Rehabilitation of Eastern Gray Squirrels

Rehabilitation of Eastern Gray Squirrels: 2017 Revision
Written by Carol Hardee, Director
Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Central Florida
21117 Reindeer Road
Christmas, Florida 32709
Phone: (407) 568-3200
Basic care and feeding: Infant gray squirrels can be raised successfully on a number of
products. At the WRC, we use several formulas-see our formula info on page 15. We
prefer to weigh every incoming squirrel on a gram scale. The weights are recorded on the
patient’s intake sheet, and ideally, updated daily. See the last page for info on calculating
amounts to give per feeding.
Before squirrels are fed for the first time, they must be warm. “In coming” patients
should have their inner core body temperatures brought to normal which can take two
hours and longer. At the WRC, we use incubators and heating pads. An incubator can be
set to 90-95 degrees F for squirrels without fur and 85 degrees F. for fully furred babies.
Heating pads are tricky to set correct temperatures, but with practice, you will learn. You
will need to make sure that any heating pad you use stays on. Many sold today will
automatically shut off in 2 hours. Be sure to read the box when purchasing one. When
we place a baby squirrel on a heating pad, which is set on “Low”, we first warm infant
receiving blankets in a microwave for about 30 seconds to get them warm to the touch,
but not hot. We place two folded receiving blankets into a plastic container with a tight
fitting lid, called a “Playmate” or “Aquatarium”. Glass aquariums can also be used if
they have a secure lid with a towel cover, but they are heavy to lift. Small digital
thermometers with probes can be purchased and are invaluable for determining proper
temperature. The probe is placed inside the container beside the baby while the digital
readout is outside the container and easily monitored. We also usually place several
layers of folded towels on top of the heating pad and under the plastic container, which
holds the baby squirrel(s). Heating pads can become very hot, very fast! When first
turned on, it is best to check the temperature every 15 minutes or so to avoid overheating
an animal. Dehydrated animals should never be fed formulas because they will not be
able to digest them. The pinch test can be used to check for possible dehydration. Gently
pinch the skin on the side of the squirrel. If it remains “tented up”, for more than a
second, the squirrel may be dehydrated. The longer the skin remains tented, the worse
the dehydration. Sometimes, the squirrel’s skin will look wrinkled along the stomach,
abdomen, and sides in severe cases. The animal may look thin, and the spine may
protrude sharply from the back. Sometimes the pre-admission history can help you to
determine the condition of the patient. If a mother squirrel was observed dead along the
road four days ago, and now the baby squirrels were seen crawling from the nest and
crying, they have probably been without food for 4 days. In cases of serious dehydration,
rehydrating subcutaneously with warmed fluids, Lactated Ringers, should be
accomplished. Usually 5% of the animal’s body weight is the amount to sub-q, 4 X in 24
hours, or 10%, 2X in 24 hours. Usually, you will only need to sub-q once or twice in
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order to regain normal hydration levels. You will also offer clear fluids orally, Lactated
Ringers with 5% Dextrose is the preferred solution. Pedialyte or Ricelyte can also be
used. See the feeding charts for amounts, but for the first 12-24 hours, it is better to give
smaller amounts more frequently. In severe cases, we have even offered small amounts
of fluids every hour for the first 12 hours. Fluids must be warmed to 100-105 degrees to
be palatable to the youngster.
You must administer fluids very carefully so that the infant does not aspirate any into its
lungs.
Feeding implements: We use o-ring syringes with Miracle or Catac nipples. A very
small hole must be cut at the end of the Catac nipple. Miracle nipples already have holes
in them. We always keep an infant aspirator bulb handy while feeding. If the infant
begins to blow fluid out of its nose, the bulb can help you to draw the fluids out and avoid
aspiration. Older squirrels seem to do a better job at sneezing the fluids or formula out.
Ideally, you will feed without this occurring, but occasionally, it can occur even to very
experienced rehabilitators. For neonates (7-19 grams), we use a .5cc syringe and cut the
Catac nipple in half, placing the lower half on the end of the syringe. This method has
also been useful for feeding neonate flying squirrels weighing only 3 grams and tiny baby
mice. For these tiny pinkies, we sometimes get them started by feeding them one drop of
formula at a time, holding them in our hand. We hold the older babies, stomach down,
and usually against our own chest where the infant can lie in a natural, prone position.
When we feed more than 2 babies, we keep the formula in a jar on an electric cup warmer
(see glossary for product listing).
Caging: After the squirrel’s eyes have opened and when they weigh more than 100
grams, they usually can be housed in a wire cage. I say usually because we have
observed squirrels open their eyes at 50 grams in weight and some not until 130 grams in
weight! You must use common sense- if a baby is 120 grams but doesn’t have its eyes
opened, it should not be placed in a cage where it cannot find its way back into its nest,
and a tiny 50 gram baby should remain on a heating pad. The cages we use are easily
constructed out of ½”X ½” wire with plywood tops and bottoms. (Instructions are at the
back of this manual) If you use larger gauge wire, there is a terrible risk for the young
squirrels in your care. Wire of 1” X ½” or 1” X 1” or 2” can and has caused broken legs
in squirrels. I know of two cases of squirrels which each had a rear leg amputated after
being caught and twisted and fractured in the larger gauge wire. In both cases, the
squirrels were being kept as pets because they could not be released, and one of these
cost the owner $400 for the ensuing surgery! We hang a sturdy hammock in the cage as a
nest, but another word of caution- be sure to use material which cannot unravel into
strings. Again, I know of a case where the squirrel chewed the hammock and got the
stringy material wrapped tight around its body and died. This was another pet squirrel,
and the mortified owner called me for help just before the squirrel died in her hands. Let
us learn from other’s mistakes! We place newspapers and paper towels in the bottom of
the cage, a sturdy ceramic food bowl (squirrels chew plastic ones), a ceramic 3” water
bowl-small enough so that the squirrel cannot fall in and drown, a sterilized beef bone for
gnawing, and a few fresh branches daily (maple trees are yummy). The branches must be
free of pesticides. Only gather forage where you are certain of the safety for the
squirrels.
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Stimulation for urination and defecation: Until the eyes open, (and for a while after
that to keep bedding from being soiled) you will need to wipe the baby squirrels so that
they can properly eliminate urine and feces. Gently wipe the genitals with a soft facial or
bathroom tissue. Sometimes a dampened tissue works better. If you are having trouble
with this procedure, try almost lightly tickling the penis or vulva. This often works better
than an actual wiping procedure. Do this prior to feeding each time.
Solid foods: You can begin to offer solid food after the eyes open, but the baby will still
be fed formula 4X per day until weighing about 180 grams, when we give 3 feedings per
day. The solids can consist of the following: rodent blocks or chow (80% of the diet),
monkey biscuits, shelled pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, roasted peanuts (unsalted),
sunflower seeds in small quantities, fresh fruits and vegetables: apples, broccoli, carrots,
mushrooms, corn, string beans, peaches, etc. Of course, the best foods, if available, are
acorns, hickory nuts, and again, squirrels love those tree branches. Many nuts, fruits and
veggies are too low in calcium content for a growing mammal unless supplemented with
calcium carbonate. This is very important if you wish to raise a healthy squirrel to
adulthood-added calcium. We sprinkle ½ teaspoon of pure calcium carbonate on all nuts,
seeds, fruits, and veggies. Any spice shaker container once emptied, can be washed and
sanitized thoroughly. After drying, you can spoon in your powdered calcium, snap on the
shaker cap, and you can easily sprinkle calcium on the squirrel’s foods. We have never
had a squirrel in our care develop metabolic bone disease with our methods; however, we
have treated scores of squirrels with varying degrees of MBD over the years raised by
individuals who failed to provide appropriate calcium in the diet. For treatment regimes,
see section: MBD (Metabolic Bone Disease).
You can also gather mushrooms from your yard-it’s perfectly fine as long as they are free
of any contaminants and sprays. By the way, squirrels can and do consume mushrooms
which are lethal to man. The wild-growing poisonous mushrooms have no ill effects on
squirrels or turtles for that matter, and they eat them with great relish. There have been
cases of human death, however, from eating killed and cooked squirrels, which had
previously dined on poisonous mushrooms.
We have had two reported cases of juvenile squirrels choking on unpeeled grapes. In
each case, the squirrel weighed under 220 grams, and began gagging on grape peels
caught in the throat. In both cases, the caregiver successfully extracted the peel, and the
squirrels were fine.
When the squirrels are at 180 grams or so, their molars erupt from their hind gum area,
and often, they will refuse to nurse for a day or two. This does not mean that they are
now weaned, as they will benefit from receiving the formula until they weigh about 240
grams in weight. The formula also contains Vitamin D3, which they need in order to
absorb the essential calcium from other foods. Once weaned from the formula, squirrels
must be exposed to sunlight every day. Vitamin D3 is in natural sunlight, which does not
penetrate through glass but does pass through ordinary window screens. Thus, placing a
caged squirrel in front of a closed, glass window will not provide any needed exposure to
sunlight, ultraviolet light, and the vitamin D3. Once the squirrels are totally weaned from
formula, they must have exposure to sunlight for proper growth and nutrition. To benefit
from sunlight, the animal must be outdoors in a cage or even on a screened porch. 30
minutes per day is the minimum amount of time for exposure to sunlight. Sunlight
bounces off of objects, so the cage does not have to be placed in full sun, which may
cause the squirrel to overheat. A shaded area is fine (under a tree, patio roof, or porch
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roof is fine). We don’t want the squirrel to get too hot. We have admitted many squirrels
suffering from Metabolic Bone Disease because they did not receive direct sunlight when
raised by the public.
Outdoor Caging: Once the squirrels are 240-300 grams in weight and weaned, we move
them to an outdoor cage/habitat. These are usually 8’X10’X8’ or 6’X6’X6’, constructed
of ½” X ½” wire, with wire also covering the floor and secured to the sides preventing
any possible intrusion. The wire floors are filled in with at least 6” of clean fill dirt or
builder’s sand. The cages have a double door system for added safety and a metal or
plywood, shingled roof. Tall tree branches can be placed inside the cage for climbing
and chewing. These should be safely secured so that they do not fall over injuring the
squirrels. We use bungee straps/tie downs for this, which can be hooked through the wire
cage sides and around the branch to hold it firmly in place. Chains can also be used to
secure the branches from falling over. Heavy ceramic feed and water bowls can be
placed in the cage. A word of caution: don’t place these heavy crock bowls very high off
the ground on ledges or feeding platforms because a leaping squirrel can knock the heavy
bowls on to the ground causing injury to itself or others. We heard of one case in which a
large crock dish on a ledge 4’ off the ground being knocked over. A squirrel was found
curled up under the crock dish. The squirrel recovered from a concussion, and was later
able to be released but just as easily could have died in this mishap. Some times we are
able to learn from mistakes of others before a fatality occurs!
We hang wooden squirrel bed boxes in the outdoor cages for the squirrels to sleep in. We
used to use cloth towels placed inside for bedding, but now use soft fresh hay ever since
we heard about someone losing their pet squirrel due to towel entanglement. Our bed
boxes have an entrance hole at the front and an escape hole in the back. If you will need
to reach in the box to check your squirrels, you may wish to use screws or a hinge on the
lid. A rectangular opening large enough to admit your hand can also be used as an
opening. They hang from two chains so that the box will not fall if one chain breaks or
comes loose from the box. Upon release, you can tape a piece of wood over the openings
with the squirrels inside the box and hang the box, squirrels and all in a nice tree. You
then remove the taped wood, and the lucky squirrels have a ready-made home. My
husband, Ron, has climbed many a tree with his 30’ extension ladder to hang squirrel
boxes. One study that I read long ago stated that squirrels provided with wooden bed
boxes in the wild averaged doubling their life spans.
Diet in the outdoor cage should always include fresh acorns, nuts, and vegetation from
the area, besides the regular squirrel fare of rodent chow or blocks, nuts, fruits, and
veggies. Don’t forget to continue to use the calcium carbonate on all foods offered.
We release squirrels after they have spent about a month or two in the outdoor cage,
usually at 5 months of age depending on the individual squirrel’s adaptation. A small
opening can be made in the wire for the squirrels to come and go from the cage if a soft
release is possible on the premises or the squirrels can be loaded up and released at
property where permission has been granted. Before hand, check out the location for
suitable habitat, oak trees, a water source, no dogs or cats, cars, or hunters which could
shorten the squirrel’s life. Either way, if it is possible to safely hang the squirrel bed
boxes 25-30 feet off the ground, it provides a safe home for the released squirrels. We do
not recommend nailing boxes to trees, which could damage the trees. We hang them
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with two chains connected to the sides of the boxes with hooks, which can be placed over
sturdy branches without harming the trees.
Injuries
Wounds, cuts, maggot & bot parasites, and fractures:
Injuries, which are oozing blood, pus, or have maggot involvement, should be carefully
flushed with an appropriate solution, such as Chlohexidine, or Betadine mixed with saline
“to look like the color of weak tea”. Saline solutions used should be .9%, which will
decrease the chance of drawing bodily fluids out of the surrounding tissues. Now for a
word about maggots: although I have been called the “Maggot Queen” at times, I really
hate dealing with them. If you can remove all of them by flushing, good and well,
however, if there is a chance that some are in deep, or unseen, or in an area that cannot be
flushed, Ivermectin kills them. There are several ways to administer Ivermectin. Full
strength, the dosage is .10 cc per 10 pounds of body weight. For squirrels, you will need
to dilute the 1% Ivermectin purchased full strength. It does not mix with water, and it is
recommended that it be mixed with propylene glycol. You mix one part Ivermectin with
19 parts Propylene glycol which reduces the potency to 1/20th. Then the dosage rate is as
follows for the dilute solution: .05cc to 110 grams body weight, .1cc to 220 grams body
weight, .2cc to 440 grams body weight, and so on. This dilute can easily be given orally,
which will kill any internal maggots, or a drop can be administered to a puncture
containing maggots and it will kill them in the wound. By the following day, the wound
should be thoroughly flushed to remove the dead larvae. We have orally treated several
animals, which had maggots deep in the rectum that we could not remove by flushing
including several white tailed deer fawns and raccoon kits. By the next day, the dead
maggots were expelled with the normal bowel movements.
Another dreaded parasite is the bot, also called warble, or cuterebra. The “bot” fly lays
its eggs on vegetation; the unsuspecting squirrel breathes the eggs into its nostrils, and
into its lung where the larvae hatch eventually making their way to grow under the
squirrel’s skin. While growing, a lump can be seen, which soon develops a breathing
hole, and the lump will grow very large and oval in shape if left alone. In the later stages
you can usually see the face of the larva inside the hole. These nasties can be squeezed
out or pulled out with a forceps when they are larger, but in the early stage, have to be
removed by incision or killed with Ivermectin dilute. Some literature has stated not to
treat bot larvae with Ivermectin as blood infections could result from the dead larvae
remaining in the squirrel’s body. We have successfully treated with Ivermectin dilute in
the early stage of the bot, and have encountered no problems with blood poisoning or any
other ailments. Once extracted, the bot looks just like a big fat maggot! The Ivermectin
dilute is also effective as a treatment for mites and mange. Using the same dosage listed
above, you can administer it orally. See charts in the back of this manual.
Injured squirrels will often develop abscesses, which can grow quite large if the caregiver
does not realize what that lump is! Abscesses usually need to be punctured with a large
sized (18-20 gauge) needle or lanced with a scalpel blade, then drained and flushed with a
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Betadine or Chlorhexadine solution. This process must be done once or twice per day
depending on how quickly the abscess recedes. Treatment with an oral antibiotic is
recommended. We have used Clindadrops and Bactrim with good results.
Squirrels may also be admitted with fractures of the legs, spine, skull, or hips. Successful
treatment will depend on the type of fracture and resulting involvement. Your
veterinarian will probably have to be consulted in many of these cases; however, with
experience, you will learn which fractures are in need of treatment and which heal on
their own without veterinary care. Simple fractures of the legs and hips often will heal on
their own if the bones are well aligned while compound fractures will need to be set or
pinned under anesthesia. Sometimes, there is no blood supply to the leg past the fracture
point, and therefore, the leg cannot be saved. By feeling the temperature of the normal
leg, you can compare it to the injured extremity to see if it is warm or cold. In some
cases, the leg will have to be amputated or the animal may have to be euthanized. In the
case of a hind leg, we have had success with squirrels adjusting to and eventually being
released with one hind leg intact, and survival documented for more than two years. We
have not encountered any front leg amputees, but we would assume those to be nonreleasable since the front feet and legs are needed for eating and caching foods, and more
essentially are necessary for climbing, jumping, and mating.
Spinal injuries are usually a wait and see type of injury. We always give the patient some
time to recover as there have been several cases which at first exam, appeared to be
paralyzed, yet later regained full mobility. Sometimes by day number 3, it is obvious that
the animal is paralyzed, and there is no hope for recovery. When in doubt, our motto iswait and see. A paralyzed squirrel will not usually have any quality of life and
euthanasia is probably for the best.
Sometimes blindness can occur in cases of severe head trauma. We have found totally
blind animals to be poor candidates as pets/educational animals. They tend to be startled
easily by noises and often will bite aggressively when frightened. These cases must be
assessed individually. We have had great success in the release of several one-eyed
squirrels, which have survived with normal life spans.
Some adult injured animals are in shock and may need to be placed on a heating pad even
though they are fully furred and of adult weight. You can usually feel with your hands if
a squirrel is cooler to the touch than the normal warm body temperature, or you can take
the temperature rectally or by ear if you have that type of thermometer.
Internal Parasites:
Squirrels can be admitted or develop symptoms while in care from various internal
parasites. Most of the squirrels that we have to treat for this problem are admitted to our
hospital with ongoing symptoms and were cared for by the public or even from other
rehabilitators. They often are bloated and/or cold and were overfed with improper
formulas. 50% of these patients die within 2 –8 hours of admittance. If a squirrel is
observed with loose, bloody, light colored, or foul smelling feces, or lack of appetite, you
will want to have a fecal sample checked or check it yourself if you have a microscope
and training. Squirrels can have coccidiosis, spirocetes, intestinal round or hookworms,
yeast infection, salmonella, e-coli, and/or giardia. We treat coccidiosis with Albon,
giardia and spirochetes with Flagyl (metronidiazole), worms with Ivermectin dilute
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(ivomec) or Strongid (pyrantel paomate), and yeast with Nystatin. See page 15 for info.
Do not mix squirrels being treated for suspected parasites or diseases with other healthy
squirrels until treatment is finished and all symptoms have resolved.
External Parasites:
Fleas and mites can be treated with Adams Spray for dogs, cats, kittens, and puppies. We
usually do not spray from the bottle directly onto the squirrel to avoid eye contact with
the spray. We spray a very small amount onto a wash cloth or cotton ball, and then wipe
the squirrel with that. The bedding must be changed by the next day to remove dead fleas
and eggs.
As addressed previously under maggots and bots, mange or skin mites will usually first
be observed as crusty, scaly, flaky areas on the edges of the ears, around the muzzle,
eyes, and tail. The squirrel will usually scratch itself often, sometimes causing breaks in
the skin. Red spots or patches can also be observed, usually on the abdomen and stomach
areas. In more advanced cases, loss of hair will occur, sometimes to the point of almost
total hair loss. Patches of skin will peel off with the fur. To effectively treat mange and
skin mites, we use Ivermectin dilute given orally. Repeat dosage every 7 days, for a total
of 3 treatments. Weigh the animal each time, as the dosage will change as the animal
grows and gains weight. Change bedding frequently and clean the container or cage by
cleaning thoroughly as well after each treatment to remove any eggs. You can spray with
Adams, let stand for 20 minutes, and then wash the bedding and cage thoroughly. Isolate
squirrels from those, which do not have the parasites to avoid contagion.
Illness:
Unfortunately, there are many illnesses, which can affect squirrels. Those listed here will
not present a danger to you except for toxoplasmosis, which you will not contract from
the squirrel, but could from the infected cage.
Upper respiratory infection: commonly encountered in young squirrels which have
suffered from exposure, damp weather, and is easily passed from one squirrel to the nextby housing them together, sharing feeding implements, using one feeding dish of milk to
draw up formula for all in care, or by placing a squirrel in a container previously used by
a sick squirrel without thorough disinfecting.
Symptoms: nasal congestion - runny nose, sneezing, labored breathing, breathing through
the mouth
Treatment: you can give children’s decongestant (types and dosages-see charts in the
back), use a baby nose aspirator bulb to regularly clear mucous from nostrils. We do not
treat viral upper respiratory infections with antibiotics. Their use in these cases can lead
to bacteria resistant to antibiotics. Keep the squirrel warm, feed regularly, and the
disease will run its course. Feeding can be very tricky when a squirrel has breathing
trouble. Sometimes oral tube feeding is necessary (this is covered in a future section).
You can smear a thin amount of Vicks Vapor rub on the inside bottom of the squirrel’s
container, place all of the bedding into the container on top of the Vicks, then the
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squirrel, and the warmth from the heating pad will help to fill the container with the
Vicks’ vapors. We usually administer Clavamox for upper respiratory disease.
Aspiration Pneumonia: Fluid in the lungs, often caused by aspiration from improper
feeding, especially if someone untrained who used an eyedropper fed the squirrel. It may
also occur in squirrels exposed to rain, water, and wet conditions.
Symptoms: labored, raspy breathing, may have nasal discharge, you can hear the gurgle
of liquid in the lungs with a stethoscope or by holding the squirrel’s chest to your ear.
Treatment: Many squirrels aspirated by the public will die; however, there is some
chance for recovery, depending on the individual squirrel’s strength and response to
treatment. Antibiotic of choice is Baytril. Bactrim (also called Sulfatrim or Septra) or
Clavamox have also been used. We have saved many patients by administering injections
of dexamethasone (2 mg per ml) and lasix. Usually one dose does the trick, but in severe
cases, we have had to dose once per day for two or three days. For prevention of
antibiotic-induced diarrhea, be sure to give benebac, lactobacillus, or probios. Animals
placed on antibiotics usually develop diarrhea because the antibiotics kill the beneficial
bacteria in the animal’s intestines. Placing some of these good bacteria in the animal’s
formula or food will help to replace these necessary bacteria and prevent diarrhea. Do
this at a time when you are not giving the
Fibromatosis: A viral infection, which causes lumps and bumps on the animal’s body.
Symptoms: Thickened lumps, which are hard rather than pliable to the touch, as
abscesses are. There may be a few, or the animal may literally become covered with
them.
Treatment: There is no treatment, and the virus is contagious. We have seen a 50-75%
mortality rate in squirrels presented with this disease. If you decide to give supportive
care, you must isolate the contagious squirrel from all others. After contact with affected
animals, you must disinfect your hands, clothing, shoes, etc. by spraying with a solution
of any viricide, which will kill viruses in about 4 minutes. We use Parvolan, which we
mix daily, in spray bottles. Again, do not use feeding implements, jars, bedding, or
caging for other squirrels without thorough disinfection.
Klebsiella Pneumonia: This pneumonia strikes animals whose resistance has been
weakened and, in some cases, animals which have just finished antibiotic treatment. The
pneumonia bacterium cause breathing difficulties, scarring of lung tissues, and is highly
fatal.
Symptoms: rapid breathing and heart rate will be observed. Squirrels will often prop
themselves with heads and upper body out of their hammocks or bedding as they appear
to have breathing difficulties. They may refuse offered formula and food. No nasal
discharge or congestion is usually noted, but “dry” sneezing is frequent. It is easy to miss
the symptoms, and the squirrels can die within 24-72 hours.
Treatment: In the year 2000, we successfully treated with Bactrim (Sulfatrim) and saved
12. The symptoms abated within two days, and the squirrels all recovered except the one
(the smallest). Unfortunately, in 2004, the Klebsiella pneumonia proved to be resistant to
Bactrim. After researching the disease for latest treatments, we used injectible Amikacin
(dosed accordingly by weight) and saved all of the squirrels so treated. Please keep in
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mind that the drug of choice could change in several years if this disease becomes
resistant to Amikacin.
Toxoplasmosis: Squirrels can become infected with this deadly disease from exposure to
felines; cats or bobcats. Fecal matter of felines often contains the eggs of the
toxoplasmosis parasite. These eggs are viable for extended periods of time (months) in
the environment and normal methods of disinfecting do not kill the eggs. If a bobcat (or
house cat) has been housed in a cage built with any wood framing the base or sides, the
eggs can infect the wood and even pure bleach or ammonia will not kill them. Months
later, squirrels housed in the cage will become infected and die from the toxoplasmosis
infection. All infected wood and soil from a contaminated cage must be removed and
replaced prior to using the cage to house other types of animals.
Symptoms: Unfortunately, the symptoms often appear when the animal is near death.
Well fleshed, apparently healthy individuals will exhibit heavier than normal breathing,
and a lack of appetite 24-48 hours prior to death.
Treatment: There is no treatment. The microscopic larvae invade the entire body,
especially the soft tissue organs making removal impossible. Mortality rate in squirrels
can be at or near 100%.
West Nile Virus: This newly arrived virus is transmitted by insect vectors (mosquitoes),
and affects many species of animals including humans. There have already been several
confirmed mortalities in the eastern gray squirrel in northern states. The squirrels may
become emaciated and lethargic prior to death. There is no known treatment.
Other problems
Bloat can occur from over feeding, feeding a hypothermic (cold) animal, internal
parasites, and from mouth breathing when suffering from an upper respiratory disease or
pneumonia. Most of the cases of bloat that we have treated have been ongoing when the
animal is admitted-usually when the public has tried to care for the squirrel with little or
no experience, and even less common sense. To help treat the bloat symptoms, administer
simethicone. If caused by internal parasites, you will need to treat for that in order to
eliminate the bloat. If overfeeding seems to be the cause, feed clear fluids for at least 24
hours to flush the squirrel’s system of the undigested milk products. In some cases, bloat
can be extensive, and sub q fluids will need to be administered in order to maintain
hydration. In order to treat successfully, you must determine the cause of the bloat since
it is a symptom, not a disease in and of itself.
Diarrhea is another symptom of something that is wrong, internal parasites, over feeding
(the most common cause), feeding a hypothermic animal, and so forth. We receive many
animals from the public with such problems, and must then attempt to undo the harm that
has been done. In order to successfully treat the diarrhea, you will have to treat the cause.
After admitting an animal, which has been overfed, fed an improper formula, or fed while
hypothermic (cold), there is often loose, light colored stool. The animal should be given
only clear fluids for 24 hours, no milk formula. After 24 hours, the formula can be
gradually reintroduced by adding 1 part to 3 parts fluids for the first feeding, then half
formula, half fluids for the second feeding, then 3 parts to 1 part, and finally the squirrel
is offered full strength formula. If diarrhea persists, we place them on Bactrim (see
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Glossary) Positive fecals at a vet’s office may determine which medications are needed
for treatment. (See internal parasites).
Sore penises can develop from littermates or even a male squirrel himself sucking on a
penis to the point that it forms a scab. This can develop into a very dangerous situation if
not prevented very early. Sometimes squirrels will even suckle on a female causing a sore
vulva, and in one observed case, the abdomen skin was sucked, leaving small red marks
and bruising. Occasionally, a squirrel is admitted for care with an advanced case, and
urination is not even possible.
Littermates causing the problem can be moved to another cage or container. Bad tasting
products such as Bitter Apple, Triple Bitter, or good ol’ Louisiana hot sauce can be
dabbed around the base of the penis, and must be applied regularly, such as at feeding
times. These bad tasting products will often prevent further injury and if caught early,
will do the trick. One-squirrel caregiver uses Vitamin E dabbed on from a capsule to help
heal the area, others have used triple antibiotic ointment. Tiny collars have been made
from Dixie cups and socks have been placed over the abdomen to prevent an animal from
chewing himself. The sore penis can be soaked in warm water and may have to be
squeezed to expel urine. Scabs at the tip may be carefully removed to reexpose the
urethra opening. In severe cases when scar tissue has built up, the penis opening can
close up, and surgery is the only hope. Under anesthesia, the end of the penis skin can be
cut into fourths, and each flap of skin sutured back like a banana peel. Another method
cuts the tip straight across and each side of skin is sutured. It is easier to nip this problem
early with bad tasting concoctions, however, each year, we seem to admit one or two
squirrels which come in with advanced cases of sore penises. The surgery has been
100% effective in saving these animals from a painful death.
Electrocution: A pet squirrel was brought to us for treatment after receiving a nasty
electrical burn on either side of her mouth from chewing an electrical cord. Her owner
thought that it would be safe to let the squirrel run around the house as long as someone
was there in the house. The squirrel was treated with fluids, antibiotics, and survived the
injury; however, she could have lost her life.
Crushing injury: We also treated another pet squirrel, which was admitted with a severe
injury to the skull and one eye hanging out of the socket. The squirrel ran under a
recliner, and when the owner put the footrest down, he heard a scream as the squirrel’s
head was being crushed in the mechanism. We could not save the eye, but did save the
squirrel’s life, and he later was good as new much to his owner’s delight. The moral to
these two tales is obvious; don’t let squirrels have the run of your house or even one
room. Your immediate presence will not necessarily prevent a fatal or severe mishap.
Bloody mouth while feeding: Blood is often seen in and around the mouth during
feeding when squirrels are between 90-120 grams. We have received many a frantic call
from volunteers whom we forgot to warn. The bottom teeth erupt at three weeks of age,
then the top teeth at five weeks. When the squirrel baby nurses with these new top teeth,
he will invariably bite his own tongue a few times until he learns how to suck properly.
It can be quite alarming to a beginner squirrel mom or dad, though, to suddenly observe
blood in the baby’s mouth while feeding it.
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Malocclusion of the teeth can occur whereby the top and lower incisors do not align
properly. When this happens, the teeth continue to grow rather than trim each other in a
normal fashion. Squirrels with permanent malocclusion should not be released as they
may face a terrible death of starvation or injury from the teeth themselves. Squirrels
admitted with injured mouths from falling should be monitored carefully. In some cases,
when we have noticed the problem early, we have cut the teeth back to a normal length
and they have regrown in correctly. This problem must be treated early to be successful
so routine exams should be conducted while the animals are in care. To cut the teeth,
fingernail clippers or small metal snips can be used carefully. Snip a fraction of an inch
at a time until the teeth are normal in length. Check another squirrel to see what the teeth
should look like. The bottom teeth are quite long in squirrels. This method can also be
used in cases of teeth, which never grow right, and the squirrel is kept in care. The teeth
should be trimmed every other week or so throughout the squirrel’s life.
Metabolic Bone Disease (MBD)
You may receive a squirrel from the public after they have raised it for awhile either
having convulsions and/or dragging its hind legs. Of course, these can be symptoms of a
concussion or a back injury, but when either of these symptoms is presented to us, we
always ask about the diet and direct sunlight. Has the squirrel been weaned from
formula, and if so, when and at what age? If weaned, what solid foods have been
provided, and has calcium been added to these foods? What formulas were given, and has
the animal received natural sunlight? Unfortunately, many such animals raised by the
untrained have developed metabolic bone disease. Usually, a furry squirrel even at 100150 grams and 4-6 weeks of age looks “grown” to the public, and so they discontinue
formula feeding and begin to give a diet of nuts, seeds, and fruits. Even if the squirrel is
age appropriate for weaning, if the diet is not balanced with sufficient calcium, the
juvenile squirrel will rapidly develop MBD. Natural sunlight is also required if the
youngster is going to metabolize the calcium. The ultraviolet rays needed to provide
Vitamin D3 do not penetrate through plastic or glass, and Vitamin D3 is necessary for
proper calcium absorption. Vitamin D3 is in the Esbilac formula, so that this problem
occurs in animals already weaned.
We have had very good success in treating MBD by immediately placing the patient on a
regime, which provides a high calcium intake. We place the squirrel back on formula
(Esbilac), and orally give calcium glubionate at each feeding. (See tables and charts for
ordering and dosages). If the squirrel is old enough to eat solids, we also sprinkle the
calcium carbonate powder liberally on all solid foods offered, avoiding offering foods
high in phosphorous. We also provide a minimum of 30 minutes of sunlight daily. These
patients should be kept in the indoor-sized cages rather than outdoor cages to minimize
overt exercise and possible stress fractures. Be sure to check the teeth for possible
overgrowth also as this often occur as well.
Over the years, we have saved dozens of squirrels that were admitted with seizures,
dragging their hind legs and unable to walk, and were on a path of destruction caused by
ignorance on the part of the caretaker. This disease is totally preventable, curable in all
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but the final stages, and the treatments are easily administered. It is a disease frequently
misdiagnosed even by expert medical personnel.
Oral tube feeding
It is always best to receive this training from an experienced veterinarian, vet technician,
or wildlife rehabilitator. For oral administration of fluids, you may use warmed Lactated
Ringers with 5% Dextrose, Pedialyte, or Ricelyte. Regular formula may also be used for
an animal which has been fed formula and whose hydration is normal. Depending on the
size of the squirrel, a 3 ½ French catheter can be used for very small babies under 30
grams, a 5 French catheter for larger squirrels. Hold the tip of the catheter at the base of
the rib cage and gently stretch it along the animal’s chest, neck and head to the tip of its
nose and mouth. Be sure to follow the full curvature of the neck. With a permanent
marker, mark the point of the catheter that corresponds to the very tip of the mouth.
Attach the catheter to the end of the feeding syringe, and draw up the amount of liquids
needed. Hold the squirrel in one hand in a flat position horizontally, not vertically, (lying
flat in a prone position). With the other hand, slowly insert the end of the syringe into the
squirrel’s mouth carefully working it down into the stomach until the marked area on the
syringe is at the squirrel’s mouth. You may be able to feel the end of the syringe in the
stomach. If there is any doubt about proper placement, do not administer the fluids.
Administering Fluids Subcutaneously
This method of providing fluids to a dehydrated or unconscious squirrel is relatively
simple, but again, it is safer for the patient if you observe someone else experienced in
the procedure before you try it yourself. This is a safer method than oral tube feeding.
Begin by warming a bag of Lactated Ringers (plain, with no dextrose) in the microwave,
checking it frequently until it is warm but not hot (100-105 degrees F.) Draw up the
amount of fluids needed using a syringe and needle appropriate for the size of the
squirrel. (See charts). You are going to administer the fluids in four locations, two on
the hips and two at either side on the shoulders. Gently pinch the skin of the squirrel
between your fore finger and thumb, insert the hypodermic needle ¼ - ½” into the tented
skin, and inject one quarter of the amount of total fluids to be given. If fluids come out
rapidly, you probably pushed the needle through the skin and out the other side. Move to
another site and try again. Complete this at all four injection sites. Sub-Q fluids can be
given two or four times per day depending on the severity of dehydration, and age and
size of the animal.
If you are admitting squirrels for care on a regular basis, there will be times when using
this method will mean the difference in whether the patient survives or not.
Glossary of Products
Feeding Implements:
The Miracle nipple fits on 1/2, 1, 3 or 5 cc syringes-order from Chris' Squirrels & More
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Catac teats or nipples are very small, latex nipples, which fit nicely on the end of a
syringe and can be used for very small babies. Order from Chris' Squirrel and More on
line. Also from Chris', you can order the Pet Ag elongated feeding nipples, which are
much cheaper than Catac. They slide onto the end of a 3 cc syringe. They are a harder
consistency.
Feeding tubes: # 3 ½ and # 5 French catheters: vet offices, medical supply comp.
O-Ring syringes, Chris' Squirrels and More on line
Formulas, Foods, and Additives:
Formulas:
Fox Valley: 1-800-679-4666
Esbilac Puppy Milk Replacer powder or canned goat milk based (Pet Ag) – on line:
Chris’ Squirrels and More, UPCO, or Jeffers
Beneficial Bacteria:
Probiotics, Bene-Bac, - on line: Chris’ Squirrels and More, UPCO,
or Jeffers
Foods:
Primate biscuits: Chris’ Squirrels and More
Rodent Chow: Chris’
Sunflower seeds: Walmart, Feed stores, Tractor Supply
Nuts: pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, and unsalted roasted peanuts-BJs, Costco, Walmart,
grocery stores
Acorns and Hickory nuts- collect these only at locations where no pesticides have been
sprayed
Fruits/Vegetables: grocery stores
Food Additives:
Calcium carbonate-Pet stores, sometimes as a reptile supplement, on the Internet see
Duda Company-has very reasonable prices, or Chris’ Squirrels and More
Calcium glubionate: local drug store may be able to order for you, or vet offices,
Calcium gluconate: Jeffers, vet offices, medical supply comp.
Meds and Wormers:
Albon (sulfadimethoxine): vet office, medical supply comp.
Bactrim also called Sulfatrim or Septra (sulfamethoxazole 200mg/5ml and
trimethoprim 40mg/5ml)- veterinarian
Chlorpheniramine Maleate- a decongestant to use for squirrels with upper respiratory.
4 mg tablets, to one crushed tablet, add 40 cc of water, and then dose at .1cc per 50 grams
body weight. Works really well. Vet office
Chlorhexadine solution 2%- vet’s office or medical supply comp.
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Clavamox (tablets 62.5 mg add 1 crushed tablet to 5 cc water, then dose rate = .1cc
per 100 grams body weight PO oral, BID)- veterinarian
Decongestant/Antihistamine (pediatric) over the counter - Walmart: for body weight
25-30 grams-2-4drops, 30-50 grams-4-5 drops, 50-70 grams-.05cc, and so on. Start with
a low dose, and increase in small amounts as needed. Can be given 4-6X over 24 hours
every 4 hours
Flagyl (metronidiazole): UPCO, vet office, medical supply comp.
Ivermectin 1%- Feed stores, UPCO or Jeffers
Lactated Ringers solution; Lactated Ringers with 5% Dextrose-vet’s office, UPCO,
or medical supply comp.
Nasal drops/spray- Walmart or drug store-we use the generic brand
Propylene glycol- Jeffers, local feed store, or veterinarian’s office
Providine or Betadine Solution- vet’s office, or Wal-Mart
Simethicone-for gas relief in human infants, 1-2 drops
Sodium chloride solution .9%-vet’s office, medical supply comp.
Strongid (pyrantel pamoate 50mg/ml): UPCO, vet offices, feed stores
Triaminic decongestant – Walmart pharmacy or any drug store-we use the generic
brand. Use a drop or two for squirrels less than 50 grams, .05 cc for squirrels 50-75
grams and so forth.
Triple Bitter or YUK: UPCO, JEFFERS, pet stores, on line – Chris’ Squirrels and More
Vicks Vapor rub- Walmart pharmacy or drug store
Equipment/Supplies:
Adams flea and tick spray for puppies and kittens, cats and dogs –UPCO, Jeffers, pet
store
Bitter Apple or Triple Bitter- UPCO or Jeffers, pet stores
Crock Bowls: UPCO, pet stores
Electric cup warmers: the homemarketplace.com, Walgreen’s
Ferret Play Cubes: sold at Petsmart stores or on line, make great squirrel beds to hang in
climbing wire cages
Gram scale: Wal-Mart, UPCO
Heating pads, electric, Walmart, CVS, Walgreens in the pharmacy section-make sure
that they don't have an automatic shut off after a few hours! Read the box carefully.
Hypodermic syringes, needles: UPCO, Jeffers, vet offices, feed stores
Nasal aspirator bulbs: Toys R Us, Walmart, drug stores
Plastic containers with lids, called critter totes - local pet stores-Pet Smart has them.
Infant receiving blankets: Walmart, thrift stores
Wire (½” X ½”) for cages, lumber and plywood: feed stores, Home Depot, Lowe’s
If you haven’t already, consider joining the National Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Association
and the International Wildlife Rehabilitator’s Council
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Ivermectin Dilute=one part Ivermectin 1% to 19 parts propylene glycol
(This mixture must be shaken prior to use) Give orally to treat mange, mites, to kill
maggots. For mange and mites, give 3 doses, 7 days apart.
weight of squirrel
50 grams
100 grams
200 grams
400 grams
amount of dilute
.025 cc
.05 cc
.1 cc
.2 cc
Formulas for infant and juvenile gray and flying squirrels:
For any age squirrel the "old" formula can be used until other formulas can be obtained:
5 ounces of lactose free whole milk, one egg yolk, 1/2 teaspoon light Karo syrup, mix or
whisk well and strain it-keep refrigerated, and warm to about 100 degrees F to feed.
For squirrels whose eyes are closed, we mix 1/2 part Fox Valley 32/40, 1/2 part
powdered Esbilac, and 1/4 part heavy whipping cream to 2 parts hot water(150 degrees
F.) For example: 1/4 cup Fox Valley powder, 1/4 cup Esbilac powder, and 1/4 cup heavy
whipping cream to 1 cup hot water.
For squirrels with eyes open or over 70 grams in body weight, we use Fox Valley 20/50
per manufacturer's instructions, one part Fox Valley powder to two parts hot water. 1/2
part heavy whipping cream can be added for increased weight gain if desired.
For all formulas (except the lactose free + egg yolk), mix 4 hours prior to use and heat the
water to 150 degrees F. Cool until the formula is just warm, then refrigerate.
Feeding: It is best to use the feeding chart to avoid over feeding, howeverA quick way to estimate the adequate amount of formula to offer per feeding is to give
5% of the body weight.
Example: If the squirrel weighs 20 grams, multiply 20X.05=1cc of formula
100 grams of body weightX.05=5cc of formula. This will be a bit more than the chart
shows, and you should reduce the amount a little to avoid overfeeding
Meds for diarrhea
The first med of choice is Bacterium (Sulfamethoxazole and Trimethoprim 200 mg/40
mg per 5 ml)- .1 cc per 100 gms body weight 2X day for 7 days.
Flagyl (Metronidazole) 250 gram tablet
Mix one tablet to 4 cc of warm water, then administer .1 cc per 100 grams of body weight
twice per day orally for 7 days
Albon, administer .1 cc per 100 grams of body weight twice per day orally for 7 days
****A good source for many supplies is Chris' Squirrels & More on the web!!
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