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Three Reasons Why Baby Squirrels Die in Captivity
Have you ever taken in a baby squirrel and started feeding and caring for it, then it went downhill physically and died? You are not alone! Below are three common reasons why baby squirrels die in captivity:
1. Bad diet.
Improper diet is the number one reason why squirrels die. There is a lot of controversy about what is the right food to feed baby squirrels that are still nursing. Many wildlife rehabilitators will tell you to buy expensive puppy food and never feed a squirrel cow’s milk. I used an expensive puppy food with little success, but they recently changed the formula which lacked enough milk fat for squirrels. Now suddenly people are being told to add heavy cream to increase the fat content! Hi! What is thick cream? That’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 give the squirrel severe diarrhea. Diarrhea will lead to an electrolyte imbalance that will lead to cardiac irregularity and eventually death from sudden cardiac arrest.
I’ve found that if you get rid of the stuff in cow’s milk and cream that causes diarrhea, the baby squirrel will do well with 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 bucks on a can of puppy food!
The second big killer of squirrels is hypocalcemia. That’s a fancy name for low blood calcium. Squirrels, especially in captivity, have an extremely high need for calcium. Death from low blood calcium comes after they stop nursing. While they are receiving milk, their calcium needs are met. When they stop breastfeeding, they need a calcium supplement or they will develop what is called metabolic bone disease. This disease is characterized by the loss of calcium from the bones, especially in the spine and hind legs. When walking, they start to shuffle their hind legs and gradually lose nerve and muscle control. Their bones become brittle and break easily.
Low blood calcium can also lead to irregular heartbeat and sudden cardiac death. A squirrel with metabolic bone disease is a pitiful scene! Prevention is simple! I teach a very simple way to make a food supplement called Nut Squares or Nut Balls, which will ensure optimal calcium intake and good health for squirrels.
3. Internal injury.
The last big killer of baby squirrels is internal injuries. A squirrel found many times fell out of a leaf nest a great distance. One of the first things you should do for your squirrel after you get it into a warm environment is to carefully check for injuries. Babies usually have rapid breathing and a rapid heart rate, but if the squirrel is having trouble breathing or using more than its chest muscles to breathe, it may have internal injuries. It could have had broken ribs or a bruised lung or 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 a 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 evaluate the animal, but it’s likely that nothing more would be done than monitor and support its breathing with oxygen and a warm environment until it passes. In my years as a squirrel rehabilitator, I have found that squirrels love a gentle head and neck rub, it is very soothing and comforting to them. Death is a part of life. Holding and comforting a dying squirrel helps me realize how precious and short life is. I find great joy and satisfaction in caring for these beautiful creatures and I thank God that even in death I can make a difference!
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