CARE OF ORPHANED tree squirrels

 by Jennifer Outlaw Coulson

The Eastern Gray Squirrel, the Eastern Fox Squirrel and the Southern Flying Squirrel all nest in Louisiana.  They nest in tree cavities or in loosely constructed nests of leaves and sticks.  During rain storms and heavy winds baby squirrels are often blown out of their nests in the high treetops.


Move the orphan to the foot of the tree near where it was found.  The mother may find it and carry it back.  If at all possible, return the baby to the nest or nest cavity to let the parents raise it.  The fact that human hands have touched the baby will not cause the parents to reject the young.  If a nest cavity has been cut down, a nest box of an accessible nest with babies of about the same age as your orphan, you can introduce the orphan into the litter.


Housing:  If the eyes have not opened, use a shoe box lined with soft rags and place it halfway on a heating pad set on low.  Poke air holes in the top of the box and fasten the box top on with rubber bands or the like to prevent escape.

              Once the squirrel’s eyes are open, move it to a small wire cage made of 1/4" or 1/2" hardware cloth.  Do not make the cage taller than three feet high because squirrels are prone to falling accidents at this age.  Keep the cage on a heating pad set on low for 2 to 3 weeks more.  Keep the electrical cord out of the squirrel’s reach because it is prone to chew through the cord.

Diet:  Before the eyes open, feed puppy or kitten replacement formula.  Esbilac and KMR are two recommended brands.  Human infant formula can be used but this is not as rich as puppy or kitten formula—hence the baby squirrel tends to grow slower when infant formula is used.  If you cannot afford a commercial infant formula, whole cow’s milk can be used with reasonable success, especially if the orphan is already well furred.  Feed the squirrel 8 times a day as much as it will take from a pet nurser bottle, or a plastic eyedropper or a syringe.

When the squirrel’s eye open at 5 weeks, bottle feedings can be cut back to 6 feedings a day.  Baby food fruits, vegetables and cereals can be offered by mixing them in the formula or by spoonfeeding them to the squirrel.  Applesauce is usually a favorite.  You can now teach the squirrel to drink milk out of a bottlecap by dipping the animal’s face into the dish of milk.  As incisors appear, slivers of apple, banana, and grape can be offered.  Also leave bits of shelled pecans, walnuts, acorns or sunflower seeds in the bottom of the box.  Allowing the squirrel to nibble on these will aid it in cutting its teeth.  The squirrel should eat mostly solid foods (with water always available) when it is 2 to 3 months old.

 Other Needs:

              If the orphan is less than 5 weeks old, it is not able to urinate or defecate on its own.  You must moisten a kleenex and rub the genital area and the anus gently before each feeding until the animal excretes.  If you do not do this—if you forget even for one day—the creature may develop a bladder infection or become constipated.


It is illegal to keep any native squirrel as a pet.  Please remind yourself and your family at all times that you are raising the squirrel to return it to the wild where it belongs.

The preferred way to release a hand-raised squirrel is a gradual process.  Place the squirrel’s cage outdoors where it will be released—do this at least one week prior to the release date.  Let it get used to its surroundings.  When the release day comes, open the cage door quietly.  Have the squirrel’s favorite foods in the cage.  Continue to put food in the cage even if the squirrel does not return for a few days.  In most instances, the squirrel will continue to frequent the area.

If you want the squirrel to stay in the area, you can also get it use to sleeping in a nest box (18" X 10").  Then release the squirrel from the nest box after you have attached the box high in a tree.  Put food out at the foot of the tree everyday.


 Do not bathe the squirrel; it chills very easily.

Wash feeding bottles daily.  Make fresh formula up every few days.  Never allow milk to sour.

Inhalation of milk can cause pneumonia.  If you see “bubbling” of milk from the nose, try using a nipple with a smaller hole.  Pull the bottle out of the squirrels mouth is you must, to keep it from nursing to quickly.

Glass eyedroppers should not be used; as the squirrel gets older, its teeth may break the glass.

Gatorade is a good rehydration solution for orphaned babies that have gone for a long time without food.

The rabies virus has never been isolated from a squirrel in the United States.


 Collett, Rosemary K. and Charlie Briggs.  1974.  Rescue and Home Care of Native Wildlife.  1974.  J. B. Lippincott Co.

Hickman, Mae and Maxine Guy.  1973.  Care of the Wild Feathered and Furred:  A Guide to Wildlife Handling and Care.  Unity Press.

Lowery, George H., Jr.  1974.  The Mammals of Louisiana and its Adjacent Waters.  Louisiana State University Press.