Having a Pet Squirrel

Squirrels may live in your backyard or neighborhood. They are fun to watch scamper around, and you may consider that they would make cute pets. As a general rule, squirrels aren’t domesticated and aren’t good animals to keep as pets. But, if you are considering a pet squirrel, there are some things you need to know first.

Types of Squirrels

Tree squirrels. These are the most common species, often seen running across tree branches and climbing trees.

Ground squirrels. This type of squirrel primarily lives in forests, burrowing in the ground and hibernating during winter months.

Flying squirrels. They don’t actually fly, but flaps of skin that extend between their legs allow them to glide through the air as they leap from tree to tree.

Considerations for Getting a Pet Squirrel

Are squirrels legal to keep as a pet? Many states restrict keeping squirrels as pets in your home. Before adopting, talk to a veterinarian about the laws in your city and state. If you find a squirrel in your yard in need of care, find a wildlife refuge center to take the squirrel before attempting care on your own.

Prepare for the care of a squirrel. Squirrels are wild animals and undomesticated. If you do find yourself caring for a wild squirrel or seek to adopt one as a pet, remember that they require unique care. First, have your squirrel checked out by a veterinarian. If you decide to adopt a squirrel, it is a lifetime commitment. Once squirrels are domesticated, they lose their natural instincts to survive in the wild.

Preparing your home for squirrels. Squirrels love to climb, play, and hide. Since they are wild animals, you may consider letting your squirrel in and out of your house. You’ll need to ensure your house and backyard are safe for your new pet, which means you should:

  • Put away any small objects that your squirrel can knock over and break while climbing.
  • Cover small holes and put away appliances your squirrel can climb in to hide.
  • Secure chemicals and other dangerous substances, including processed snacks your squirrel may get into.
  • Separate your squirrel from other pets until they acclimate to the new environment.
  • Supervise your squirrel when other pets are present and never leave them alone together.

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Squirrel accommodations. You can create a cage that is kept inside or outside as long as your squirrel is safe from predators. Traditional cages, including those for rabbits and chickens, don’t always work because squirrels are able to squeeze through small holes. 

A mesh wire is optimal for keeping your squirrel safe while still allowing them the freedom to climb around. The cage should be a minimum of two feet across on all sides to be big enough for your squirrel to move around and taller than it is deep.

Feeding your squirrel. The best strategy for feeding your pet squirrel is to match what they would eat in the wild. This includes:

  • Pinecones
  • Seeds
  • Mushrooms
  • Flowers and buds
  • Berries
  • Acorns
  • Walnuts
  • Pecans

Squirrels are opportunistic eaters. They’ll eat whatever is available to them. It is up to you to ensure they have a healthy diet. While squirrels do enjoy human food, including cake, snacks, and other processed foods, they aren’t healthy for squirrels. A poor diet can lead to obesity and digestive upset.

Training Squirrels

While squirrels are intelligent, they are not considered easy to train since they are wild animals. 

Toilet training. If your squirrel is a baby, you will have to provide around-the-clock care, including stimulating the squirrel to use the bathroom. Use a wet cotton ball to gently massage your squirrel’s bottom in a circular motion several times a day. By five to six weeks old, your squirrel will begin to produce urine and feces without your help.

Then you can begin to litter box train your squirrel. Provide a pellet litter that won’t cause harm if it is ingested. Encourage your squirrel to use the litter box by placing their feces there, so they smell it and associate the box with using the bathroom.

General training for your squirrel. While squirrels are difficult to train, you can build habits over time by encouraging certain behavior. Have a routine of things you do with your squirrel. Provide positive reinforcement like praise and treats when your squirrel is doing something good.

Your squirrel won’t understand being punished when they are “bad” because many of their less desirable behaviors are natural instincts. Instead, remove objects that you want them to leave alone, or move them to another room or area with fewer distractions. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

HUMANE SOCIETY: “Humane Backyard.” 

National Geographic: “Squirrels.”

Squirrel Refuge: “Adult Care,” “Bathroom Business,” “Housing Squirrel in Rehabilitation,” “What do squirrels eat?”

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