Some of you will be saying “Aww, how cute!” while others “That is freaking weird” and the rest “Git my gun, that there’s DINNER!”
For us, having a squirrel as a pet is the coolest thing ever. I love him.
My daughter’s then-boyfriend found him alone, curled into a dog-poo sized ball by the side of the road, so brand new his eyes hadn’t opened yet and he barely had any fur. Mae researched how to keep him alive, and set her alarm for every three hours to feed him with a dropper.
She also learned he needed a heating pad under his cardboard box, and something else I bet most of you never knew (the faint of heart should skip to the next paragraph): Infant squirrels can’t expel their own urine, so the mother squirrel, after feeding, must manipulate their nether region to induce the process of urination. Hence, my daughter had to, um, gently pump his tiny penis or he would fill up with pee and die.
I admired Mae so much for her focus and determination to keep this little critter alive. When she fed him his first solid food – a strawberry – we were snapping photos as if he’d won an Oscar.
Wildlife advocates will be barking “Why didn’t you release him to his natural habitat?”
We did go through all the steps we learned from The Squirrel Board (yes, there is such a thing!) to get Illy ready for release. CH built him a huge cage and a nesting box, which has a false front room designed to keep him safe from predators once he was on his own.
We were supposed to nail this box to a tree in our back yard when the time came. He would be close by in case he still needed us, but could begin his real life in the big wild world full of mammoth hawks, owls, and cars whizzing by ready to cream him into roadkill.
I asked the experts on The Squirrel Board when his release time should be, based on his calculated age (when they first open their eyes they are right around 5 weeks old.) Six months is the recommended age for release. Winter was approaching here in Florida, so I was advised to keep him until winter had passed. Yes, we do have winter here in Florida!
Here’s the thing: A winter’s worth of living with a squirrel who will come when his name is called, and will close his eyes in bliss when you give him a massage, is too much time and you won’t want to release him. He has become family. Imagining him trying to survive in the wild, at this point, well, is unimaginable.
Some fun facts, and reasons why we kept Illy:
- He gets two plates of healthy food a day.
- He stays warm when it’s cold outside and comfy when it’s 90 degrees in the shade.
- I’m his mommy, and he nibbles softly on my skin and buries his nuts in my sports bra. (I forgot he’d done that one day and went shopping with a visible nut-lump on my left boob.)
- He drags sheaths of toilet paper, ribbon, and whole pages of newspaper to his various nests to make them more cozy.
- He uses the dog’s backs as a springboard as he zips around the house.
And here are answers to the FAQ’s we hear all the time:
Do you let your squirrel run around the house?
Yes. The squirrel experts say they need at least an hour a day of exercise outside of their cage. Typically Illy spends about four hours a day wreaking mild havoc in our house.
What about his poop and pee? (The #1 question we’re asked.)
Illy usually has one nice long pee first thing in the morning, and he seems to like shiny surfaces – like countertops – which are easy to clean. And other than on Robert’s’ best t-shirts, Illy seems to mostly pee in his cage. His poops are the size of orzo pasta and are firm, so are easy to dispose of. Yeah, kind of yucky, but not as bad as chicken poop. We had a baby chicken once…
Does he smell bad?
No, squirrels are very clean and I love burying my nose in his fresh, warm fur.
Does he chew things or ruin your furniture?
Yes, now and then. His free time is mostly supervised, so if we yell his name he’ll jump away and find some other entertainment. Or we’ll hand him a piece of driftwood for distraction. Any furniture he has chewed will be sanded and refinished at a later date. We choose to have a pet squirrel. This is a chance we take.
What do squirrels eat?
The most important part of his diet is a recipe I found on the Squirrel Board forum:
Ground up rodent pellets (provides essential vitamins and minerals), pulverized nuts (so he will actually eat the boring rodent pellets) organic coconut oil, a small amount of tapioca pudding, a jar of organic baby food, and a little hazelnut milk. With all the grinding (I have to hammer those fricking rodent pellets for about 20 minutes) and pulverizing, this takes forever, but I’m committed to his health and well being.
Next in importance are outdoor plants and flowers such as hibiscus, roses, daisies and certain tree branches.
After that he should eat vegetables such as romaine, cabbage, broccoli and bok choy. Just like a kid, vegetables are pretty much last on Illy’s list, but he does love sugary veggies like corn, sugar snap peas, and sweet potatoes. These are given sparingly, as a treat.
And of course, nuts. Surprisingly these need to be rationed as well – too much phosphorus can cause Metabolic Bone Disease. He wants nuts like an addict wants crack. If he hears the “nut drawer” opening, look out.
Does he eat anything he’s not supposed to?
He LOVES Ruffles potato chips. Also Cheetos.
How long will he live?
Squirrels in the wild will only live 1-3 years because of predators and cars, but in captivity they can live up to 20! (Robert turned a little pale when hearing that.)
What do you love most about having a squirrel as a pet?
How much he loves me. How first thing in the morning he looks like an old troll with puffy eyes, and will softly, barely, nibble my fingers and tuck his little face into my hand as I whisper to him and gently rub his head and tell him he is my Special.
I know, we are freaking weird. And that’s okay. We have this life that is a little quirky, funny, sometimes stressful, but full of light and love, and Illy seems to be very glad to be part of it.
DISCLAIMER: We are not promoting or condoning keeping wildlife as pets. Certainly the best scenario in most cases would be to find a certified wildlife rehabilitation center in your area. Our situation is unique and we feel we made the best choice for our individual animal and our ability to provide Illy a comfortable and safe life. In most states it is illegal to keep squirrels as pets. In Florida it is legal. Illy has a veterinarian who specializes in exotic pets and wild animals.