If you find a baby squirrel, you only need to remember the acronym W.H.A.M. to function like a pro in providing care!
W.H.A.M. is a four step process to insure that you cover all the bases in providing a systematic approach to insure that a baby squirrel is provided every opportunity to survive.
“W” stands for Warm.
Baby squirrels lose body heat very rapidly, especially during the time when they are born, usually in early March. Ideally, you’d like to have the mother come retrieve it, but it’s tough to leave a nearly naked body lay out in the cold of early March waiting for its mother. I’ve found that a small cardboard box with a cloth rice bag heated in a microwave and tacked to the tree, keeps the baby comfortable and up away from predators while it waits for its mother to find it. If she doesn’t come get it, the box and rice bag make an excellent incubator to house the baby during early care, especially during the first five weeks when its eyes are closed. A baby squirrel should always feel warmer than your hand when you pick it up!
“H” stands for Hydrate.
A baby squirrel can get dehydrated very quickly. Their bodies are so small that it does not take long for them to develop an electrolyte imbalance. If it gets bad enough, it can cause the heart to beat irregularly or even stop. If the baby looks very dry and wrinkled and its skin doesn’t return to its normal flat appearance when you pinch it up, or the baby is very sluggish to respond, even after being warmed, you need to get it re-hydrated!
Many rehabilitators and Veterinarians will tell you to give unflavored Pedialyte electrolyte replacement fluid. This is fine, just warm it and give small amounts with an eye dropper or small syringe. My only question is; where does a mother squirrel get Pedialyte when she picks up her baby and it’s dehydrated? I’ve never lost a dehydrated baby squirrel by going straight to formula. So, you do whatever you want, just get the baby hydrated.
“A” Stands for Accommodate.
If you’ve reached this point in the W.H.A.M. process, you’re going to need to make a decision about the future care of this critter. Are you going to keep it and try to raise and release it? Or, are you going to take it to a rehabilitation facility?
A part of accommodating it is to take a second, closer look at it. You’ve warmed it and hydrated it, now look it over and check for other problems. If it has hair, look closely for vermin. Fleas and lice may be present. I use Hartz kitten flea spray on a cotton ball to kill any bugs and pick them off with tweezers.
Look for any bruising or open wounds. Check its legs for possible fractures. I treat wounds with raw coconut oil. You can wash them with soap and water and apply antibiotic ointment.
Look for any signs of labored breathing. A baby squirrel should not have to use more than chest muscles to breathe. If it is struggling to breathe, and its skin does not appear pink, it may have internal injuries. Look at its abdomen for bruising or discoloration. This can be a sign of internal injuries. If you have any questions, seek out a Veterinarian with experience in exotic pets or wild animals.
A baby squirrel can be accommodated very nicely in a box until its eyes open. Then, you’re going to need a cage. A small cage is fine initially, but a larger cage will be necessary as the baby matures physically. My last cage before release is a large walk-in size in my back yard. It allows my squirrels to acclimate to outside living, while allowing them to observe how other squirrels behave. It also allows them to room to get the exercise and climbing skills they will need when released.
“M” Stands for Maintain.
Maintain simply means to keep doing the things that need done to insure that the squirrel has everything it needs to grow to be a healthy adult squirrel. Keeping it warm and fed when it’s a baby. Allowing it to nurse until it weans itself off of formula, then providing it the right kinds of food and calcium support to prevent metabolic bone disease.
Maintaining a squirrel until it is ready to release is not hard, and it does not have to be expensive, but it does require diligence and desire. My wife and I have a passion for raising healthy and disease resistant squirrels and are always willing to help others do the same! It’s a labor of love for us, and that makes all the difference in the world!