If you’ve ever seen an adorable squirrel scampering through your yard, you might have wondered if squirrels make good pets. The short answer is no. Because squirrels are wild animals, keeping them can be both dangerous for you and the squirrel. Let’s discover more information along with the pros and cons of keeping squirrels as pets!
A Bit About Squirrels
Squirrels belong to a family of mammals called Sciuridae. This family is made up of three types of squirrels: tree squirrels, flying squirrels, and ground squirrels. From the tiniest (African pygmy squirrels) to the largest (Indian giant flying squirrels), the Sciuridae family includes 279 different living species! While that may seem like a huge variety to choose from, most squirrels do not make good pets.
Generally, squirrels have slender bodies and long bushy tails. Not only that, but most of them have large eyes and a thick, plush coat. Squirrels also live in nearly every habitat across the world, including forests of all kinds, deserts, and permanently snowy places. No squirrel species naturally inhabit Australia or Antarctica, but humans introduced them to the Land Down Under in the 19th Century.
What Do Squirrels Eat?
Those choosing to keep a squirrel as a pet might find it very difficult to feed them. Squirrels are omnivores, which means they eat both plants and meat. However, they cannot digest cellulose. That’s what makes up the green, leafy part of plants. They consume nuts and seeds, along with fruits and buds from trees and bushes. Squirrels also eat mushrooms and other fungi.
The meat they eat consists of insects such as caterpillars, beetles, and flies. Some species may also consume baby birds, eggs, young snakes, lizards, or other rodents. Squirrels in some tropical regions eat a diet nearly entirely made up of insects. One study of the stomach contents of white-tailed antelope ground squirrels revealed that 10% of the over 600 specimens examined contained the remains of at least one type of vertebrate (that is, animals with a spine).
Do Squirrels Make Good Pets?
The short answer is no, they don’t. Although squirrels are very cute and experts may keep them as pets, owning one is generally not a good idea. Aside from legal issues, they are difficult to house and feed. They can also carry diseases and can injure humans and other pets with their sharp teeth and claws. Let’s dive a little deeper into why squirrels don’t make good pets!
Illegal Pet Squirrels
As of 2020, the only places in the United States that allow the owning of squirrels as pets without special permits are Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, Nevada, South Carolina, South Dakota, and West Virginia. It’s very important to check with local law enforcement before obtaining a squirrel to keep as a pet. This includes places outside the U.S. which may have different laws and requirements.
In most places, it’s illegal to take a squirrel from the wild and keep it. However, people do breed and raise squirrels in captivity. Many times, the breeders must have specific licenses and inspections to keep, breed, and sell the squirrels. In California and Colorado, if you’re found keeping a squirrel, wildlife officers must confiscate it and euthanize it. That means your squirrel will be killed. You might also be subject to massive fines and even jail time!
Feeding Squirrels Properly is Difficult
Providing proper nutrition for a pet squirrel proves difficult for many people. Because they need a wide variety of both plant and animal protein, owners often find them hard to keep up with. Squirrels also find food by foraging and may not readily eat from a bowl. It’s also essential not to feed them human food or processed pet foods, even though they may be willing to eat them. A poor diet can lead to obesity, digestive upset, and even organ failure.
Housing Pet Squirrels
Besides feeding properly, squirrels need space to run, jump, and climb. Many pre-made enclosures for rabbits or other small mammals have openings big enough for a squirrel to squeeze through. Others just don’t provide enough room. The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife (ODFW) published a document with laws regarding the enclosure and caging standards for holding wildlife in the state.
The document states that an appropriate squirrel enclosure contains at least 16 ft² (square feet) of floor space. For tree squirrels, an 8-foot-tall cage is mandatory, while ground squirrels require at least 4 feet of vertical clearance. The roof must be made of wire mesh or solid material to prevent escape. The floor size obligation increases by 25% for every additional animal.
There’s even more! An individual nest box must be provided for each animal. Specific nest box requirements depend on the species. Not only that, but they expect a central climbing tree with at least 3-inch wide branches for tree squirrels and appropriate soil for digging for ground squirrels. The ground squirrel enclosure must have a wire mesh barrier buried at least 18 inches below the top of the soil, also. Lastly, they state the enclosure must incorporate designs to replicate the squirrels’ natural hiding and climbing behaviors.
That’s only the laws for one state. Other places may have other rules, but even these seemingly simple terms can be challenging for owners to comply with. Not to mention, if your squirrel escapes after living with you for a while, they may not be able to fend for themselves.
The Danger in Keeping Pet Squirrels
Some of the most common diseases squirrels carry include tularemia, typhus, black plague, and ringworm. Of course, all of these except ringworm can be deadly to humans. Another important disease squirrels carry is leptospirosis. This disease is transmitted through the infected urine of animals such as squirrels, raccoons, deer, etc. Both humans and dogs can contract the disease and die from it. It causes rapid onset liver and kidney damage along with meningitis (or inflammation of the brain and spinal cord). About 30% of all dogs diagnosed with leptospirosis die, even with intensive care in hospital.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Benoit Daoust/Shutterstock.com
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