Squirrels as Pets

Squirrels are adorable little critters that are fun to watch in the wild, and can make wonderful pets! They are found almost everywhere in the world and in several different climates.

Scientific Names:

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Description:    Squirrels are small rodents varying form 6-12 inches in body length and 4-10 inches in tail length. Weight for flying and red squirrels is 4 to 8 ounces, while that of gray squirrels is from 12 to 28 ounces.
   Squirrels can generally live up 10 years in optimum conditions (with gray squirrels having a slightly shorter lifespan), however many baby squirrels in the wild never even make it to adulthood due to predators.

Purchasing your Squirrel:    Most squirrels, since they are naturally wild animals, are not availabe as pets.
  
Southern Flying Squirrels however, are sometimes available. When considering purchasing a Flying Squirrel as your new pet, make sure you are ready for the committment of time and care that it will need. Whether you get a male or female squirrel is totally up to preference - they will both usually make great pets and don't differ much in behavior patterns.
   It is best to try and choose a young, captive-bred squirrel; either one that has been hand-raised or separated from it's mother right at weaning time. This way, you'll get one that will easily adapt to you and become readily tame.
   If you decide you want more than one flying squirrel, it is probably best to house them in separate cages, because they are mostly solitary and like their own space. If you do house them in the same cage, make sure to provide ample areas for both of them, with each of them having their own nest.

   Look for signs of a healthy Flying Squirrel when purchasing one. It should have bright and clear eyes, a clear nose, a glossy and clean coat, and be of healthy weight. Check to make sure that the squirrel does not have fleas or ticks. Flying Squirrels are generally shy to newcomers, so don't be surprised if they glide back to someone familiar, like the store staff, when you are trying to become acquainted with them.

Care and Feeding:    In the wild, all squirrels have the same basic diet. Depending on the season, squirrels have different diets. Mostly they eat nuts, buds, fruit, grain, fledglings, and birds' eggs. Red Squirrels especially love pine seeds. In the winter fungi and tree bark are a common food. Many squirrels will also gather food to store for the winter - such as nuts and mushrooms.

   In captivity, squirrels need to be provided with a variety of foods to make sure they are getting the proper nutrition. Good mixtures to feed your squirrel include vegetables (such as celery, carrots, green beans, and romaine lettuce), and many fruits (such as apples and bananas). You can also try insects and mealworms. Parrot food is another good choice since it has many seeds that squirrels like. Calcium is also very important, so you should include a calcium supplement for squirrels kept as pets. There are many types of tablets and powders available at pet stores that can be used.

   Squirrels teeth grow constantly throughout their lives, and so you should make sure that they are provided with chewing material. Hard bark and large bones are good for this.

   Make sure there is a constant supply of water for your squirrel. Put water in a heavy dish or in a water bottle attached to the side of the cage. Also make sure to thoroughly clean food and water dishes daily with hot water.

Habitat and housing:    A squirrel's favorite place of habitation in the wild is the woods. They are most at home in wooded areas because they can usually find all the food and nesting material they need there. However, they are also often found in parks and backyards in urban areas. Generally, squirrels will make their nest in a hollow tree trunk or in branches near a tree trunk. They make their nests out of moss, thistledown, dried grass, feathers, twigs, leaves, and shredded bark.

   In captivity, it is best to try and imitate a woodland home for your squirrel. Purchase or build a cage that is a minimum of 3 cubic feet per squirrel. It is best to use a mesh wire cage, with a removable tray for easier cleaning.
   Provide a nesting box (usually hung on the outside of the cage with an opening into the cage). To make your squirrel feel more at home, put twigs, leaves, grass, and bark on the bottom of the cage. This will give him a variety of materials to choose from when making his nest comfortable.
   Provide your squirrel also with branches throughout the cage so he can get his exercise and feel more comfortable. To ensure the health of your pet, make sure to thoroughly cean the cage with hot water at least once a week.

Social Behaviors:    Depending on the type of squirrel, social behaviors vary. Red Squirrels are solitary creatures and prefer to live alone all year long, except when raising young. However, gray and flying squirrels are solitary during the summer, but will often stay together in large groups (of up to 24 squirrels) during the winter to keep warm. �� In general, squirrels should be kept away from other pets. They can often be hurt, or sometimes hurt other animals. They can however, become very affectionate to their owners and make great companions.

Handling and Training:    When handling your squirrel, make sure to support it's whole body, and don't don't just grab it by it's tail, as this could cause discomfort and/or injury.

   Many squirrels can make great pets and are extremely affectionate. It is not unheard of for squirrels to actually learn to come when their names are called. The best "trick" is that of the Southern Flying Squirrels. Since they have a membrane between their fore and hind feet, they are able to actually glide for short periods. This allows them to learn to glide from high objects to their owners.

Activities - Exercise and Play:    In the wild, squirrels get plenty of exercise scurrying up trees and leaping from branch to branch. It is therefore important to provide these opportunities in captivity to keep your squirrel healthy and happy. First, make sure to provide tree-like objects (such as large branches) in their cage. This will help give them exercise when they don't get out much. But a great thing to do is to let your squirrel roam free in designated rooms for short periods of time with supervision. This will give them lots of jumping and scurrying time, and will give flying squirrels the opportunity to glide.

Breeding/Reproduction:    In the wild, there are 2 basic breeding periods for squirrels. They are from February to March, and June to July (except for the Flying Squirrels, which is only from January to March). For most of the different types, several males will go after a female in season, but only one of them will end up mating with her.
   All baby squirrels are born blind and naked. Their eyes start opening usually when they are a few weeks old, and their fur starts growing within a week. The young usually stay with their mothers for at least a month after they are weaned to learn how to find food (and glide in the case of flying squirrels), before they become completely independent.
   Most species are essentially the same in their breeding statistics, but they are broken up according to three common species below:

American Red Squirrels:
   Sexually Mature: 1 year
   Gestation: 5 weeks
   Number of Offspring: 2-7
   Weaning Age: 8 weeks

Gray Squirrels:
   Sexually Mature: 11 months
   Gestation: 44 days
   Number of Offspring: 1-9
   Weaning Age: 10 weeks

Southern Flying Squirrels:
   Sexually Mature: 1-2 years
   Gestation: 40 days
   Number of Offspring: 2-6
   Weaning Age: 8 weeks

Ailments/Treatments:    As with all animals, squirrels can become ill. But you can do your best to avoid this simply by taking good care of your pet. Make sure he gets proper nutrition and exercise. This will keep your squirrel in the best of conditions and reduce the chances of him getting sick.
   Signs that indicate your squirrel may not be feeling well include: watery eyes, listless or lame attitude, abscesses, excessive scratching and biting the skin, unnatural feces, and underweight.

   Since squirrels are an exotic animal, if it appears your pet is sick, then the best thing to do is to take him to a veterinarian.

Author: Jasmine Brough