My Squirels aren't drinking!
November 20, 2017 2:01 PM   Subscribe

I am rehabilitating some baby squirrels since Hurricane Irma destroyed their nests. I'm getting them ready for release, but they almost never drink water, and seem to rely solely on food for hydration. How do I humanely teach them to drink?

My hurricane squirrels are very active and don't seem to be at all unhealthy. They play with each other, climb all over their cage, chew on sticks and toys, but I haven't seen them drink any water since they were very small. They used to drink very occasionally from a hamster bottle, but now they ignore it, and when I put a dish of water in their cage, they either just drop food and bits of paper in it, or they stick their entire face in and choke and spill water everywhere. They have healthy appetites, and I see them urinate every day, so they aren't dehydrated. I feed them mostly grapes, tomatoes, carrots, and bell peppers, but also give them "monkey biscuits" or primate food, as well as hamster pellets and other vegetables. They do get the occasional seed or nut in the shell as a treat, but since that isn't a great source of vitamins for their bone health, it's not a main staple of their diet.

I realize that they get a lot of water from the grapes and tomatoes, and I think that's why they aren't dehydrated. It's been suggested that I play with placement of the water dishes and bottles, or that I feed them less fruit and more of the dry food, but I don't want to deprive them of vitamins or make them become dehydrated to force them to learn to drink, unless that's the only way.

Does anyone have any experience with rehab babies and this issue? They're a little too wild to bottle feed if they get sick, so I'd like them to stay healthy and learn to drink without too much interference from me. Thanks in advance!
posted by Kimothy to Pets & Animals (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I should mention that this is worrisome, because I don't plan to keep them forever unless they turn out to be unreleasable. In the wild they will have to know what to do when their diet is less hydrating. It would be terrible to have them die from dehydration in the wild after they recovered so well from the storm.
posted by Kimothy at 2:10 PM on November 20, 2017

I don’t see why you think they are unreleaseable. Wild squirrels get a lot of water from food too, and they don’t need much. They don’t have hamster bottles, and don’t often drink from open water. Consider how big your dish is, and how many drops of dew the average oak leaf holds.

Your little dudes may be drinking when you’re not looking too, it’s hard to do carefulwater accounting in this situation, and as you indicate, they are peeing just fine.

If you are really convinced it needs to be addressed, there are many options between ‘feed mostly plentiful wet foods’ and ‘dehydrate the little suckers’.

Keep doing what you are doing, back off the wettest foods a bit, continue to give access to water in a dish, consider a smaller dish, maybe a dish with a sponge too.

Finally, I have had experience rehabbing baby squirrels, and this:
they stick their entire face in and choke and spill water everywhere.
Sounds totally normal.

It sounds like you are 90% on track to me, enjoy them while you can and they will catch on just fine when it’s time to go.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:27 PM on November 20, 2017 [4 favorites]

I have a pool, a fountain birdbath, and three outdoor water dishes (one is ostensibly for the dogs) and my squirrels do not use them except on very very hot dry days. They do eat part of several oranges a day, often getting them up 30+ feet in a Jacaranda tree before losing hold of them so they are backyard head injury hazards. On really hot days, I'll have close to a dozen orange shells in the yard (and I'm not the only orange tree on the block).

They come up on the patio and eat dog food straight out of the bowls right next to one of the water bowls, so it's not like they don't know. They knock the damn bowls over every day, and have never tipped over the water. So my assumption is that squirrels are not big drinkers.

(They will, however, learn how to open a jar of peanut butter pretzels and peel the preztel apart to eat the peanut butter filling. So I assume if they wanted to drink more water they could figure that out.)
posted by Lyn Never at 4:07 PM on November 20, 2017 [7 favorites]

I watch squirrels everyday who live in and around a big maple tree in my yard. Every time it rains, I see squirrels come up the tree and lick the bark and moss. I am quite sure they are 'drinking' the raindrops off the tree. These squirrels eat mostly acorns, maple seeds, and whatever they can get out of people's trash which is almost certainly not juicy fruit, so they are probably thirstier than your squirrels...and they lick raindrops to get water. I've also seem them eat snow in the same manner.

Your squirrels are fine.
posted by epanalepsis at 8:40 AM on November 21, 2017 [2 favorites]

Thanks everyone. I was worried mostly due to other rehabbers posting videos of their squirrels drinking a lot, and telling me that their squirrels are always thirsty and that I needed to get them to drink.

As though she could tell I was worried, the little girl took a nap with her head hanging out of the nest last night, and when she woke up she climbed down and took a good long drink from the hamster bottle. I had to laugh...
posted by Kimothy at 9:17 AM on November 21, 2017 [5 favorites]

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