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Three Reasons Why Baby Squirrels Die in Captivity
Have you ever taken a baby squirrel and started feeding and caring for it, only to have it physically go downhill and die? You are not alone! The following are the three most common reasons baby squirrels die in captivity:
1. Wrong diet.
Improper nutrition is the number one reason why squirrels die. There is a lot of debate about the right formula to feed baby squirrels who are still nursing. Many wildlife rehabilitators advise you to buy expensive puppy formula and never feed a squirrel cow’s milk. I’ve been using an expensive puppy formula with little success, but they recently changed the formula and it didn’t have enough milk fat for the squirrels. Now suddenly they are telling people to add cream to increase the fat content! Hello! What is heavy cream? It’s a cream made from cow’s milk! Cow’s milk kills baby squirrels because milk contains substances that cause severe diarrhea in squirrels. Diarrhea causes electrolyte imbalances that lead to cardiac arrhythmias and ultimately 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 just fine with the rich cow’s milk formula. But you need to do one simple but important thing to make this formula safe for squirrels! I can teach you how to make this formula and save you spending twenty bucks on a can of puppy formula!
Another major killer of squirrels is hypocalcemia. This is a fancy name for low blood calcium. Squirrels, especially in captivity, have an exceptionally high calcium requirement. Death from low calcium in the blood occurs after breastfeeding is stopped. As long as they receive milk, their calcium needs are met. When they stop breastfeeding, they need calcium supplementation or they develop what is known as metabolic bone disease. This disease is characterized by the loss of calcium from the bones, especially in the spine and hind legs. They start shuffling their hind legs while walking and gradually lose control of their nerves and muscles. Their bones become brittle and break easily.
Low blood calcium can also cause heart problems and sudden cardiac death. A squirrel with metabolic bone disease is a pitiful sight! Prevention is easy! I teach a very simple way to make a food supplement called Nut Squares or Nut Balls to ensure optimal calcium intake and good health for squirrels.
3. Internal injuries.
The last major killer of baby squirrels is internal injuries. Many times a squirrel has been found falling far out of its leaf nest. One of the first things you should do for your baby squirrel after entering a warm environment is to carefully check for injuries. Babies usually have rapid breathing and a heartbeat, but if a baby squirrel has trouble breathing or uses more than just its chest muscles to breathe, it may have internal injuries. It could break ribs or injure a 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.
Not much can be done for a baby squirrel in this condition. A vet could assess the animal, but it is likely that all that can be done is to monitor and support its breathing difficulties 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 feel 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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