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Small Pets: Meet Peanut the squirrel

Posted by yornma on February 1, 2013 in Animal Articles, Small Pets |

Meet Peanut the Squirrel

 

How old are you?

  I think I’m about 3 1/2 years old.  Not really sure ’cause squirrels don’t really count birthdays.
The mom at the Peanut Cafe gave me a birthday of July 4th!
 

How did you get your name?

“Cause I jus luv peanuts!  My favorite food!

Does anyone else that hang’s around Peanut’s cafe have names?

  There’s Penny the Squirrel, Bashful the Squirrel, Harry the Squirrel.
We sometimes chase other around in play!  A coupla my previous babies come by too.  Their names are Sunny and Skippy.

Is the cafe named after you?

Yes!  When the peoples first moved here, I started comin around ’cause they put out squirrel food.
The “mom” at the cafe would hold out peanuts for me and I would come right up to her and take ’em from her hand.  The “mom”
said from then on they named their place the Peanut Cafe!

What is it that you love so much about peanuts?

Is there a preference on if they are green, roasted, plain or boiled?
I jus luvs how they taste…plus they’re fun to crack open with my teeth!  I like roasted unsalted or raw unsalted peanuts.

How do you get into Brazilian nuts?

  The “mom” bought some shelled Brazil nuts and added ’em to my feeder.  She will also hand feed
them to me.  When she can find ones still in the shell, she puts them out for me.
I’ve tried and I end up getting less than a quarter of the nut. What is your secret?  Squirrel’s teeth grow about 6″ a year.  We have to keep
them ground down by crackin hard shells open and chewing on twigs when we’re buildin our nests (also known as dreys), otherwise we’d look
like saber-toothed squirrels! :-)

Have you tried hazelnuts or almonds?

I luv all kinds of nuts!  I eat hazelnuts, almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, walnuts, pistachios, and sunflower seeds
as well as peanuts!

Any other things you like to eat? (peanut butter?)

I eat peanut butter on toast or unsalted crackers (I prefer Crunchy) banana chips, craisins, raisins, sugar free cookies,
corn, avocado, yams, and pumpkin seeds!  I also like peanut and orange suet!  I share the suet with the birds!

How do you tease the dogs?

I’ll sometimes hop down into their yard and flick my tail at em.  That starts the chase!  Then, I’ll either
jump up onto the top of the fence or onto the top of the storage shed or up one of the evergreen trees and do my chatter bark at ’em.
They also like to sit at the door and watch me when I eat from my feeder that’s on the porch. When my feeder is nearly empty, i’ll sometimes
climb up the bars on the storm door or ring the doorbell. Mindy and Bruiser (that’s their names) will bark and that gets the “mom’s attention
and she comes out to fill my feeder and hand feed me a few nuts! They are actually very nice doggies and they protect me from the
neighborhood cats who sometimes try to sneak up on me.  They think any outdoor cat who comes into their yard is an intruder and they will
chase ’em away for me!

What do you think of cats?

If they are indoor cats, I like em jus find!  We visit thru the windows. It’s the feral cats and domestic ones who
are allowed to roam free in the neighborhood that I’m not fond of.  I and my squirrel furiends always keep a watchful eye out for ’em ’cause they
are always tryin to sneak up and pounce on us!  Where I live, I also havs to watch out for foxes, coyotes, hawks and eagles.  If you’ve ever
watched a squirrel run a short distance, stop, then run again, it’s ’cause we are checkin to see if there is danger close by.  When ya see us
runnin non-stop, ya will know we sense danger and gettin to a safe place as fast as we can go!
I hope none of your friends have been caught by any cats… if so I’m very sorry. :(   Thx ya!  I have lost some of my relatives to predators as well
as bein hit by cars.  It’s part of the life of bein a wild squirrel.  At least where I live, humans are not allowed to hunt and kill us!

What’s a typical day like for you?

  When I wake up in the mornins I spend time cleanin and groomin myself, cleanin my teeth with a twig, checkin for
predators before leavin my tree.  I then go over the roof of the Peanut Cafe, hop to one of the trees in the yard, climb down and go to my feeder for
breakfast.  I’ll eat some nuts and fruit there and then go and bury some nuts for future use.  I make trips back and forth all day long eating and buryin
nuts.  I’ll play with my squirrel furiends which involves chasin each other up and down trees, jumpin from branch to branch, makin leaps onto other trees or
roofs of houses, wrestlin and protectin my territory from strange squirrels who wander into my area.  Durin the summer, I am most active durin the
early mornins and late afternoons and nap durin the heat of the day. I also like to follow the “mom” around when she’s workin in her flower gardens
or sit close to her while I eat. Wintertime, I stay in my nest until later in the mornins, I’m most active durin the afternoons and and go to my nest as
soon as it starts to get dark.

How did you become so involved when it comes to animal cruelty and abuse?

  I don’t like to see any animal abused or someone bein cruel to it!
The “mom, dad and son” at the cafe are involved with the local animal shelter and I’ve heard ’em talk about some of the animal abuse and cruelty
cases that come thru the shelter.  These stories make my ‘lil heart hurt and I feel I havs to speak out about it!  Life in all forms is a gift and we
are all connected. When a human does harm to any animal they don’t realize they are also harmin themselves!  Plus, I havs so many furiends on
Facebook and they are also against animal abuse and cruelty.  Furiends hav to stand together on these issues!

Do you have any videos you would like to share of you showing your silly side?

There are several videos up on my Facebook page under my photos
section that people can watch.

May I ask exactly what is a fox squirrel and how are you different from an everyday squirrel?

  Not sure what ya mean, but around here fox squirrels
are the everyday squirrel!  We are the largest of all the tree squirrels in the United States. The fox squirrel’s natural range extends throughout the
eastern US, excluding the New England states, north into the southern prairie provinces of Canada, and west to the Dakotas, Colorado and Texas.
They have been introduced to California. While very versatile in our habitat choices, fox squirrels are most often found in forest patches of 40 acres
or less with an open understory, or in urban neighborhoods with trees. We thrive best among trees such as oak, hickory, walnut, and pine that
produce winter-storable foods like nuts. Western range extensions in Great Plains regions such as Kansas are associated with riverine corridors of
cottonwood. A subspecies native to several eastern US states is the Delmarva fox squirrel. Our ranges sometimes overlap with gray squirrels,
red squirrels and flyin squirrels.  Here in Colorado there are three types of tree squirrels:  Fox squirrels, Abert’s squirrels and Pine squirrels.
Is there anything else you would like to add about yourself?  Although I’m a human friendly squirrel, I am a “wild” squirrel.  The people at the
Peanut Cafe respect my “wildness” and hav never attempted to tame me or make me a pet.  I am thxful for their respect.  I do luv wildlife rehabers
who take care of orphaned or injured baby squirrels and return them to the wild.  If their injuries are to a degree where they can’t be
returned to the wild, I am thxful these wonderful humans provide these squirrels with forever homes to live out their lives; safe and happy!
You can find Peanut on his facebook page

Squirrels as Pets

  1. You cannot ‘discipline’ a squirrel. If you’re prone to lose your temper, hitting or throwing an animal that scratches, bites, chews or damages your property, then squirrels are NOT for you! Squirrels do not forget mistreatment even if it only happens once! It’s in its nature to be ‘squirrely’ and wary of humans. If you share your home with any specie of squirrel, just assume that you will at one point or another get a bite (or two, three…), and you will certainly get scratched, and you will find teeth marks on everything your squirrel can get his teeth on. This is all part of the nature of being a squirrel.2 –
  2. They need a lot of your time and attention. Prairie dogs, in particular are highly social animals. A single prairie dog (or other squirrel for that matter) needs affection and attention from you early and frequently throughout its life in order to grow into an affectionate and well adjusted pet. It’s essential that your pet squirrel or dog be handled often as a baby in order to develop appropriate socialization with humans. As common sense would dictate, prairie dogs and squirrels enjoy the company of others of their species (and age) – so having more than one can be very advantageous to both of you.
  3. While their caging needs are not excessive – a multi-level rabbit or ferret cage with an ample layer of bedding, toys and an exercise wheel is usually sufficient for a prairie dogt or ground squirrel, and a taller cage for flyers and tree squirrels. All squirrels need a lot of exercise and will need ample free roaming and climbing time outside of their cage. Which brings us to the next thing you should know about pet squirrels…
  4. They chew – a lot! Your new pet is unlikely to distinguish between your priceless antique furniture and a log, and more than one tree squirrel has been known to pull up the carpet to hide a nut. Be sure to provide a variety of chew toys to keep them occupied and stimulated; as well as, ensure teeth do not become overgrown.
  5. Prairie dogs can be a bit vocal. Prairie dogs communicate through loud barks and calls and some people find their chattiness trying.
  6.  Prairie dogs have scent glands that may release a musky odor when alarmed. Some people may find objectionable. I suppose if you are uncertain as to how you will feel about this, you might sneak up on a prairie dog and yell at its butt… but I don’t recommend it.
  7.  Plan on a cranky squirrel during breeding season. When a prairie dog or other squirrel enters rut, personalities change from sweet and loving to downright nasty, aggressive and prone to biting! If you wait it out, this too shall pass and you will have your sweet companion back.
  8. While the urine and feces is very small, dry and easy to clean, most squirrels don’t master consistent housetraining. While squirrels are latrine animals (choosing to relive themselves in regular locations) and fairly clean, you need to recognize the natural rhythm and timing and plan roaming times appropriately.
  9. Do you have access to a vet who has the knowledge and skills required to provide the care your pet needs and can you afford the costs for care. Care for a sick squirrel is not inexpensive, and… as the adage goes … ‘if you can’t afford the vet, you can’t appord the pet.’

Lastly, don’t fool yourself. It’s rare for most species of squirrel to breed in captivity. Your Prairie dog was very likely vacuumed out of his natal nest, literally riped from its mother’s bosom and torn from the life it would have had in the wild. For every squirrel or prairie dog that lands in the hands of an exotic pet dealer, countless others lost their lives in the collection, transport and sale process. Many do not find themselves in good homes or prove to be more work than their owner anticipated.

Keeping a Pet Squirrel

  1. Build a suitable cage. Having some climbing room and some wood (preferably a stick of hardwood) to gnaw on for the squirrel. This is important for the squirrel’s dental health and necessary for teething young. The Author made one out of 2 round pieces of wood, held together with 2X4’s on the inside, wrapped in chicken wire. Keep in mind that squirrels need a LOT of room and if they are not going to be allowed to roam around the house (which is not a good idea if there is anything you don’t want chewed, such as electrical wires), you may want to consider an outdoor cage.
  2. Make sure to staple the chicken wire tight and secure to avoid gaps or sharp points. Set up a shoe box with a folded blanket or other soft bedding such as cotton as a place to sleep. Make sure there is plenty of bedding and a place for it to snuggle in like a pouch. Another idea is a bedding pouch, such as the type you would use for a ferret
  3. Healthy squirrels will generally drink from a water bottle, such as the type you would use for rabbits and other rodents. If they do not drink from the bottle, set out a shallow dish for them to drink from, but be aware that they may make a mess.
  4. .A baby squirrel cannot thermoregulate itself, meaning that it cannot stay warm without assistance. Put a heating pad underneath whatever you are keeping it in, but make sure it does not exceed 100 degrees. Make sure the heating pad is underneath half of the enclosure, so the baby has a cool half to move to in case the baby gets too hot. A good internal temperature for the squirrel itself is between 98 and 102 degrees, which means it should feel warm to the touch, warmer than your hand. A cold baby can die very easily, so this is very important. A cold baby can not digest food as well as a warm baby. Never feed a cold squirrel.
  5. Make sure you feed your squirrel properly.

Food for adults: store bought rodent block such as Harlan Teklad, Mazuri or Henry’s Healthy Blocks are great along with fresh vegetables and limited fruits and an occasional nut as a treat.
For babies: Fox Valley milk replacement is a must. Feed this to the squirrel using a syringe slowly as babies will often aspirate milk out through their nose while sucking which could lead to pneumonia. Esbilac puppy milk was once the food of choice and mentioned on many websites as good for squirrels, but the forumla has recently changed and is no longer recommended.
For ages 2-3 weeks: feed 5 times a day, start at 1 1/2 cc of formula and increase to 3 cc.
Age 4-5 weeks: feed 4 times a day, start at 3 1/2 cc of formula and increase to 5 cc.
Age 6-7 weeks: feed 4 times a day, start at 6 cc of formula and increase to 9 cc.
Age 8 weeks: feed 10 to 14 cc twice a day. Begin weaning onto small pieces of solid food.

First and foremost, the best thing to do for the squirrel, rehabber and finder, is to turn over a baby squirrel to a licensed rehabber as soon as possible. It is incredibly stressful and confusing for the squirrel to go from being a pet to being wild. He would be much happier and better adjusted if he were raised to be wild from the beginning. Of course if you are reading this, you didn’t get the baby to a rehabber and now you have a wild maturing squirrel on your hands. Below I shall outline the process that I use to get pet squirrels wild and ready for release back to nature. I have had to do this quite a few times each season because people either had no idea how wild adult squirrels can get or they just wanted to have their fun with the baby then toss him outside if/WHEN he gets mean.

1. Start to wean the squirrel off human contact. You can’t just stop playing with the squirrel instantly and throw him outside. He will be frightened, confused, angry, sad, stressed out and ill equipped to deal with other squirrels and nature. I start by putting him in a large indoor cage at least 2’x2’x4′ tall. I will let him come out and hang out with me for a couple of hours a day. Make sure the room is baby proof. You don’t want him chewing on wires, falling out screen windows… If you don’t have a safe room, you will need a bigger cage, 3’x3’x6′. I will play with him and love him in the same manner he was cared for before. Each day I spend less and less time with him. If he starts pacing, loses weight, exhibits self destructive behavior, chews on the cage bars, pulls or scratches his fur out or stops eating, I will play with him a little more and wean him more slowly.

2. Give him lots of fun things to do. I give them tons of toys, great things to eat and a stuffed animal so he can wrestle with it. Parrot toys, ferret toys, hammocks, hanging toys, wood to chew on, nesting material, a regular squirrel nest box, real tree branches, lots of levels in his cage, pine cones, acorns… Of course, nutrition is also very important. He needs proper nutrition so he can feel good physically and psychologically. I will give 50% rodent blocks then fruits, vegetables and a few nuts and seeds after they’ve eaten their meals. They need to have a nice glossy coat, shiny eyes and well developed musculature. Your squirrel needs to be climbing up and down the cage, hanging upside down, climbing upside down and jumping.

3. Make sure he is around other squirrels. I will have other squirrels in cages right next to him so he can hear, see and smell other squirrels. He will get used to other squirrels and hopefully eventually realize that he is also a squirrel and not a human baby. If he is young enough, say 4 months of age, I will place a younger extremely laid back squirrel in with him. I start off by having the squirrel in a cage directly next to his cage for a few days. I of course sit there and watch them like a hawk so no one gets hurt. Sometimes I will have to put him and the other squirrel both into another cage at the same time so they don’t have territory issues. If they can get along, I leave them together. If they try to hurt each other, I separate them back into side by side cages. If they’re 4 months or younger, this generally works. Then the more wild squirrel will teach the tame one social skills, how to build a nest and how to play. I can then just take these squirrels to the prerelease cage together to get fully wild and they should be okay. If he doesn’t get along with another younger squirrel, just keep him near other squirrels and continue reading below.

3. Start to take him outdoors. I would take his cage outdoors for a few hours a day weather permitting. I would continue this for a week or so, so he can get used to the sounds, smells and sights of the outdoors. If you are feeding squirrels or other wildlife in your backyard, you can continue to feed them for a few days so your squirrel can see them and learn a little fear. They will probably bark at him which should scare him. He needs to learn to fear the dominant adults. If you are going to release your squirrel to your yard, you don’t want lots of other large dominant adult squirrels out there. They can and will kill your squirrel with one good bite to the back. After a few days, stop feeding all animals in your yard. You need the neighborhood animals to realize that they shouldn’t come to your yard for a while. Even without food they’ll keep checking your yard for a week or so.

4. Leave his cage outdoors 24 hours a day. Be sure to put some weather, rain, sun protection over the top. Put his cage far away from the sights of humans and domestic pets. Only go out there to feed, water and clean his cage. Don’t hand feed him through the bars. I use a feeding door so they can’t escape and I don’t have to go inside. Again, if he paces, stops eating, loses weight, interact with him a little them wean him off human contact again. Make sure he has tons of fun things to eat and play with so he won’t miss you. Introduce natural foods to him that he will find in the wild. Give him pine cones, acorns, roses. Make sure he has natural trees to climb in his cage. Make sure his cage is as tall as you can get, 6′ is great. Give him natural nesting material and fabric so he can learn to place them in his nest box. Scatter his natural food on the floor for him to find. Place water in a bowl. Don’t use a bottle anymore. (Don’t you wish you just gave him to a rehabber in the first place now?)

5. Negative training if needed. Hopefully by now he will fear you a little bit when you go out to feed him. Hopefully he won’t still run to the front of the cage to get close to you. Hopefully when you clean his cage he won’t jump all over you and try to cuddle. If he does, it’s time for some negative reinforcement. Get a squirt gun. Whenever he rushes to you when you go to his cage, squirt him and say NO real loud. If he jumps on you when you clean his cage, do the same thing. If he jumps on you, firmly remove him while saying NO. Be loud when you clean his cage. Don’t speak nicely to him. This is for his own good. If he jumps on a stranger, they could kill him.

6a. Release in a yard. By now your squirrel should know how to make a nest, forage for food in his cage and fear you a little. It’s time to release him to you yard. You can start by leaving the cage door open in the daytime. Stay out of your yard and away from him when he’s out. You can watch him through a window. At night he’ll probably go back to his nest box. You can lock him in at night if he would be safer from other animals. In a week or so, he may just leave his cage permanently. You can place another nest box or his own nest box up a tree or on a post near his cage. Make sure it’s at least 8′ high and has protection from the rain. Make sure the hole is facing south so he has wind protection.

6b. Release away from humans. Well, you tried but it didn’t quite work out. He can build a nest, forage for food and is frightened of other animals but he still wants to jump on you. You will have to release him away from humans. Go into his cage and scare him into his nest box. Put wire mesh over the hole. Wire this to the box. Remove the box from the cage and it’s time for a road trip. You need to go at least a mile away from humans. Make sure your site has water, natural food, tall trees, good nesting areas and limited predators. There need to be a few squirrels but not too many. Bring a ladder and wire his nest box as high up a tree as you can, at least 8′. He will use this as a temporary home. You can scatter a little bit of food around the base of the tree. If there are predators in the area, you might want to make a secondary exit hole in his box so he can flee if say a raccoon sticks his paw into his nestbox.

6c. Total failure. Your squirrel can’t build a nest, can’t forage for food, isn’t afraid of other animals and wants to climb on humans. Maybe he even has metabolic bone disease because you didn’t give him proper nutrition as a baby. It’s a total failure. It’s illegal to keep a pet squirrel in most states without a license or permit. If he is definitely not releasable, you need to find a rehabber who will use him for educational purposes. Most rehabbers have more ex-pet squirrels that they can take so this will be tough. If you can’t find him a legal home, you will have to euthanize him for his own good, yours and the publics. He will not be happy as a wild pet. You and your family will not be happy with an animal they fear in their home. You can’t just throw him out the back door because he will jump on a neighbor and that person will kill him. Euthanization is the only merciful thing to do. I personally have never had to do this but I know some rehabbers who have when people raised pet squirrels that were totally spoiled, neurotic, unhealthy and mean.

Hopefully you are reading this when the squirrel is still a baby. Hopefully you will now be convinced to take him to a rehabber so he can be raised and released properly. You and the squirrel will be much happier. It also is a great lesson to teach your children and a wonderful happy story to tell to all your friends. You saved a baby squirrel and took him to a place to get proper care so he could be released back to the wild to live a happy life. 


Author’s Note: Many thanks to Peanut and his caretaker for answering the questions. Please note that Peanut is not a pet-squirrel as he lives outside, but I wanted to include him as squirrels as people have them as pets taking them into their homes without realizing it may be illegal. Please please call a wildlife rescue before attempting to take in a squirrel. Your intentions may be good but squirrels are wild animals. 
 
 

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