How to Care for a Baby Squirrel: 6 Steps to Take If You Encounter One

Newborn baby squirrel
© Audrey / Flickr

Written by Tavia Fuller Armstrong

Published: January 14, 2024

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Have you ever seen a baby squirrel? Most people have not. Squirrels may have only one or two litters each year. And baby squirrels typically stay safely hidden in their nests until they mature enough to emerge. The time from birth to weaning can depend on the species and in some cases the area in which the squirrels live. If you encounter a baby squirrel that is too young to have independently left the nest, it could be in trouble. Knowing how to care for a baby squirrel depends on several factors, including when and where you found it, how old it appears to be, and what condition it is in.

Determine the Approximate Age of the Baby Squirrel

Baby squirrel sitting on the grass. Infant squirrel. selective focus.

Baby squirrels are born pink, naked, and helpless with their eyes closed.

©chetanya kumar suman/Shutterstock.com

The most common tree squirrel in North America, the eastern gray squirrel, often called grey squirrels in Europe and other parts of the world, often has two mating seasons, in late winter and in early summer. Squirrels of this species are usually born from February to March, or from June through July. American red squirrels, another common North American species, typically mate from February through March and give birth in late spring to early summer.

Baby squirrels emerge naked, helpless, and pink with their eyes closed. By about 4 weeks of age, baby squirrels will open their eyes. By about 6 weeks, they will usually have fur growing in all over their body, and they should be able to sit up and hold food. You may need to provide temporary care for a very young baby squirrel, and ideally help reunite it with its mother, in order for it to survive.

After around 8 weeks, a baby squirrel will resemble a miniature adult. After approximately 10 weeks, juvenile squirrels typically wean, and they will leave the nest by about 12 weeks of age. A young squirrel between about 8 to 12 weeks of age should have a bushy tail, somewhat like a bottle brush, and should have reached a length of around 6 inches, not including the tail. The best way to care for a baby squirrel that has reached this juvenile stage is to keep pets and children away and leave it alone.

Look for Signs of Injury or Abandonment

Baby squirrels require care if separated from their mother before a certain age.

An injured or abandoned squirrel should be taken to an experienced wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

©Audrey / Flickr – Original / License

If you find a sick, injured, or truly abandoned baby squirrel, you will need to care for it until you can get experienced help. Look for signs such as bleeding or evidence of broken bones. A baby squirrel that has been snatched by a cat, dog, or other animal may also have injuries that you cannot easily see. Signs of fly eggs or larvae, or other parasites, indicate that the baby squirrel has likely lost its mother. Obvious signs of dehydration and distress, including nonstop crying, can also be signs that the baby squirrel has been orphaned. The nearby presence of a dead adult female squirrel would also indicate that a baby squirrel needs help.

If you note any of these signs of injury, illness, or abandonment, you should seek help from a wildlife rehabilitator who has experience with orphaned squirrels. Contact your state department of wildlife or look for licensed rehabilitators in your area on the Animal Help Now website.

Provide Warmth to the Baby Squirrel

Big happy family (large family): squirrel nest with children on tree. Squirrel lives near human habitations and made nest of cotton

If you find baby squirrels, keep them warm until you can reunite them with their mother or get help.

©Maximillian cabinet/Shutterstock.com

If the baby squirrel you have found appears healthy and uninjured, you can attempt to reunite it with its mother. Especially in cooler weather, if the squirrel has gotten cold, you will first need to provide warmth. When you care for a baby squirrel, remember that its body temperature should be slightly warmer than a human’s, so it should feel warm to the touch. Place rice or bird seed inside a sock, knot the end, and microwave for about 30 seconds until it is warm. Place the sock on one side of a container, such as a plastic box or a basket. Then cover that with some soft fabric, like part of an old t-shirt or cotton batting. Using thick gloves, place the squirrel on top. The baby squirrel can regulate its body temperature by snuggling close or moving away from the warm sock.

Return the Baby Squirrel to Its Tree

Baby squirrels, a type of rodent, looking out for their mother.

Juvenile squirrels can take care of themselves. Return younger individuals to their mother if possible.

©Nilanka Sampath/Shutterstock.com

If you have found an eastern gray squirrel or other type of tree squirrel, you can return it to the tree closest to where it was found, or to the tree that contains its nest if you can see one. Place the box or basket on the tree securely, using rope or a bungee cord to attach it if necessary. Then make sure all humans and pets stay indoors and away from the squirrel for at least two hours. This will give the mother a chance to retrieve the baby and return to the nest if possible.

You can check on the baby squirrel after a couple of hours and replace the warm sock. Then give the mother more time to come back. If the temperature outside is too cold, or if it is getting dark, consider bringing the baby squirrel indoors. Call for help from an experienced rehabilitator at this point.

Do Not Attempt to Feed a Baby Squirrel

a baby squirrel drinking milk from a syringe. High quality photo

Leave the feeding to a seasoned wildlife rehabilitator with experience feeding baby squirrels.

©Brester Irina/Shutterstock.com

You may feel tempted to feed and care for a baby squirrel until it grows up. However, it can be extremely dangerous to attempt feeding a baby squirrel if you don’t know what you are doing. More often than not, baby squirrels will die in captivity if the person caring for them lacks adequate experience.

Baby squirrels cannot digest cow or human milk. They must be fed a special formula that may not be available to the public where you live. The amount of formula they need, and the frequency of their feedings depend entirely on their age and size. If you feed a baby squirrel in the wrong position, too quickly, or too much, they can inhale the formula, aspirate, and die. If their formula is too runny or to thick, they can get sick and possibly die. In short, it is best to leave feeding to rehabilitators who know what they are doing.

Do Not Plan to Keep a Squirrel as a Pet

Cute little baby of American red squirrel is sitting on the branch of the spruce tree and eating in warm summer day.

Squirrels, like other wild animals, should not be kept as pets.

©Saeedatun/Shutterstock.com

In many states, you must have a license in order to keep and rehabilitate orphaned wildlife. You may desperately want to keep and care for a baby squirrel, especially because they seem so sweet and helpless. However, once squirrels reach their juvenile stage, they typically do not make friendly and tame pets. They are, after all, wild animals. If you find a baby squirrel, and cannot reunite it with its mother, try to find a wildlife rehabilitator. They can hopefully raise the squirrel to maturity and release it back into nature.


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About the Author

Tavia Fuller Armstrong is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on birds, mammals, reptiles, and chemistry. Tavia has been researching and writing about animals for approximately 30 years, since she completed an internship with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Tavia holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a wildlife emphasis from the University of Central Oklahoma. A resident of Oklahoma, Tavia has worked at the federal, state, and local level to educate hundreds of young people about science, wildlife, and endangered species.

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