Musts for Rehabilitating a Squirrel
An adolescent or adult squirrel cannot be kept in a cage. (An infant squirrel will do fine in a large box with a smaller box inside for sleeping). If a squirrel is needed to be kept for an extended period and is more than a couple months old, i.e. keeping over winter, they will need a small room all to themselves. Anything less is cruel. Squirrels are very hyper-active animals and need a lot of room to maneuver and exercise. They rarely stay still. Trust me.
Side Note: To free up my room, I tried to make Buddy's home an entire closet and he ate the closet. He also would run away and defend himself if I ever tried to put him in a cage and screamed the entire time for help.
Every edge, corner, bump and irregularity of the walls, doors, floors, wires, window sills etc. (you get the idea) of the squirrel's room will have to be taped and re-taped with a few layers of broad scotch tape or these things will not exist in whole form in a very short time. (For some reason they will not eat through tape or smooth round surfaces. They need an edge or roughness to start chewing on something, unless it is small like a wire, then they will just eat through it.) The main living space of the rehabbers does not need to be taped, but your eyes must not leave the blinding flash of the squirrel when it is let out of its room. They love attention and will always want to be around or on you, but as soon as they think they are being ignored they will explore and go on seek and destroy mode.
Side Note: Think of a squirrel as a small, lightning-quick, insane beaver.
The squirrel’s room must have heavy blanket on the wall for climbing and stools or something placed in the room for the squirrel to jump to and from for exercise.
They must have toys to keep them occupied, i.e., cat or gerbil balls/toys, paper towel rolls, plastic pop bottles etc. Any recyclable plastic or paper item will do. (They are also a functional shredder, no batteries required).
They need some form of wood to chew on to reduce teeth grow (and room destruction). Old wood furniture or pieces of 2x4’s work. (If you bring in a branch from outside, make sure it is clean and bug-free. Even attempt to sterilize it in the bathtub with scolding hot water.)
Add towels or crumpled paper on floor for the burying of nuts. It is an instinct and they must do it.
Give shelled nuts to adults for tooth care, entertainment and for burying.
Wear heavy clothing when playing/dealing with the squirrel because of their claws. Say good-bye forever to a couple of pants and sweaters.
Take time to play/give attention to the squirrel – they love it. (When they are young you can even take naps together.) They also love being petted like a kitten and it is the best way to settle them down.
Before handling them after they wake up, put them on newspaper for a washroom break. Beware their running into the corner backwards when outside their room.
It is not a good idea to be a rehabilitator if you have a cat or dog, unless they can always be separated by rooms at different ends of the house or in a garage etc. Otherwise, the cat and dog will go crazy with the squirrel’s smell and near presence and the squirrel will always be frantic with fear.
Main Thing to Keep in Mind
Have an immense amount of patience. This is a wild animal, not a domestic pet that will take instruction and learn over time. Although they will learn a few things – like to run
into their room when they know they are in trouble – they have a very limited and selective memory and intelligence. They will continue to repeat things no matter how much scolding they receive.
Good advice: You can lead a squirrel to water but you can’t teach it not to….go psycho
on the water, the dish and your pants.
Forgive them; they know not what they do.
Rehabilitating a squirrel or any small animal takes commitment, time and the appropriate space. It also involves objectivity and doing what is best for the animal. It is an extremely rewarding experience and if a person finds an injured animal, has done their research for proper care and safety, and has the time, resources and space to keep the animal, I strongly recommend becoming a temporary parent for the “child” in need.
Pictures by vaalea...