Squirrels are fun to watch and feed, so if they are frequent visitors in your backyard, you probably wonder what it would be like to have them as a pet. After all, people have kept them as pets for hundreds of years.
An animal whose natural habitat is the wild is not as easy to keep in your home as domesticated ones. Whereas some states allow you to keep pet squirrels, in other states, it’s illegal.
Can you have a pet squirrel in Kentucky?
No, according to the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, removing young wildlife from the wild is illegal. The state considers them as ferocious mammals that belong to the forest and should be left there. This means that if you find an orphaned or injured squirrel, the best course of action would be to contact an authorized wildlife rehabilitator.
The department’s website has a list of rehabilitators in different counties of the state with their contacts. The department does not expressly mention squirrels on their list of prohibited native wildlife, but it says that you can obtain a captive wildlife permit for native wildlife. Squirrels are part of native wildlife.
Is it Legal to have a Pet Squirrel in Kentucky?
While it is illegal to remove animals from the wild, you can obtain a wildlife rehabilitation permit. This permit authorizes you to rescue and plan for veterinary care for an orphaned, injured, or sick native animal to release it back into the wild purposely. You must obtain the permit before possessing the squirrel.
The department affirms that you will need a captive wildlife permit before holding and transporting native wildlife, including squirrels. You can only obtain indigenous wildlife legally by trapping them during their legal trapping season or from a licensed commercial breeder. Squirrels have specific trapping dates and restrictions in Kentucky (check the department’s website).
You can either acquire a commercial or non-commercial permit for holding native wildlife. Commercial licenses are valid for one year, while non-commercial permits last three years. The applicant must be 18 years and older, must pay an application fee of $150 for commercial and $75 for non-commercial, and must specify their legal source of wildlife.
A commercial permit allows you to buy, sell, trade, or barter native wildlife. It’s important to note that you cannot do any of the above for animals that have been taken from the wild, including squirrels.
They must be captive-bred; however, it’s doubtful that you’ll find those in Kentucky because they are in plenty and are not threatened by extinction.
Exemption for Possession of Squirrels in Kentucky
The department will only grant an exemption for possession of squirrels upon receiving a written permission request for legitimate educational or scientific use by these establishments:
- A government agency
- A college or university
- An official zoo
- A licensed or accredited institution of education or research
For stationery facilities, a fox squirrel, flying squirrel, or gray squirrel can be kept in a single animal enclosure that measures 4 ft. x 4 ft. x 8 ft. For each additional squirrel, there must be an increase in floor space by 2 square feet.
The enclosure must be strong enough to protect the squirrel from predators and injury and prevent free-range squirrels from entering. As an applicant, your space should be inspected by a designated officer to confirm compliance and have you sign the application form.
You must provide clean drinking water and unspoiled food daily. The food must be sufficient and nutritious enough for the squirrel. You will also need to keep correct information such as the common and scientific name, date of birth, date of sale, purchase, gift or barter, your name, phone number, address, and wildlife permit number.
Types of Squirrels in Kentucky
Kentucky has three main squirrel species; the eastern gray squirrel, the southern flying squirrel, and the northern fox squirrel. The eastern gray squirrel and northern fox squirrel are considered wild game mammals, but the flying squirrel is government-protected, so it’s off-limits.
Eastern Gray Squirrel
The Eastern Gray Squirrel is scientifically known as ‘Sciurus carolinensis’ and is the most common Kentucky species. They mostly live in tree cavities and leaf nests in remote forests, woodlands, suburban backyards, city parks, and small towns. Kentucky is 47% forested, making it a suitable habitat for gray squirrels.
Gray squirrels are generally small creatures. An adult grows up to 23-30 cm head and body and weighs about 500 grams. Males and females look the same in size and color.
Their fur coat is gray and brownish around its upper side, while its underside is white. Some of them appear white (albino) or black (melanistic) and are mostly found in urban areas because there’s less predation.
Gray squirrels hop through the woods with two to three-foot-long strides. They are active in the daytime and do not hibernate throughout the year.
Northern Fox Squirrel
These are the largest tree squirrels in Kentucky, also called ‘Sciurus niger.’ They are 18-27 inches long and weigh 2.5 pounds. Their top (back) fur is grayish with a bit of yellowish color. It has a bright orange belly area with a yellow-yipped tail.
The fox squirrel occupies similar living areas as the gray squirrel. They prefer woodlands with mixed and deciduous forests. Fox squirrels can also be found in mangrove and cypress swamps.
The northern fox squirrel eats walnuts, mulberry, hickory nuts, acorns, and beech. Additionally, it enjoys fruits, corn, buds, green shoots, berries, insects, beetles, and moths. Fox squirrels store nuts for the winter. It has a great sense of smell for locating its caches.
The fox squirrel tends to move around and look for food on its own, although it can share feeding space with other furry ones. Almost all day, it will be eating, collecting, and storing food. Tree hollows and crotches are its space of choice for nesting.
The flying squirrel (Glaucomys volans) dwells mostly in trees and travels in a unique way. It has enormous dark eyes, soft grayish fur on the topside, a white belly area, and a light orangish tail. It’s 5 – 5.5 in. long, and its tail is 4.5 – 5 in the bottom.
Despite its name, this squirrel doesn’t fly per se, but it glides because of large skin flaps (patgia) that connect the front and hind legs giving it a square shape. The flying squirrel extends its limbs and assumes a flying batlike mobility pattern with its tail offering stability. They become more sociable in the wintertime and get together with ten or more other squirrels for warmth.
List of Legal Pets in Kentucky
You might be that person that loves taking care of wounded, sick or orphaned exotic animals. Some are expressly illegal, while others are legal without a permit. Here’s a list of both so that you’re not on the wrong side of the law:
Permit Exempt Exotic Wildlife
- American bison
- Guinea pig
- Snapping turtle
- Black bear
- Copper belly water snake
- Wild turkey
- Any endangered species
In summary, you cannot have a pet squirrel in Kentucky. Squirrels are wild game, and more hunters take part in squirrel hunting every year. The most you can do to take care of squirrels in Kentucky is to set up a squirrel feeder in your backyard so that you can still watch them doing their interesting antics.