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Three Reasons Why Baby Squirrels Die in Captivity

Have you ever picked up a baby squirrel and started feeding and caring for it, only to have it go downhill and die? You are not alone! The following are three common reasons why baby squirrels die in captivity:

1. The Wrong Diet.

Improper nutrition is the number one reason squirrels die. There is a lot of controversy about what is the right formula to feed baby squirrels who are still nursing. Many wildlife rehabilitators will tell you to buy an expensive puppy formula and never feed a squirrel cow’s milk. I have used the expensive puppy formula with limited success, but recently they changed the formulation which left not enough milk fat for the squirrels. Now, all of a sudden, people are being told to add heavy cream to increase the fat content! Hello! What is heavy cream? It’s cow’s milk cream! The reason cow’s milk will kill a baby squirrel is because there are substances in the milk that will cause severe diarrhea in a squirrel. Diarrhea will lead to electrolyte imbalance, which will lead to cardiac abnormality and eventually death from sudden cardiac arrest.

I have found that if you get rid of the diarrhea-causing stuff in cow’s milk and cream, a baby squirrel will do just fine on a cream-rich cow’s milk formula. But you need to do one simple but vital thing to make this formula safe for squirrels! I can teach you how to make this formula and save you from spending twenty dollars a box on puppy formula!

2. Hypocalcemia.

The second major killer of squirrels is Hypocalcemia. This is a fancy name for low blood calcium. Squirrels, especially in captivity, have extremely high calcium requirements. Death from low blood calcium comes after they stop breastfeeding. As long as they get milk, their calcium needs are covered. When they stop breastfeeding, they need a calcium supplement or they will develop what is called Metabolic Bone Disease. This disease is characterized by loss of calcium from the bones, especially in the spine and hind legs. They begin to shuffle their hind legs when walking and gradually lose nerve and muscle control. Their bones become brittle and break easily.

Low blood calcium can also lead to heart abnormalities and sudden cardiac death. A squirrel with metabolic bone disease is a pitiful sight! Prevention is simple! I teach a very simple way to make a nutritional supplement called Nut Squares or Nut Balls that will ensure optimal calcium intake and good health for squirrels.

3. Internal injuries.

The last big killer of baby squirrels is internal injuries. Many times a found squirrel has fallen a long way from a leaf nest. One of the first things you should do for a baby squirrel after taking it into a warm environment is to carefully check it for injuries. Babies normally have rapid breathing and heartbeats, but if a baby squirrel has trouble breathing or uses more of its chest muscles to breathe, it may have internal injuries. He could have broken ribs or a lung or a heart! Blunt trauma to the abdomen can injure internal organs such as the liver, kidneys, or spleen. The abdominal wall of a baby squirrel is very thin. If you see dark purple discoloration of the abdomen, this is an ominous sign that indicates internal bleeding.

There is not much that can be done for a baby squirrel in this condition. A vet could assess the animal, but chances are there would be nothing more that could be done other than observe and support its breathing with oxygen and a warm environment until it passes. I have found in my years as a Squirrel Rehabilitator that squirrels love to have their heads and necks gently rubbed, it is very soothing and calming to them. Death is a part of life. For me, holding and comforting a dying squirrel helps me realize how precious and short life is. I find immense joy and satisfaction in caring for these wonderful creatures and I thank God that even in death I can make a difference!

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