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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.
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
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 -
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.
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 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.
Information on the care of prairie dogs and other species of ground squirrels
Nutrition for Flying Squirrels
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 -
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.
Ectotherms (Fish, Reptiles & Amphibians)
Marsupials & Edentates (Opossums, armadillos, sloths)
Eutherian (placental) Mammals (squirrels, rabbits, people)
Passerine Birds (Robins, finches, wood peckers and small birds weighing under 100 grams)
Head Injury/Severe Trauma
Infection or burns
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
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.