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Squirrel! A Wildlife Rescue Case

By Kim Everson, DVM

A little while back, my clinic got a call from a concerned citizen regarding a grey squirrel. This little squirrel kept following the female caller into her house! Every time the woman returned the young squirrel outside, he’d scurry right back into the house after her. Was he sick? Was he hungry? Or worse, did he think she was his mother?!

The beleaguered squirrel lady offered the little guy some food and drink based on her internet research of what would acceptable for a squirrel. (Although motivated by good intentions, this was a risky move which could have caused more harm than good for the young hungry animal. Please see below.) Next she attempted to locate a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator. By the wonders of Google and S.E.O., her search led her to St. Bernard’s Animal Medical Center, not a licensed wildlife rehabilitation center, but a reasonable starting place for a citizen with a sick or injured wild animal.

Veterinarian Kim Everson examines a juvenile grey squirrel
before he is transferred to Wisconsin wildlife rehab
center Aves Wildlife Alliance for care.

According to Wisconsin state law, general practice veterinarians such as myself are allowed to provide emergency care for wildlife species, but within 24 hours of rescue the animal must be transferred to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Working with Aves Wildlife Alliance, CVT and licensed rehabilitator Tim Kneeland and I assessed the juvenile squirrel when it arrived at the clinic.

Although mildly dehydrated, hungry and ridden with fleas, the little squirrel appeared to be in pretty good shape. After we had addressed his mild dehydration, we kept him in a quiet, comfortable area away from the domestic animals until Tim could transport him to Aves for further care that afternoon. According to Beka Weiss of Aves, the young squirrel made a full recovery and is expected to transition successfully back to nature.

There are several important lessons from this wildlife rescue case.

1. One of our initial concerns was had this squirrel imprinted on people because it had been improperly handled as a baby? All too commonly a well-meaning person will find a young animal alone and incorrectly assume that is has been orphaned and requires human care. Please refer to the Wisconsin DNR website for information on “orphaned” wildlife. Not only is it illegal in many parts of the world to care for wildlife without a permit, but such interactions can also cause harm to the animal as well as humans and domestic animals.

2. Feeding a wild animal, especially one that is malnourished, requires a lot of skill and care. BEWARE internet recipes for feeding wild animals. Feeding a wild animal pet food, human food or even a bowl of milk can have dire consequences for the creature! Any website that suggests offering anything more than a shallow dish of water or human infant electrolyte solution should be considered suspect. Moreover, a starving animal must be handled with utmost care by wildlife experts to avoid “refeeding syndrome” which can cause serious metabolic and electrolyte imbalances.

3. This little squirrel was crawling with fleas, and fleas are not particularly picky about their furry mammal hosts. The woman whose home was invaded numerous times by this persistent young creature needed to treat her dog and clean her home due to the flea exposure. Wild animals can carry far worse parasites and diseases than fleas, so when in doubt a hands-off approach is the safest.

Albeit adorable, the juvenile squirrel caused quite a commotion following his odd decision to buddy up with a human. Fortunately for him, the human he chose knew enough to seek immediate professional assistance for his care. There are many resources out there regarding wildlife rescue on the World Wide Web. The trick is finding the right resource. A good place to start is your state department of natural resources website.

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