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The answer to this question is, ‘it depends.’  Obviously, presenting a captive diet that closely matches the wild diet in nutrition and form is the best strategy.  Flying squirrels (Glaucomys), ground squirrels (marmotini) and tree squirrels (Sciurus) have some overlap in their diet, but generally  eat different things.  It’s vital to research the natural history of your squirrel’s specie  to understand the primary foods eaten by its wild counterparts.   For example, Flying squirrels, being nocturnal and living in old growth forests have  adapted over thousands of years to survive on different foods than ground squirrels that are diurnal living on the prairie.


What do squirrel’s eat?

Even among tree squirrels, the species matters as to the primary food source and storage strategy. Pine squirrels (Tamiasciurus), like Douglas and American red squirrels, are larder hoarders who eat primarily tree seeds (pine cones); as well as other foods that they can find such as mushrooms, buds, catkins, flowers and berries, storing all of their food in a single location or midden (larder).


Eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels, on the other hand, prefer tree mast like acorns, walnuts, pecans; as well as fruit, berries, and seeds.   These squirrels are scatter hoarders, burying each nut its own hiding place. These species have adapted quite well to foods available in an urban setting and are highly opportunistic feeders -  eating atypical foods when necessity and opportunity are present.   


In summary, when deciding the diet for any captive squirrel, you must first know its specie and natural history to fully understand the types of foods its body is adapted for and present those foods as naturally as possible so that the animal can demonstrate normal food seeking and storage behaviors.

Most urban squirrels survive periods of food shortage by being highly opportunistic feeders. These squirrels will happily eat cookies, cake, and ice cream.  These ‘people foods’ are not particularly good for  people, and even less so for squirrels.  


Another survival strategy that has serves wild squirrels well is to eat a lot in times of plenty to build fat store that help them survive through lean times.  This tenancy, along with lack of exercise, can result in very fat captive squirrels.   Unfortunately, while fat squirrels may be cute to us, they are at increased risk of obesity related disorders and predation, resembling tasty slow moving sausages on four legs to most predators.  


Squirrels do not tend to overeat when presented with a wild diet or when the bulk of their diet is composed of rodent block.  Squirrels do over eat when fed a diet high in peanuts, seeds and corn - the squirrel equivalent of a candy diet to humans - which also places them at much higher risk for serious nutritional disorders like Metabolic Bone Disease.


As mentioned, most captive squirrels wont eat to obesity when presented with a nutritious wild diet or when the bulk of their diet is composed of rodent block.   Unfortunately, most squirrels wont eat rodent block unless they are raised on it  and even then will snub it over almost any other food you offer them.   


If you are starting with a young orphan, start feeding the rodent block during the weaning process and hold off on the nuts and other treats until after the block has been consumed and only in small quantities. In the long run you will be glad you did because feeding a picky squirrel is always a challenge.


Feed the most healthy foods first

The strategy for getting your squirrel to eat healthy food is to offer fresh rodent block in the morning with a mix of healthy fruits and vegetables, discussed in more detail below.  Only at the end of the day should treats like nuts and seeds be offered and only in small quantities.  


All food and water must be fresh at all times

All food  and water left over from the prior day should be discarded and replaced with fresh since some squirrels will urinate on their food or water making it unfit for consumption.





Tips for Healthy Habits

The Nature of Squirrels


Information on the care of prairie dogs and other species of ground squirrels

Nutrition for Flying Squirrels

Food Options

Rodent block

How much to feed

Captive squirrels need a balanced diet containing protein, fat, carbohydrates, fiber, vitamins and minerals that closely matches the wild diet for the species.  


To date, there is no definitive understanding of the precise diet of wild squirrels; however, the nutritional needs of a  widely studied cousin - the rat - is relatively well understood.  Most diets for squirrels are based on this research.


Keep in mind that captive squirrels are less active than their wild counterparts so adjust the diet appropriately if your squirrel has a tenancy to overeat or gain excessive weight.

The daily calorie requirements for an adult squirrel are dependant on multiple factors, such as the weight of the squirrel; as well as, any physiological factors such as pregnancy or illness.  


or the average adult squirrel in good health, you can simply refer to the charts below and to the right to estimate your squirrel’s daily caloric needs based on the average adult weight by species.

Taxonomic Constants

Ectotherms (Fish, Reptiles & Amphibians)

Marsupials & Edentates (Opossums, armadillos, sloths)

Eutherian (placental) Mammals (squirrels, rabbits, people)

Non-passerine Birds (Eagles, hawks, gulls and birds weighing over 100 grams)

Passerine Birds (Robins, finches, wood peckers and small birds weighing under 100 grams)



10


49


70


78


129

Physiological Factors

Physical  Inactivity

Head Injury/Severe Trauma

Slow Metabolism

Starvation

Infection or burns

Severe Trauma

Mild Trauma

Growth



0.7 to 0.9

1.0 to 2.0

0.5 to 0.9

0.5 to 0.7

1.2 to 2.0

1.1 to 2.0

1.0 to 1.2

1.5 to 3.0


Average Adult Weight (grams)

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Western Gray Squirrel

Eastern Fox Squirrel

Pine Squirrels (Douglas or American Red Squirrel

Northern Flying Squirrel

Southern Flying Squirrel

California Ground Squirrel



Low

400

400

500

150

110

  45

575

High

600

1000

1000

300

230

82

725


Mid Range

        500

        700

        750  

        225

        170

          63

        650




Nutrition Forum


Please discuss diet with a knowledgeable resource or your veterinarian.


Squirrel Refuge makes every effort to publish accurate information. It is your responsibility to verify the accuracy of all information, claims, and advice before taking any action that may cause harm to your pet or wildlife in your care. If you believe any information is inaccurate, please contact us.

  For squirrels with health or lifestyle issues, you may elect to calculate the exact caloric needs as follows:

          Taxonomic Constant (TC) x (weight in kilograms).75 X 1.5 X physiological factors (PS) = Kcal/24 hours.   

Natural Foods
Healthy Fruits and Veg
Vitamins and Minerals
Boo Balls
Squirrel Block
Nut Balls