Over a month ago, on a Sunday morning I am woken up by a caller from Beasant Nagar saying she has in her possession a baby squirrel and looking for answers on how to look after it, searched online and found my blog and number. Initial frustration gave away to concern when I listened to her and found out how much she cared for that little thing and how much she was trying to save its life.
So here’s my crash course in case you accidentally came across an abandoned baby squirrel and would like to rehabilitate it.
Important – If you find a squealing baby squirrel in its nest, wait (in hiding) and observe if its mother is coming to check on the baby because the mother will not be far away from the nest. In fact mommy squirrel will not abandon her baby. If the baby squirrel is wailing for a long time, then there’s a possibility that the mother hasn’t been around for long. The mother may have been killed by a predator or lost its life in some other way. It it then that you need to step in.
Also if you find yourself incompetent or would like to use the services of a caretaker here are the numbers in Chennai.
Subashini – 044 – 65274646. She is an authority on squirrel care. She also directed me to the following website which has detailed explanations of baby squirrel care and rehabilitation. Though the material online is meant for squirrels in America it suits us well too.
Leela Animal Rescue – 8682892733 – Working from her home the caretaker uses her home as office space and animal shelter to rehabilitate animals and birds.
If you know of any other numbers do share and I’ll post them here.
Meanwhile here are my most important tips.
1. Very important – Provide warmth
This is an absolute imperative. Without warmth the little ones WILL die. Without warmth they will not even be able to digest food that is being given to them. For pinkies (baby squirrels that are still red and pink with little hair on them) and for slightly older squirrels (that still have their eyes closed) use a hot water bottle like the one in the image below.
Water needs to be changed every 4 or 5 hours to keep the bottle and the little ones warm. Also, instead of placing the babies directly on the bottle (which may be very hot) use a soft cloth over the bottle and then place the babies on the cloth. Place the hot water bottle, soft cloth and the little ones in a box, such as a shoe box with holes that let air in. It goes without saying that you will have to keep monitoring them regularly. Be in the vicinity of the box. The domestic cat is a predator and we lost one squirrel (this happened when I was a child) to one of them.
2. Do not use syringes to feed the little ones
No matter how ambidextrous you are or how good you are with your hands do not use syringes to feed the baby squirrels.
1. Slow or rapid, when you use the plunger on the syringe the milk does not flow out evenly. Worst is when you thrust the plunger hard because in that process you can even choke the little one, with excess milk being thrust into its mouth.
2. The tip of the syringe (where one attaches the needle) is also not comfortable for the little one to feed on.
Instead, use this. The good old ear drop bottle.
Empty the old ear drop bottle or locate an empty one. Thoroughly clean it as it may have residue, dirt or the old leftover ear drop solution inside. Dry the bottle and inspect it for cleanliness before you fill it with cow’s milk. To feed the little one, invert the bottle and keep squeezing on the cap till you find milk oozing out of the nozzle. The baby squirrel will happily suck and feed on the nozzle like it would from its mother. Watch the video below for more clarity. (I am a bit rude to Chaithu in this video, but bear with me folks. It was tough filming the feeding)
The other alternative is to use a dropper. This is better than the syringe but not the best solution. Glass tips of the dropper could break too if they are fragile and brittle.
Make sure you feed the squirrels every 4 hours.
3. Stimulate urination and passing of stool – very important again
Tough one but there is no way around it because if this is not done, the little one can die of Uremic poisoning. So how do you do it? By using a slightly wet tissue and gently stimulating the genital and anal areas. Stool and urine flow out in a fine stream with stool in an orange or brown color. Urine is colorless. Both are odorless too, at least for the time I looked after them (when their eyes were yet to open).
These three activities are of paramount importance when it comes to saving the baby squirrel.
Once the little ones open their eyes, they’ll be all over you. They’ll play with you, run around you but make sure you don’t step on them. They are actually too fast for that to happen. Make sure no predators such as your pet cat is around because to the cat your little squirrel is “food”.
With the “eyes opening stage” you have crossed a major hurdle in the little squirrel’s survival.
The rest of the rehab, i.e getting it back to its original habitat and family is beyond my tutorial as I have had no experience here though Clarissa (site and link mentioned earlier) offers excellent information on them. Both the baby squirrels I rescued were given away before they opened their eyes, one I even inserted into another existing nest of another squirrel family. The interesting story of that squirrel (I call it chipmunk in my earlier post) can be found here.