At times baby squirrels, known as kits or kittens, fall from their nest or lose their parents. They require help to survive and be rehabilitated. Sometimes strange theories arise on how to feed baby squirrels, and eager animal rescuers are happy to adopt these theories without much thought. One recent idea is that human breast milk can be used as replacement milk for baby squirrels. Is this true, and will baby squirrels thrive on this diet?
Squirrel breast milk is high in proteins and calcium to promote rapid growth. Human breast milk contains a much lower protein and calcium content. The lower fat content and high carbohydrates in human milk can lead to enteritis and death. Do not use human breast milk to feed baby squirrels.
It is difficult to know what to feed orphaned wildlife. Getting the correct milk substitute is essential for the growth and well-being of baby squirrels.
Is Human Breast Milk Good For Baby Squirrels?
Some people may reason that humans and squirrels are both mammals. Therefore human milk should be a suitable replacement for squirrels. However, the truth is that human breast milk differs widely from squirrel milk and is a poor substitute for squirrel milk.
The Protein Content Of Human Vs. Squirrel Milk
Squirrels are rodents, and one of the features of this animal family is the rapid growth in early life. Baby squirrels are born hairless, blind, and deaf.
At this stage, they are often called pinkies. However, by eight to ten weeks, the squirrels are completely covered in hair, all their senses are functioning, and they are ready to start weaning.
This growth and maturation are startling when compared to a human infant. Human babies grow and mature slowly, taking many years.
One of the critical elements in rapid growth is the protein content of the mother’s milk. Human breast milk contains one percent protein, suitable for a slow-growing human but not a squirrel kit.
Colombian Ground squirrel milk was analyzed and found to contain 10.71% protein. Grey squirrel milk has a minimum of 9% protein. This is nine to ten times the protein content in human milk and much better suited to the fast-growing squirrel.
If a baby squirrel has inadequate protein, it will fail to grow and thrive and probably die. Protein is essential for muscle formation and bone development.
The Fat Content Of Human Milk Vs. Squirrel Milk
Human breast milk contains 4% lipids or fats. Colombian Ground squirrel milk has 9.15% lipids, and grey squirrel milk has 12.1% fats. This is quite a high ratio of fats as even cows and goats only have 3 % to 5 % fat in their milk.
The fat content in squirrel milk is more similar to dog or cat milk, with 9.4 % to 12.7 %.
Fats are essential in the development and functioning of the nervous system. Contrary to what most people think, too little fat in a squirrel kit’s diet can lead to gastrointestinal disturbances.
The Carbohydrate Content Of Human Vs. Squirrel Milk
The carbohydrate and sugar content of human milk is high – 7 %. Grey squirrel milk has only 3 %, and Colombian ground squirrel milk has 3.39 % carbohydrates or sugars in their milk.
High carbohydrate content in a milk substitute will result in bloat and life-threatening gastrointestinal disorders.
What Is A Good Milk Substitute For Baby Squirrels?
There are various options for feeding baby squirrels. Many rehabbers recommend a homemade formula based on goat’s milk for the first two weeks.
- 3 tablespoons goat milk
- 3 tablespoons plain yogurt
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- ½ and egg yolk
(Sited from Henry’s pets)
Other rehabilitation experts advise using Esbilac puppy formula or other puppy milk replacers. If puppy milk formulas are not available, then human milk formulas may be used with the addition of egg yolk and cereal. (Sited from Rehabbers den)
Hygiene Is Critical When Hand-Rearing Squirrel Babies
Milk replacement formulas form an ideal environment for the growth of bacteria when bottles, teats, and other feeding equipment are not cleaned properly. Therefore, the equipment must be thoroughly cleaned and sterilized between each feed.
This sterilization level must be maintained until the squirrel kit is at least one month old. After this time, the squirrel has developed some immunity. The equipment must still be cleaned after this, but sterilization isn’t important.
Why Won’t An Orphaned Baby Squirrel Drink?
A common mistake made by rookie rehabilitators is that they do not keep the milk warm enough when feeding the squirrel kits. If the milk cools and becomes tepid, the squirrel will stop drinking and fail to take in enough nutrition.
Cold squirrel babies will not drink. It is critical to keep the babies warm to have sufficient energy to drink from a teat. If you pick up a baby squirrel from the ground, it will probably be cold.
Most people want to feed the kit immediately. This is doomed to failure unless the kit is first warmed up.
Squirrel kits are also vulnerable to heat stress. If the environmental temperature is too high, they can quickly succumb to seizures and neurological damage.
Dehydration goes hand-in-hand with heat stress. Therefore, it’s essential to rehydrate the baby squirrel before being fed. Ringer’s Lactate and Pedialyte are good products to give for rehydration.
Provide a Nest For Orphaned Squirrels
Baby squirrels have poor thermoregulation until they are four weeks old. Therefore, it is critical to provide a warm nest environment for the babies. There should be soft cloths in a box or covered basket to allow the babies to burrow into the bedding.
After four weeks, the nest’s temperature can be normalized with the environmental temperature. At seven to eight weeks, the babies will prefer roosting higher off the ground. Then, the nest can be relocated to a higher position.
Squirrels are social animals, and orphaned squirrels must have the chance to mix with other squirrels. When kept in isolation as pets, they become naughty and aggressive when they reach sexual maturity.
It is best to hand orphaned squirrels over to rehabilitation groups that can raise and rehabilitate the squirrel baby so that it may be released into the wild as an adult.
Human breast milk is not a good milk substitute for baby squirrels. Its composition is wrong for the needs of a growing squirrel, and it can cause the squirrel to become sick and die.
There are better formulas available that more closely match squirrel milk. If you’re unsure of what to feed a baby squirrel, contact an avian veterinarian for assistance.