If you find a baby squirrel, you only need to remember the acronym WHAM to function like a pro when providing care.
WHAM is a four-step process to ensure that you cover all the bases by providing a systematic approach to ensure that a baby squirrel has every chance to survive.
“W” means warm.
Baby squirrels lose body heat very quickly, especially during the time they are born, usually in early March. Ideally, you would like the mother to pick you up, but it is difficult to leave an almost naked body lying in the cold of early March waiting for your mother. I found that a small cardboard box with a cloth rice bag heated in a microwave and attached to the tree keeps the baby comfortable and away from predators while it waits for its mother to find it. If she doesn’t come looking for him, the box and bag of rice are an excellent incubator to house the baby during early care, especially during the first five weeks when his 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 become dehydrated very quickly. Their bodies are so small that it doesn’t take long for them to develop an electrolyte imbalance. If it gets worse enough, it can cause your heart to beat irregularly or even stop. If the baby looks very dry and wrinkled and his skin does not return to its normal flat appearance when you pinch him, or if the baby is very slow to respond, even after heating, you should rehydrate him!
Many rehabilitators and vets will tell you to give unflavored Pedialyte electrolyte replacement fluid. This is fine, just heat it up and administer small amounts with a dropper or small syringe. My only question is; Where does a mother squirrel get Pedialyte when she picks up her baby and is dehydrated? I’ve never lost a dehydrated baby squirrel to going straight to formula. So, do what you want, just hydrate the baby.
“A” means to accommodate.
If you have reached this point in the WHAM process, you will have a decision to make about the future care of this creature. Are you going to keep it and try to pick it up and drop it? Or will you take him to a rehab center?
Part of setting it up is taking a closer look at it. You have warmed and hydrated it, now check it and check for other problems. If you have hair, look closely for vermin. There may be fleas and lice. I use Hartz Kitten Flea Spray on a cotton ball to kill the bugs and remove them with tweezers.
Look for bruises or open wounds. Check your legs for possible fractures. I treat the wounds with raw coconut oil. You can wash them with soap and water and apply an antibiotic ointment.
Look for any signs of shortness of breath. A baby squirrel shouldn’t have to use more than the chest muscles to breathe. If you’re having trouble breathing and your skin doesn’t look pink, you may have internal lesions. Look at your abdomen for bruising or discoloration. This can be a sign of internal injuries. If you have any questions, find a veterinarian with experience in exotic pets or wild animals.
A baby squirrel can settle very well in a box until its eyes open. So, you will need a cage. A small cage is fine at first, but a larger cage will be necessary as the baby physically matures. My last cage before release is a large walking size in my backyard. It allows my squirrels to acclimate to life outdoors, while allowing them to observe how other squirrels behave. It also allows them room to do the exercise and climbing skills they will need when released.
“M” means keep.
Maintaining simply means keeping doing the things that need to be done to ensure the squirrel has everything it needs to grow into a healthy adult squirrel. Keep him warm and fed when he is a baby. Allowing you to breastfeed until weaned from the formula and then providing the right types of foods and calcium to prevent metabolic bone disease.
Keeping a squirrel until ready to release isn’t difficult and doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does take diligence and desire. My wife and I have a passion for raising healthy, disease resistant squirrels and we are always willing to help others do the same. It is a labor of love for us, and that makes a difference in the world!