Most baby squirrels are dehydrated when you find them, so the second step of baby squirrel care is to rehydrate him before feeding.
How to Check for Dehydration: Pinch the skin on the back of his neck and also on the belly. If it doesn't spring back immediately, the baby is dehydrated. If the pinched skin stays up like a tent for more than a second, the baby is badly dehydrated. Other signs of dehydration: lack of appetite, lethargy, pale gums, spiky fur, dry skin, looks thin and wrinkly. NOTE: These tests are not reliable in very young babies; assume every baby squirrel is dehydrated when you first find them.
What kind of rehydration fluid should I use?
- Pedialyte – very high in salt, so if you use Pedialyte, dilute it half-and-half with water
- Fox Valley Electro-Stat Powdered Electrolyte - The best option if you have it on hand
- Homemade Rehydration fluid • ¼ teaspoon salt • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar, molasses, or apple juice • 2 cups warm water
Syringes: Use a quality o-ring syringe, with or without a nipple, 1 ml or 3 ml (cc). An eyedropper can also work in a pinch. Never use pet nursers, doll bottles, cheap disposable syringes, or syringes larger than 3 cc. Quality o-ring syringes cost less than 50 cents each and will save the baby's life. Our Baby Squirrel Kits include 2 sizes of o-ring syringes, along with everything else you need to take care of a baby squirrel of any age.
How to Heat the Fluid: Fill a coffee mug with hot water. Fill the syringe with the fluid and place it in the mug for a couple of minutes. Squirt a drop on the inside of your wrist. It should feel very warm but not hot on your skin. You can also mix formula in a small glass container and place it inside a bowl of hot water.
Proper Feeding Position: Hold the baby upright in your hand. A baby that can walk can also drink sitting up or lying on his stomach. Don't let the baby get cold. Keep him wrapped up while he eats.
Feeding Technique: Place the syringe tip on the baby squirrel's lips (from the side) and squeeze out one drop for him to taste. Don't squirt a steady stream. Let him swallow one drop before squeezing more. GO SLOW! It sometimes takes a feeding or two for them to catch on. Newborn babies are fed drop by drop. With older babies (once they catch on) you can squeeze slowly for one second, wait for him to swallow, then squeeze again.
If fluids dribble out his mouth or nose, you're going too fast. Stop and tilt the baby's head down so the fluid drains out (support his head and neck). Then wipe his nose and mouth with a tissue. Start over, slower. The baby is now at risk for aspiration pneumonia, which is fatal. Contact a wildlife rehabilitator, vet, or The Squirrel Board for assistance.
How much hydration and for how long? Basically, the baby can have as much hydration fluid as she will take. With severely dehydrated babies, offer fluids every half hour. Very weak baby squirrels may only be able to take a few drops at a time, given every 15 minutes.
When I can I start feeding formula? You should see the baby “perk up” once the dehydration starts to get better. If the baby squirrel isn't badly dehydrated, you can begin formula feeding within a few hours. Even if the baby is badly dehydrated, you will need to begin formula feeding within 6 hours, but you may need to dilute the formula 3-to-1. See the section on Feeding for more details.
Once you start formula, continue to give hydration IN BETWEEN FEEDINGS until the baby passes the dehydration test. Continue to check for several days, as it can take a few days to fully recover and dehydration can come back.
- Do not overhydrate. Only hydrate a baby that is dehydrated.
- Do not use Gatorade or other sports drinks
- Do not mix hydration fluid with formula
Note: If the baby is firmly latched on to the nipple, never pull the nipple out of the baby's mouth. This can cause suction and force fluid into the inner ears, causing infection. Let the baby let go.