Care instructions for Tree Squirrels
1. Animal species
Costa Rica/red-tailed squirrel ( Sciurus granatensis ); fox squirrel ( Sciurus niger ); white-necked Peru squirrel ( Sciurus stramineus ); variegated squirrel ( Sciurus variegatoides ); common red squirrel ( Sciurus vulgaris, subspecies: S. vulgaris orientis , Chinese red squirrel); American red squirrel ( Tamiasciurus hudsonicus )
2. Full grown size
The body length (without tail) is between 17 and 35 cm, and the weight between 200 and 1000 g.
3. Life expectancy
The typical lifespan is around 7-10 years.
4. Recommended size and layout of facility or cage
Tree squirrels must be kept in an aviary of minimum H200 x D300 x W300 cm for 2 adult individuals. At least half of the structure above and two sides must be of solid material to provide shade and shelter from the weather. The aviary must be made of strong metal wire, and such that the animals cannot gnaw their way out. The entrance and exit must have a sluice system so that the animals cannot escape from here.
The bottom of the facility must be secured downwards (e.g. with tiles or wire mesh) so that the animals cannot dig out. The furniture must consist of shelves/platforms, a network of branches of different thicknesses, trunks and natural ropes set up in both vertical, horizontal and diagonal planes and at different heights. Each individual must have at least 1 (preferably several) insulated nest box well lined at the bottom and/or natural cavities in the dimensions L15-25 cm x 40-50 cm (entrance hole 8-10 cm) placed high up. Hay, straw, dried moss and other soft natural material must always be available as nesting material. The bottom layer must offer good opportunities to rummage for food and consist of wood chips and mulch, planing or hemp shavings and soil, preferably with withered leaves on top.
5. Special care needs, including special requirements for temperature conditions
S. niger, S. vulgaris and T. hudsonicus are adapted to a temperate climate and can be kept outside all year round if well-lined nest boxes are available. The other species must have free access to a frost-free indoor section. To ensure natural tooth wear, gnawing material must always be available (branches and possibly gnawing stones).
Tree squirrels naturally gather supplies so that food is always available. The storage rooms (including the nest box) must therefore be checked and emptied regularly for perishable items. Feed residues and excrement are removed and fresh drinking water is given daily. Base layers and fixtures are replaced as needed.
6. Stimulation and need for exercise
Squirrels require a challenging and stimulating environment to thrive and, in the absence of this, can develop stereotyped behavior (typical signs of unhappiness). Keep different food items around the facility and in challenging containers, so they have to spend time and effort to get the food. In addition, different scents can be used for enrichment. Some squirrels can become extremely tame and familiar with their owner. However, many squirrels will always retain a natural shyness, and even tame individuals will usually not mind and will be stressed by being held, and they can bite relatively hard in defense. Handling should only be done if absolutely necessary. Tree squirrels are particularly good climbers and can jump up to several metres. It is therefore absolutely necessary to have plenty of varying and challenging climbing opportunities to ensure the animals' well-being and need for exercise. At the same time, it is necessary to have a good base layer in which they can rummage around.
Tree squirrels primarily eat plant food such as plant shoots and buds, bark, berries, fruit, seeds, kernels, nuts and mushrooms. T. hudsonicus also supplements with insects, frogs and/or bird eggs and young. S. vulgaris also eats gum and nectar. The feed must be versatile and consist of a mixture of feed pellets for squirrels, grain and nuts supplemented with various fruit and vegetables. Daily or a few times a week, different invertebrates, hard-boiled eggs and possibly protein-rich universal, dog or cat dry food. T. hudsonicus needs a larger proportion of protein-containing food than the other species, which only need it now and then. Salt rock, mineral block and fresh hay as feed must always be available. Vitamin supplements are given in powder form sprinkled over the feed. Avoid iron-containing items, as iron can risk accumulating in the body. There must always be access to fresh drinking water either in a bottle (with a spout in rodent-proof material, i.e. not aluminium) or a solid bowl.
8. Social needs
Tree squirrels typically live solitary, S. niger , however, often in groups. Despite the solitary nature of many species, most squirrels raised together can be kept together in pairs and benefit from each other, as long as there is always enough space and cover for them to escape each other during any conflicts. If a squirrel can only be kept alone in a facility, it must have contact with a fellow species in some other way, e.g. two plants next to each other or via breeding. As a rule, squirrels should only be kept with their own species.
9. Propagation, brood care and possible neutralization
Tree squirrels usually have 1-2 litters annually. The gestation period is 38-45 days, although up to a week shorter for T. hudsonicus . The litter size is 1-8, but typically 3-6 cubs ( S. granatensis , however, usually only 2 cubs), which are naked, deaf, blind and weigh 10-15 g. The eyes are opened and the fur has grown in 3-4 weeks -age, and the young nurse until they are 7-10 weeks old. A few weeks before the final weaning, however, the young are seen to leave the nest every now and then to supplement with some solid food. The chicks are first completely independent and finally leave the nest at 12 weeks old, when they must be removed at the earliest. Puberty occurs around 1 year of age.
10. Typical signs of illness and reduced well-being
Signs of health are a dense and shiny coat, shiny eyes, and dry and clean around the muzzle and under the tail. Diarrhea can occur with too drastic feed changes. Strong, sudden temperature fluctuations and drafts can result in a cold (including sneezing, discharge from the nostrils). In the event of symptoms of a cold, the vet must be contacted. Cancer nodes in i.a. the mammary glands may appear, especially in older squirrels. If they are discovered in time, the vet can remove them and the chance of recovery is good. Vitamin D deficiency can cause osteoporosis, which is why sunlight is very important.
From left: American red squirrel ( Tamiasciurus hudsonicus ), fox squirrel ( Sciurus niger ), Costa Rica/red-tailed squirrel ( S. granatensis ) , white-necked Peru squirrel ( S. stramineus ), variegated squirrel ( S. variegatoides ), alm. red squirrel ( S. vulgaris ). These species are the most frequently occurring tree squirrels in private holdings in Denmark. Photo: Gilles Gonthier, Franco Folini, Brian Gratwicke, Rick Brown, Ducatst2, Erik Jensen
Prepared by Dyrenes Beskyttelse ( www.dyrenesbeskyttelse.dk ) in collaboration with the Danish Primate Association - Foreningen for Exotic Mammals ( www.aber.dk ).
The care instructions contain general information about the care of an animal species/animal group.
Further information can be found in the library or on the above and other websites.
The professional content of the care guide was approved by the Council regarding the keeping of special animals on 2 December 2013 in accordance with the executive order on commercial trade in animals.