Emergency Treatment for MBD
Get calcium into the squirrel IMMEDIATELY, not later, not tomorrow, NOW.
Delaying treatment can cause death or permanent paralysis.
You will need:
- Tums, rolaids, or calcium supplement (any kind)*
- a syringe or spoon
Crush one pill and add a little water or fruit juice to make a toothpaste consistency. Use a syringe or spoon to force-feed the mixture.
After you give the initial dose of calcium, give 100 mg every 4 hours (50 mg for smaller squirrels such as red squirrels, flyers, or juveniles less than 12 weeks old). The first day, getting calcium dosed quickly is more important than the type of calcium or amount. Going forward, most squirrels will need around 500 mg per day (250 mg for small squirrels). See the “Long-Term Treatment for MBD.”
*Any kind of calcium pill is okay for the first dose, and you can use Tums for a few days, but long-term it’s best to use plain calcium carbonate (without Vit D).
The easiest way to dose calcium longer term is to mix it with a small amount of peanut butter, crushed nuts, yogurt, baby food, or any food the squirrel likes. This way you don’t have to continue to force-feed the calcium, which stresses the squirrel.
Example: If you mix 500 mg of calcium with 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter and roll it into 5 little balls, each ball will contain 100 mg calcium. You can also mix the calcium with formula or fruit juice which can be licked from a syringe or spoon. You might need to experiment to find what works best for your squirrel.
What to Watch For
Your squirrel's symptoms should improve within a few hours or days (younger squirrels typically respond faster). If the squirrel is feeling better but still paralyzed, he may have a spinal injury due to his weak bones.
The acute symptoms (weakness, loss of appetite, lethargy, seizures, paralysis) will usually improve within a few hours or days, but this does not mean the squirrel is cured. It will take months to rebuild the calcium in the bones. (See the "Long-Term Treatment for MBD" below)
MBD causes brittle bones that break easily. You should pad the bottom of your squirrel's cage and keep him away from high places, where he might jump and break a bone.
Heat is soothing for a squirrel with MBD. Use a heating pad on “low” (make sure he can’t chew the pad or cord) or a rice buddy (a sock filled with dry rice/beans, microwaved for about 20 seconds).
Consult with a rehabber or go to The Squirrel Board for live online help. You may also call our Emergency number: 321-626-1897
Long-Term Treatment for MBD
1. Calcium Dosage
Starting on the second day, most squirrels will begin with 500 mg elemental calcium per day (250 mg for flyers, etc.) divided into 5 small doses. See “How to Read a Calcium Label” below for more info. Note: the label on Henry’s Healthy Calcium uses elemental calcium.
Keep notes on how much calcium you give so you can adjust the dosage if needed. It’s best to work with someone knowledgeable about MBD when adjusting the dosage.
The goal is to give enough calcium to eliminate all symptoms, but not so much that your squirrel is excreting extra calcium in his urine or feces.
- Within 1-5 days your squirrel should be alert, active, and eating, with no seizures or paralysis. If your squirrel is still having symptoms or is having “ups and downs” during the day, you may need to increase the dosage. Or you can try giving smaller doses more often.
- White feces or a white film on dried urine may mean the dosage can be reduced. Giving smaller doses more often can also help with this, as smaller more frequent doses are better absorbed.
Note: Once your squirrel begins eating Henry’s blocks, you should cut his calcium dosage in half because Henry’s blocks also contain calcium.
2. The next step to curing MBD is to fix the diet:
- Remove ALL seeds, nuts, corn, and treats, including stashes.
- Follow the Healthy Diet for Pet Squirrels. Print it out and stick it on your fridge. Your squirrel MUST eat squirrel blocks every day.
- If your squirrel resists her new healthy diet, follow the Instructions for Picky Eaters. These techniques are proven to work!
3. Gradually Reduce the Dosage Over Time
Once you have figured out the best dosage schedule for your squirrel, he is eating Henry’s blocks every day, and he remains stable for 2 weeks, you can reduce the total daily amount of calcium by 50 mg. Continue reducing the dosage every 2 weeks until the squirrel is only getting 50 mg of extra calcium per day. Then after 2 months, try eliminating the extra calcium altogether.
If at any time symptoms return, give an emergency 100 mg dose, then go back to a higher dosage for 2 weeks. Be careful with dosage reductions; watch for any return of symptoms. Relapses are very serious and often fatal.
Note: The MBD treatment is a "standardized" treatment that will get most cases on the road to recovery. However, the treatment for each squirrel may be slightly different, depending on the age of the squirrel, severity of disease, and other factors.
How to Read a Calcium Label
When dosing calcium, it’s the elemental calcium that counts! Below you can see how much elemental calcium (or "pure calcium") is in each tablet of Tums. Remember that "calcium carbonate" is not pure calcium, so if the label says "1,000 mg calcium carbonate" that means around 400 mg of elemental calcium. Also be sure to check whether the stated amount of calcium is in one tablet or two tablets.