problem hand-raised baby squirrels often encounter is metabolic bone disease due to improper nutrition. To prevent this, ensure the formula you use is rich in calcium and Vitamin D, and once they’re old enough, integrate foods like nuts and vegetables into their diet.

Regular physical examinations of the baby squirrel are part of a sound monitoring routine. You’ll want to check their:

  • Fur for parasites
  • Skin for cuts or abrasions
  • Mouth for any dental abnormalities
  • Belly to ensure it’s full after feedings

It’s equally important to observe the baby squirrel’s behavior, as it can be a telling indicator of their health state. A healthy baby squirrel should be curious and keen to explore its surroundings. If it’s not, this might suggest it’s uncomfortable or in distress.

Remember, while you’re providing critical care for the baby squirrel, it’s best to handle it as little as possible to prevent stress and to increase its chances of successful reintroduction to the wild. Regular observation and careful note-taking can pave the way for the young animal to grow strong and healthy under your diligent watch.

Introducing the Baby Squirrel to Solid Foods

When your baby squirrel’s teeth start to emerge, it’s time to think about supplementing their diet with solid foods. This is typically around the six to seven-week mark. Introducing solids is a gradual process, and it’s essential to monitor their reaction to new foods closely.

Start with small, bite-sized pieces of fruits and vegetables. Apples, pears, and sweet potatoes make for nutritious first foods. Ensure these are soft and easy for the squirrel to handle. It’s important to remove any uneaten fresh food before it spoils to maintain a clean and hygienic eating environment.

Over time, introduce a variety of foods to create a balanced diet. Nuts and seeds are ideal, as they’re staples of a squirrel’s diet in the wild. Begin with almonds and sunflower seeds that are unsalted and not spiced. It’s crucial to observe how the squirrel chews and digests these new foods to avoid potential choking hazards or digestive issues.

As the squirrel becomes more comfortable with solids, you can start offering rodent blocks, which are specially formulated to provide all the nutrients a growing squirrel needs. These should be made available alongside fresh foods.

Make a smooth transition from formula to solid foods by reducing the liquid meals gradually. You’ll know it’s time to shift predominantly to solids when the squirrel eagerly anticipates and consumes the solid offerings. Maintain a consistent feeding schedule during this transition to solid foods.

To track progress, keep an eye on the baby squirrel’s weight and behavior. A healthy growing squirrel will be active and inquisitive. If you notice any changes in their stool or a decline in energy, consult with a wildlife rehabilitator or veterinarian to ensure they’re adjusting well to the new diet.

Remember, patience is key when transitioning to solid foods. Each squirrel is unique, and their readiness can vary. Tailor the progression to the individual needs of the baby squirrel, and you’ll help them develop the skills necessary to forage and thrive in the wild.

Socialization and Playtime

When you’re hand-raising a baby squirrel, socialization plays a critical role in its development. Unlike with human interaction, which you should keep to a minimum, socializing a squirrel involves familiarizing it with the environment it’ll eventually call home. You’ll need to simulate encounters it may have in the wild.

Start by introducing natural elements into its habitat. Items like branches, leaves, and rocks encourage exploration and offer a more realistic setting. Observe how your young charge interacts with these items—climbing, scent-marking, and foraging are good indicators that it’s acclimating well.

Playtime isn’t just fun; it’s essential for developing motor skills and instincts. Equip their enclosure with safe objects to climb on and hide beneath. This can include pet-safe ropes and small platforms. Remember, squirrels are naturally curious and active, so variety keeps them engaged and helps hone their natural abilities.

Feeding can also be a form of socialization. By introducing a mix of nuts and berries, you can stimulate their foraging behavior. Scatter the food around to encourage them to search for their meal, as they would in the wild. It’s a clever way to blend nutrition with natural instinct.

As the squirrel grows, incorporate more challenging activities. A larger cage with complex structures challenges their problem-solving skills and satisfies their need to climb. Keep a close eye on their responses to these changes—you want to ensure they’re confident and capable, without showing signs of stress or discomfort.

Remember to record the baby squirrel’s behavioral milestones. This helps track their progress and alerts you to any potential issues. Engaging play and natural socialization are your best tools for preparing your squirrel for the outside world. Stay observant, remain consistent, and you’ll see your baby squirrel thrive.

Preparing for Release

When the time comes to reintroduce your hand-raised baby squirrel to the wild, it’s vital that you prepare thoroughly for this transition. Start by gradually acclimatizing them to the outdoor environment. You can begin this process by placing their cage outside for a few hours each day, allowing them to adapt to the sounds, smells, and temperature variations they’ll encounter in their natural habitat.

As your squirrel gets more comfortable with the outdoors, increase the amount of time they spend outside. It’s important to ensure their safety during these sessions, so select a secure, sheltered area that’s free from predators and extreme weather conditions. Keep a close eye on the squirrel’s reactions, looking for signs of curiosity and confidence, which indicate they’re ready for the next step.

Introduce natural foods that they’ll find in the wild, such as nuts, seeds, and various fruits. Mimicking a natural diet helps the squirrel hone their foraging skills, a crucial survival technique. Start by offering small amounts and observe their eating habits, readiness to try new foods, and their ability to find and store them.

Remember that not all baby squirrels will be ready for release at the same time. Monitor their progress individually, noting their development, independence, and ability to thrive without human assistance. Once they exhibit consistent signs of self-sufficiency and a strong instinctual behavior, it’s an indication that they might be ready to fend for themselves.

Before the final release, it’s essential to have a health check-up with a veterinarian who specializes in wildlife. They’ll assess whether the squirrel is physically fit to survive on their own. This visit is also the perfect opportunity to discuss any final concerns about the squirrel’s health or the release process.

Ensure that the release area is away from urban settings and has a sustainable food source and water supply. Releasing them in a familiar area where they’ve been acclimatizing can ease the transition. Establish a safe release protocol, which might include leaving the door to their cage open in a secure environment, allowing them to come and go as they feel comfortable.


Raising a baby squirrel is a rewarding journey filled with unique challenges and milestones. You’ve learned to assess their needs, provide a nurturing environment, and foster their natural behaviors. Remember, the ultimate goal is their successful return to the wild. Keep tracking their progress and stay in touch with wildlife experts to ensure the best outcome. With patience and dedication, you’re giving these adorable creatures a second chance at life. Now, as you prepare for the bittersweet moment of release, take pride in the knowledge that you’ve done an incredible job. Your little friend is ready to thrive in their natural habitat, thanks to your care.

Paul West
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About Paul West

Longstanding and passionate about really having family fun in the backyard. I'm no expert but I've picked up a thing or two along the way!