You can not have a squirrel as a pet, as it is illegal in most places. There was a time when pet squirrels were common American pets, but it is rare to have a squirrel as a pet today. Despite this, there seems to be a growing interest in these rodents.
There is a squirrel with her own Instagram account. She’s a social media star with over 700.000 followers. She wears tiny hats, and the videos of her eating are adorable and oddly addictive to watch.
Social media accounts like this can make us think about the idea of having a pet squirrel. We know that social media is a curated version of the truth.
But what is the reality of owning a pet squirrel?
In this article, we look at the history of pet squirrels, which states allow pet squirrels, where pet squirrel ownership is illegal, and what being a pet squirrel owner entails.
Can Squirrels Be Pets?
It is illegal to keep squirrels as pets in most states, and in most countries. They don’t make good pets as they are wild animals. They have not been domesticated. When raised in captivity, they can still bite and claw their caretaker.
Most people with squirrels as pets rescued abandoned squirrel babies and hand-reared them.
If you want to keep a squirrel as a pet, you first need to find out if it’s legal in your state. You can ask a local veterinarian or contact an exotic animal veterinary practice to ask.
If it is legal, find out if you need a license or have to attend wildlife rehabilitator training, which some states require.
The History of Squirrels as Pets
Pet squirrels were favored by the wealthy upper classes in the 1700s and included in painted portraits of their owners. They went on to become so popular in the U.S. that even President Theodore Roosevelt had pet squirrels.
Squirrels were popular pets among the wealthy in the 1700s. This is beautifully captured in portraits of upper-class families, particularly children, painted with their pet squirrels.
Examples of paintings with pet squirrels include John Singleton Copley’s ‘A Boy with a Flying Squirrel’ and ‘Daniel Crommelin Verplanck’, and Hans Holbein’s Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling
In the 18th century, the upper-class society thought that giving a child a pet, like a squirrel, would help a child develop self-discipline. Portraits of children with their pet squirrels signified their aristocratic breeding.
By the 18th and 19th centuries, squirrels were common pets in America.
Theodore Roosevelt (U.S President from 1901-1909) kept flying squirrels as pets.
It said the Roosevelt children often kept the squirrels in their shirt pockets. The squirrels were also known to join the family at the table for meals.
It seems owning a squirrel was a trend. By 1910, squirrels were no longer fashionable pets. In some parts of the U.S, people started to consider them pests.
Between the 1920s and the 1970s, many American states passed laws prohibiting people from keeping exotic animals like squirrels as pets.
Do Squirrels Make Good Pets?
Squirrels are not domesticated and generally don’t make good pets. Some people do still claim that squirrels make good pets, but wildlife rehabilitators warn against keeping squirrels as pets.
Squirrels are wild animals and, as many argue, can’t be domesticated. Domesticated animals undergo psychological and behavioral changes over many years of breeding.
As squirrels are still considered wild animals, they haven’t experienced this change. While they can be raised in captivity, they will still have their natural instincts.
Conservationists and wildlife rehabilitators consider squirrels better off in the wild.
Related: Are Squirrels Dangerous?
7 Reasons Not To Keep a Squirrel As A Pet
Here are seven things to consider before getting a squirrel:
- Squirrels bite and claw.
- Providing a healthy squirrel diet is not easy.
- Squirrels need space – lots of it.
- Squirrel medical care is specialized.
- It’s a long-term commitment.
- Squirrel pet sitters are scarce.
- Squirrels are messy.
1. Squirrels Bite And Claw
Squirrels have sharp claws and teeth so they can climb trees and crack open nuts. Their teeth can grow as long as 3-6 inches.
According to Emilie Nelson of North Carolina Wildlife Rehab, pet squirrels can be dangerous, especially when they become sexually mature.
As squirrels are wild animals, they will always retain their wild instincts. Even if you’ve raised them from they were babies. There is always a risk of biting and clawing because they aren’t domesticated.
Squirrels’ jaws and teeth can push about 7.000 pounds of pressure when biting, resulting in serious injuries.
2. Providing A Healthy Pet Squirrel Diet Is Not Easy
Squirrels need more than nuts to sustain good health. Feeding a pet squirrel well is costly and time-consuming.
According to the Avian and Animal Hospital (AAH) in Florida, pet squirrels need protein, fat, vitamins, minerals, and foods high in calcium.
Examples of vegetable high in calcium include: beet greens, chicory, fresh cilantro, collard greens, dandelion greens, fennel, kale, mustard spinach, fresh parsley, radishes, romaine lettuce, butternut, swiss chard, turnip greens, and watercress.
Magnolia cones, pine cones, roses, and dandelion greens are examples of wild foods squirrels eat.
This can include live or dried mealworms, crickets, and live moths.
Examples include apple, watermelon, apricot, bananas, mangos, blueberries, and more. Remove seeds from all fruit except berries.
Nuts and Seeds
Acorns, almonds, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts.
Objects to Chew
Antlers, tree branches, sea shells, and cuttlebone.
Related: What Do Squirrels Eat?
3. Squirrels Need Space – Lots of It
Squirrels are small but active. They need plenty of room to move. This is important for their health. Tree squirrels also need vertical space to climb.
In other words, you can’t leave a squirrel in a small cage all day.
You also need to ensure that it gets enough sunshine. All squirrels need at least of one hour per day of natural sunlight to ensure they get enough vitamin D.
Some pet squirrel owners find it beneficial to have a large outdoor cage.
4. Specialized Squirrel Medical Care
Vets specializing in exotic pets are the only ones who can treat squirrels. A regular neighborhood vet may not be able to help.
Before you get a squirrel, find out where the closest exotic animal vet is. Make sure it is near enough that you will be able to take a squirrel for check-ups.
5. Having a Pet Squirrel Is a Long-Term Commitment
In the wild, squirrels’ lifespan is 6 to 12 years. Squirrels in captivity can live longer, surviving between 10 and 20 years.
As pets, there’s no risk of predators and limited exposure to illness (like ‘squirrel pox’). A well-looked-after squirrel can live for 20 years.
It’s a long-term commitment to take on a pet squirrel. And since squirrels are exotic pets with special dietary needs, it can be hard to find someone willing to adopt a pet squirrel you no longer want.
6. Squirrel Pet Sitters Are Scarce
You can’t always take your pet squirrel on holiday with you. Pet sitters are easy to find when you have dogs or cats, but few pet sitters know how to look after squirrels.
As for pet boarding versatilities, good luck finding one that will take on a pet squirrel. Your best bet is to train a willing family member or friend to look after your squirrel when you need a break.
7. Squirrels Are Messy
Most rodents are messy, but the mess is in a cage. When a squirrel has a run of your home (and they’ll need it to get enough daily exercise), their mess will be everywhere.
From nut shells to poops all over the floor, be prepared to clean up after a squirrel regularly to keep your home hygienically clean.
What States Allow Squirrels as Pets?
Only eight of the 52 states of North America allow people to keep pets as squirrels without a license. These states include Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Minnesota, South Carolina, South Dakota, Nevada, and West Virginia.
According to Squirrel Forum, eight states allow people to keep squirrels as pets without much restriction. Fourteen allow people to own pet squirrels with a license. The rest do not allow pet squirrels.
States That Allow Pet Squirrels
The following states allow people to keep squirrels as pets without a license and with few restrictions:
- South Carolina
- South Dakota
- West Virginia
States Where A License Is Required To Keep Pet Squirrels
The following states allow pet squirrels with a license:
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- North Dakota
Most of the rules about pet squirrels include the requirement for an official inspection of the squirrel’s housing.
States That Do Not Allow Pet Squirrels
The following states do not allow people to have pet squirrels. Only rehabilitators can look after squirrels with a license:
- New Hampshire
- New York
- North Carolina
- Rhode Island
Before getting a pet squirrel, speak to a local vet to find out about your state’s requirements for pet squirrels.
If you happen to find an injured or abandoned young squirrel, contact a local vet. Ask for the contact details of professional squirrel rehabilitators in the area.
How to Tame A Squirrel
You can tame a squirrel to be comfortable around humans. To do this, start out by offering food. As it gets more comfortable being close to you, you can start petting it. Be careful, as squirrels are wild animals: they can still bite you.
Taming wild animals can be difficult, but due to squirrels’ high intelligence, taming them is easier than much other wildlife.
Here’s how to tame a squirrel:
- Start by feeding it from a distance (nuts work well).
- Slowly decrease the distance between you and the squirrel.
- As it gets comfortable being close to you, let it eat out of your hand. Be careful, as squirrels do bite.
- Place the nuts on your lap or shoulder. This allows the squirrels to get comfortable touching you.
- You now have a squirrel friend.
Can Squirrels Be Domesticated?
Squirrels are not domesticated animals. While they can be domesticated, it takes generations of breeding. You can’t domesticate a single squirrel. They will always be wild animals.
Can You Train A Squirrel?
Yes, you can train a squirrel, to some extent. They are highly intelligent and can learn to be comfortable around humans. You can train it to climb on your shoulder or eat out of your hand.