Q/A: Does a Squirrel Make a Good Pet?

Desiree

I have an education permit to have nonreleasable squirrels. I am lucky to be able to work with two! They are fun... amazing... terrible... scary... loving... hilarious... enjoyable... mischievous... cute... destructive... and in so many ways the best/worst pets on the planet.

Now...it's time to give my disclaimer and legal information!

DISCLAIMER and LEGAL INFORMATION: [Intended to be read with the speed and lack of inflection like that at the end of a radio car commercial.] I have a special permits from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission that allow me to work with and display nonreleasable wildlife that are in my care to help educate the public about them. It is believed by many that Florida is a state (I often hear the ONLY state) where you can have captive squirrels (and some other wildlife) without a permit. Don't test it. Talk to the Captive Wildlife Officer in your area to find out more about getting permission to have the animal in your care. Questions? Contact the FFWC or the wildlife agency for your state to find out more. 

My first nonreleasable squirrel was Nutso, so I'll focus on her for this post. First, I'd like to take a minute to define "nonreleasable." This means the animal would have a disadvantage in the wild. Typically, there is a medical issue that causes an animal to be deemed "nonreleasable." In the state of Florida, there is a process that is followed before an animal can be called "nonreleasable." There are vet letters, letters from another wildlife rehabilitator, and approval from the FFWC before an animal can remain in the care of a permitted individuel. Nutso is nonreleasable because of a malocclusion. Now, back to the article! 

Meet Nutso. Look how cute! This is a picture of her not long after I got her. She was about 8 weeks old. 

She has been an amazing fur baby; I love her more than I can express. She has taught me so much about squirrel personalities. She loves nuts in the shell, Oreo cookie (ONLY Oreo brand - don't try the knockoffs, and shhhh - don't tell), getting scratches, and time with momma (and ONLY momma). I can go through all of the amazing things she has done, but instead just think of your fur babies. She is as amazing as they are! Here are the things this fur baby has done that make me nuts, though! Ready?

  • Did you see the keyboard at the top of the post? Yep -- she has done that to 1 laptop and 2 keyboards. (Don't judge -- I only leave the room for a few minutes thinking she won't possibly have time to destroy anything. Now [since I can learn from experience... or a few experiences] I have caging I put over them. RIDICULOUS to have to do this!) 
  • She has knocked over 2 water glasses that have ruined 2 additional keyboards. (This problem has since been fixed by a glass holder that won't tip.)
  • She divebombs popcorn bowls (or whatever I have) to help herself to the food. (I have pictures galore of the messes she has made that I get to clean up.)
  • She has eaten through too many boxes of Cheerios and Triscuits to count.
  • She has eaten woodwork, furniture, cups (the bottom of full cups, of course, so the liquid inside leaks out all over the place), a computer casing, a computer cord (not plugged in fortunately -- you MUST cover cords if you have a squirrel inside or they can get shocked and die), and the top of my monitor.
  • She has a metal humane trap as her pet carrier. Why? Because she can eat through any other carrier made!
  • She guards anything she thinks I need to give her that she knows she can't have. (Ever heard a squirrel growl? Don't question them once they have put a claim on something.)
  • She is a kleptomaniac! If she wants it.... I didn't hide it... it is hers!
  • She has bitten me (because who knows why) and left an amazing scar.
  • She has eaten a magic marker to give herself lipstick! (Could she be cuter?)

This post is NOT intended as a complaint about having Nutso in my life. I wouldn't change having her! My goal is to paint a realistic picture of what it's like to live with a squirrel as your keeper. I know people find these amazing babies as orphans, bottle feed them, and think they will be the best pets ever. Not everyone has the setup to be able to work with a squirrel. They are wild animals, and they deserve the respect that demands/commands. 

Here are some important "squirrelisms" anyone considering bringing a squirrel permenantly into their lives should consider:

  • Squirrels can live up to 20 years in captivity. There is nothing short-term about a committment to keep a squirrel.
  • There is no squirrel hotel (cough...well...there is ONE, I guess) that will take in a squirrel while you and your family leave for vacation. You can't just leave them home alone. It's rough to plan a vacation - no joke.
  • Some squirrels get aggressive in captivity - especially if they have not been neutered/spayed. I've been lucky that Nutso has only been aggressive a few times, but those times have been concerning.
  • There aren't a lot of vets that work with wildlife. So when one gets sick, injured, etc. it can be difficult to find someone to help. In some states it isn't legal for a vet to work with a wild animal for someone who isn't licensed. That means they can require that you surrender the animal. (This means you no longer have the animal in your care. In some cases Euthenasia is the end result.)
  • Squirrels need space! Nutso has a massive enclosure (Floida law requires 4' X 4' X 6' for up to 2 squirrels), but even will all of her space, she can show her wild side. She needs time out of her enclosure. I let her out daily for supervised play and exploration.
  • Squirrels need enrichment activities! They can't be in the wild, but they still need to experience as much as they can of "the wild." Nutso gets special "things" like branches, hidden food, places to hide, dig boxes, special toys, puzzle feeders, things to climb, a friend (in reality, she can't stand her brother, but she does get some interesting fun when he messes with her stuff), and new healthy foods for her to find and try (or toss out of her enclosure if it is discusting to her).

As one being loved by (and loving) an nonreleasable squirrel, it is not my place to tell you whether having a squirrel in your life is right or wrong, good or bad, etc. I just want to make sure you have some of the information you need to make the right decision for you and the squirrel. I will say that I won't keep an animal out of the wild that isn't nonreleasable. Release is an amazing part of rehabbing. In many ways, it is the most rewarding if you can release in a safe location where you can visit the animal (or it can visit you). There are ways to properly release (what we call a warm release) the squirrel. If you want to know more about HOW to properly release the baby in your care, please contact us for more information (and, apparently, I need to write a blog about this!). 

Here is Nutso in one of her favorite hideouts!