There are over 200 squirrel species and millions of individual squirrels on every continent except for Australia and Antarctica. During the spring it’s common for people to find baby squirrels outside of the nest. If you’ve found a baby you are likely wondering how to tell how old a squirrel is and how to take care of it.
How To Determine A Squirrel’s Age
If you have come across a squirrel that appears to be unable to take care of itself, you can learn about how to provide the appropriate care once you estimate how old it is. Using physical appearance you should be able to estimate the squirrel’s age. Here’s what to look for:
Fur – Squirrels are born without fur. At about 2 weeks old, the first patches of fur will appear, typically on the body first. By 4 weeks old, the fur will be about 2mm long and will also be on the tail. At 6 – 7 weeks the entire body will be completely covered in fur that is beginning to look nice and plush. However, the fur on the tail won’t look fully developed and bushy until as late as 10 – 12 weeks old.
Eyes – Baby squirrels are born with their eyes completely closed. It can take quite a while for the eyes to open fully, with the majority of baby squirrels fully opening their eyes at 5 weeks. However, there have been cases where the eyes opened as early as 3 ½ weeks.
Teeth – When wildlife rescuers are asked how to tell how old a squirrel is, they suggest trying to carefully determine if the baby has teeth. Newborn squirrels do not have any teeth. At around 3 weeks, the lower incisors will emerge with the upper incisors erupting at around 4 ½ weeks.
Ears – When a squirrel is born their ears are “closed” meaning that the pinnae, or the part of the ear that we see, is held against the head. By 4 or 5 weeks of age, the ears will be fully upright and open.
Although you may rescue an infant squirrel in your lifetime, by knowing how squirrels change physically as they grow, you’ll be able to share with others how to tell how old a squirrel is!
What Should I Do If I Find A Baby Squirrel?
There are several reasons why you might find an unattended baby squirrel:
- Nest Disruption: Strong winds, storms, and weakened branches can all cause a nest to fall or tip.
- The Mother Squirrel Is Moving Her Babies: Mother squirrels typically make two or three nests while expecting. This way, if the first nest is disrupted or she feels it is unsafe, she can move her babies.
- A Predator Found The Nest: Birds, cats, and other natural predators of the squirrel can wreak havoc on a nest and send babies tumbling to the ground.
If you’ve found a baby squirrel you should first determine if it has been orphaned. It can take some time but if you can, stay a good distance away and wait to see if the mother squirrel returns for her young. The baby may not actually be orphaned! In fact, if you follow the guidelines on how to tell how old a squirrel is, you may find that this small squirrel is actually old enough to venture out on its own.
When it becomes clear that the baby is orphaned it’s time to provide whatever help you can give. Many areas have wildlife rehabilitation centers or wildlife agencies that can take in orphaned animals and provide them with proper care. When a wildlife center can’t be found or you aren’t able to immediately drop off the orphaned squirrel, you might find yourself in a position where you will need to provide care.
How To Take Care Of A Baby Squirrel
The first thing you should do it obtain a pair of thick gloves as protection. Remember, squirrels do bite and their teeth can break the skin! Handle the baby gently and quickly check for any injuries. If the baby is injured, contact a veterinarian.
The following are the steps you’ll need to take to keep the baby healthy and happy until they can be taken to a local wildlife center:
- First, make a warm bed for the baby squirrel. A cardboard box with an old t-shirt or towels is a great bed for a baby squirrel. For extra warmth, place a heating pad on low under half of the bedding. The baby should have a cooler place to go if they get overheated!
- Second, help the baby rehydrate. Orphaned babies are often dehydrated by the time they are found by a human. Pedialyte can be found in almost any drugstore and can be given with an oral syringe. If possible, obtain the unflavored version. It’s important to heat the solution to body temperature and offer a drink every 30 minutes until the baby produces urine.
- Third, feed the baby. Puppy milk replacement is available from many pet stores and can be given to infant squirrels. Babies between 1 – 2 weeks need to be fed between 0.5 – 1 ml every two hours. As the baby grows, this amount will increase and at 6 weeks, the baby could be eating 5 times this amount every 4 hours. Baby squirrels are weaned by 8 weeks.
- Fourth, help the baby go potty. Yes, you read that right! When a squirrel mother cleans their baby this helps to stimulate the body, encouraging the baby to urinate and defect. You can help your baby go to the bathroom by taking a warm washcloth and gently cleaning their body, including their bottom. You should perform this “cleaning” after every feeding.
Continue to give the baby squirrel the appropriate care until you can take them to a wildlife facility. Squirrels can and should be released back into the wild once they are old enough to take care of themselves!