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Raising Orphan Fox Squirrels
Orphaned wildlife tend to knock more than once on the door of a kind- hearted person
Ron Hines, DVM PhD
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My suggestions are based on my personal experience raising squirrels for over 60 years. However many experienced wildlife rehabilitators have very different advice that they tend to be quite adamant about. That so many techniques work well, is a tribute to the toughness and adaptability of these little animals, God bless them:
Squirrel litters vary from two to five in number, and average three. If the nest tree has been cut down, check the hole very carefully because it is easy to miss small youngsters. Spring birthing time varies according to the area of the United States you live in and there is great variation within a given region. Most breeding occurs from December to February and May through June. The winter litter is generally smaller than the summer litter. Squirrels are considered low-risk for the transmission of rabies, but it is good idea for everyone who deal with wildlife to receive the immunizations.
When found, baby squirrels are often dehydrated, chilled and weak. These problems must be addressed before they will nurse or have the ability to digest formula. If you pinch the skin at the nape of the neck and it doesn't spring back flat but remains “tented”, fluid, such as lactated ringer’s solution is best given subcutaneously at about 10% of the infant’s weight at three hour intervals. You can try oral Pedialyte in small amounts if injections are not possible.
A low-setting heating pad under one side of a cardboard or plastic container lined with Kleenex, paper towels or cellulose fiber makes a good initial home. I also put together a 14” x 10” plastic basin in which I have a 40 watt light bulb within a small tin can. This serves as an excellent surrogate mother. You can also find 10 watt refrigerator bulbs at Wal-Mart that can be placed in a soup can for similar effect. Usually, the service person at the electrical and lamp supply area of Home Depot or Lowes will rig up the cord and fittings if you bring your own screwdrivers. I have never had these can-warmers catch fire or scald the infants but I suppose such a thing could happen.
Keep the container out of drafts and away from small children. The less you handle the babies other than to feed them, the better. I bundle them in a soft face washcloth to feed them so as not to soil them or spread bacteria from my hands. Red squirrels are the smallest, so the amounts fed need to be reduced accordingly.
I generally mix the formula slightly thicker than suggested on the label. Most powdered infant animal formulas suggest one part powder to two parts water. This is fine during initial feedings when rehydration is important and the babies are adjusting to the new diet. But as they adjust, you can go to one part powder to about one-and-a-half parts distilled water.
I generally mix only the amount I will use during a single feeding or during a day – depending on the availability of a refrigerator and general sanitation in the nursery. Freezing formula causes the emulsions to separate and clump but does not seem to affect the nutrient value. Since it looks unpleasant when thawed, I only do that if I have large numbers of baby squirrels to care for. I generally use KMR or Hartz kitten formula, but others do well with Esbilac, and other brands.
I use a polystyrene 1 or ˝ ml disposable pipette drawn out thin at the end with a flame as a nursing bottle. With practice, slight pressure on the bulb will supply the liquid at the end at just the right speed and volume. Later, I may feed them from one-half ounce plastic "Yorker" bottles with a small hole punched in the red cap with a hot 25-gauge needle.
I stimulate their urination and defecation after each feeding with a moistened pledget of cotton being careful not to irritate their tender behinds. If they do become red and inflamed do to this or to diarrhea, I massage the area with a drop of one of the many triamcinolone/bacitracin/neomycin antibiotic creams available at veterinarians. Wal-Mart sells the tube for $4.00 but you will need a prescription.
How Much To Feed:
There is considerable controversy as to how much to feed a baby squirrel. Many experienced squirrel rehabilitators feed 5% of body weight and are happy with the squirrels they eventually release. Some sub-species, such as fox squirrels in Florida, are smaller and so require a bit less formula. Babies with little fur or no fur are the most fragile. The skin on their tummy is translucent, so you can see their white stomach when it is full of milk. I, personally, feed them until their stomach is fully outlined. Going beyond that causes regurgitation (upchuck) that eventually leads to pneumonia and death.
Experienced rehabilitators argue about what and how much to feed all the time. They recommend what works best for them but there are many regimens that produce healthy, releasable offspring. Those of you who have raised your own children know that healthy kids are the product of many cultures and family eating practices. It is also quite untrue that a fat squirrel is a healthy squirrel - just as a fat child is not a healthy child. . I tend to feed a more concentrated, energy-rich formula than others so the amount I feed is proportionately less.
Whatever amount you decide to feed, use your common sense. After feeding, the baby, it should be relaxed with a slight plumpness to its abdomen but not a full, bloated pear-shaped appearance. You are always safer feeding less than an animal will willingly eat. This goes for any animal. Not only are you less likely to cause digestive disturbances, pneumonia, bloating and diarrhea but you will produce a more vigorous, alert and energetic young squirrel. One that is less likely to fall prey to the dangers of the outside world when you are ready to release it. And one with an immune system capable of fighting off the diseases it encounters.
Overfeeding wild babies a big problem. It is our natural instinct to overfeed critters. It leads to obesity, liver and kidney disease, abnormal sugar metabolism and a host of other problems that shorten a squirrel's life span. In livestock ,overeating was recognized as a cause of sudden death over a hundred years ago. Also, many years ago, studies on rats and mice found that caloric restriction (approximately 40%) increased life span approximately 25%. Infant rats fed forty percent less, matured slower with stronger bones, ligaments and muscles. Throughout their life spans, the incidence of common diseases was decreased significantly. Please remember that my advice represents only my own personal experiences as a veterinarian raising squirrels.
small babies, weighing less than 10 grams (less than a week old,
pink, blind, naked, toothless) should be dropper- fed about every
one to two hours. Once they are stabilized, rosy pink, warm to the
touch with good muscle tone, they can be fed between 0.1 and 0.4cc
(ml) per feeding. This comes out to about two to six drops of formula
every one to two hours.
Some Problems You Might encounter:
1) If an uninformed caregiver has been feeding the infant a diet low in calcium and/or vitamin D3, such as pabulum, the squirrel may have soft, rubbery legs, which bow outward at the knees. They are also more susceptible to cross-bite. This is called metabolic bone disease. Cataracts sometimes accompany it. You can stop this process with proper diet – but you cannot reverse it. In its severe form, the squirrel can never be released.
Internal parasites are possible but uncommon. Squirrels tolerate
small doses (drops) of kaopectate well as well as bismuth sub-
salicylate anti-diarrheal cattle suspension. If this is insufficient,
antibiotics such as neomycin (20mg/kg tid)
Massaging the gas gently from the tummy his helpful. So is a drop of dioctyl sodium sulfosuccinate (colase-type stool softener and cattle bloat remedy) given every two hours. Occasionally, the problem will respond to a drop of Metoclopramide (10mg/ml) syrup given every two hours or so. Bloated baby squirrels often have concurrent aspiration pneumonia. Formula should never exit the nose. Remember, underfeeding a bit is much safer than giving the baby all the formula that it will accept.