You go outside the morning after a storm and find a small ball of fluff peeping at you from the grass. Upon inspection, you discover a baby squirrel. What do you do?
First, if there are no predators around and it is warm outside, give its mother a chance to find it. Often they fell out of the tree in a storm, or while learning to climb, and the mother is waiting for the coast to clear before coming to the baby’s aid.
However, if it seems hurt or is in an unsafe area—a college campus, for example, or a neighborhood with a lot of cats (cat bites are almost always fatal), place the squirrel in a box with a small t-shirt (their claws can get trapped in towels) and make sure it is in a warm place, since they cannot generate their heat until they are five weeks old.
Once the squirrel is in a warm, quiet place, call a local rehabber. Vets often keep a listing of rehabbers. If your local vet does not have such a list, try a veterinary office in a neighboring county. It is important to get the squirrel to a rehabber as soon as possible. As adorable and loving as they might be, without proper training it is difficult to keep them alive. Many seemingly professional internet sites provide false information, suggesting things like feeding kitten milk, which causes metabolic bone disorder. A rehabber will also be able to eventually socialize the squirrel to return to the wild—believe me, after the squirrel becomes sexually mature it will not be the cute pet it was as an infant.
If you cannot reach a rehabber immediately, look for signs of emaciation to see if you need to take emergency action. If ribs are showing or the stomach is bloated, you might not be able to wait until the rehabber can call you back the next day. In this eventuality, you will need to buy Pedialyte. Feeding a dehydrated or emaciated squirrel formula can shock their system too much and kill it. Make certain the baby is warm first, your body warmth can work, or a heating pad under half of the box. Most rehabbers always use gloves, but when they are young enough and you are in a pinch, bare hands can warm them quickly. You can find Pedialyte and an oral syringe at most major pet stores. If the pet shop does not have one, a pharmacist might be able to help you out. 1mm is the best size for beginners, but if you are comfortable and familiar with oral syringes you can use 10mm.
Give them 1/2mm to 1mm for the first 30 minutes and let them digest it before trying some more. Do not feed them Pedialyte for more than 24 hours, since it does not have the nutrients needed to keep them alive.
After 24 hours, or if they are active and not showing signs of emaciation, use Esbilac puppy milk, which should be at any local pet shop. It is the closest formula to squirrel milk (they haven’t quite gotten around to milking squirrels commercially yet!) and the healthiest alternative to momma.
Go slow with your first feeding. If a squirrel sucks down the milk too quickly, they can asphyxiate, where milk comes out of their nose and they are likely to get a fatal respiratory infection. Don’t feed like you are giving a shot—place all four fingers on the syringe so you can prevent it from going down if the squirrel sucks too hard, and slowly—very slowly—push with your thumb. Many squirrels will not take to sucking, because it is so unfamiliar to them, and you will have to slowly and steadily push the milk out while they lick it up. Try to hold them in a t-shirt while you are doing this. If they are giving you difficulty, hooding them by shadowing their face with a t-shirt can calm them down while you let a bead of milk sit in front of their nose. It takes a lot of patience.
These are only temporary solutions. Caring for a squirrel through adolescence is an extremely time-consuming job. If you work during the day, they will miss feedings, and without outdoor cages, they can never be assimilated into the wild. Not to mention they have to be stimulated—meaning you need to flick their genitals with a napkin until they urinate and defecate—generally all over you, no matter how careful you are. However, if you use these temporary instructions you can keep a squirrel safe until a rehabber can assume the responsibility. I have had a wildlife rehab learners for four years now, and worked under some truly magnificent mentors. They take care of squirrels because they love them, and will make sure that your squirrel gets the best treatment possible.