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What to Feed Squirrels (And What Not to Feed Them)

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You shouldn’t feed squirrels. But if you must, squirrels need to eat as close to their natural omnivore diet as possible. This includes seeds, plants, fruit, vegetables, and protein sources like insects. 

Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they eat almost anything.

But what can and can’t you feed a pet squirrel? And should you feed wild squirrels in your garden or at a local park? 

In this article, we answer these questions and look at foods that are good for squirrels and some that are harmful. 

Squirrels’ Diet

Squirrels eat a range of natural foods like nuts, seeds, plants, fruit, fungi, insects and insects’ eggs, small animals, and carrion. 

Squirrels are omnivores, meaning they eat both plant-based foods and meat. They are primarily foragers, collecting nuts, eggs, or carrion meat (meat from dead animals). 

Should they need protein, they will kill and eat small defenseless animals like bird nestlings. 

Related: What Do Squirrels Eat?

Squirrels’ Diet

What Most Squirrels Eat 

There are more than 200 squirrel species worldwide[1]. Different types of squirrels eat different foods, depending on their habitat. 

Most squirrels eat the following foods:

  • Tree nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fruits
  • Insects
  • Birds’ eggs and nestlings
  • Plant matter
  • Small animals (nestling and young mice)
  • Carrion (decaying animal meat)

The Best Foods To Feed Squirrels

The best foods to feed squirrels include vet-recommended rodent blocks, fresh vegetables (particularly vegetables high in calcium), wild foods in the area, animal protein, fruit, nuts, and seeds. 

Squirrels need a balanced diet including protein, fat, vitamins and minerals, and vegetables high in calcium.[2]

The Avian and Animal Hospital (AAH) in Florida recommends the following: 

  1. Rodent blocks
  2. Vegetables, including high-calcium vegetables
  3. Wild foods
  4. Animal protein 
  5. Fruit
  6. Nuts and seeds 

1. Rodent blocks

Rodent blocks
Image Source

Rodent blocks are nutritionally balanced pellets made for rodents. Veterinarians specializing in exotic pets can advise you on the best rodent block available. 

2. Vegetables 

AAH recommend feeding a pet squirrel five to seven thumb-sized portions of calcium-rich vegetables:

  • Beet and turnip greens
  • Chicory 
  • Bok choy
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Collard greens
  • Dandelion greens
  • Fennel
  • Kale
  • Mustard spinach 
  • Fresh parsley
  • Radishes
  • Romaine lettuce 
  • Butternut squash
  • Swiss chard
  • Watercress

They also recommend feeding squirrels two to three thumb-sized portions of other healthy vegetables, with the exceptions of fresh corn, garlic, onion, potatoes, sprouts, and palm hearts.

3. Wild Foods

Squirrel eating Wild Foods

Among the best foods for squirrels are wild foods found in the area where they live. The best way to do this is to watch what natural foods wild squirrels in your area are eating. 

Examples of wild foods for squirrels:

  • Tree cones
  • Pine cones
  • Roses
  • Rose hips
  • Dandelion greens
  • Bark

Gray squirrels and fox squirrels enjoy the buds of oak, walnut, hickory, and pecan trees.

Avoid foraging for food in areas sprayed with herbicides and pesticides.

4. Animal Protein

Squirrel eating Animal Protein
Image Source

Squirrels need protein. Live or dried mealworms, crickets, and moths are ideal. You can buy dried mealworms at an exotic animal veterinary practice or vet store. 

If you’ve run out of insects for your squirrel, AAH recommends eggs as an alternative. They can be hard-boiled or scrambled. 

You can also give your squirrel cheese or plain yogurt mashed with some fruit. 

5. Fruit 

When it comes to fruit, squirrels can eat almost anything. Remove the pits and seeds from the fruit as they can be toxic to squirrels. You don’t have to worry about berry seeds.

According to AAH, it’s not advisable to feed squirrels dried fruit, dates, raisins, figs, persimmons, plums, prunes, and fruit juice. 

6. Nuts/Seeds

Squirrel eating Nuts

Squirrels should have two nuts or seeds per day, preferably in the shell. Acorns, whole roasted pumpkin seeds, almonds, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts are the most nutritious nuts to feed squirrels, according to AAH. 

Eastern gray squirrels love acorns and walnuts. Southern flying squirrels love hickory nuts. 

According to the AAH, avoid feeding squirrels cashews, sunflower seeds, dried corn (which can contain a toxic substance produced by mold), and pine nuts, which can cause calcium loss. 

What Not Feed Squirrels

Foods not to feed squirrels include peanuts, corn, chocolate, fruit seeds, avocado skin and pits, and a wide variety of processed foods.  

Squirrels are opportunistic foragers and will eat anything they can get their hands on. In the wild, this is fine, but in urban environments, squirrels have access to harmful foods. 

Here are foods not to feed squirrels:

  1. Peanuts
  2. Corn 
  3. Chocolate 
  4. Fruit seeds 
  5. Avocado pit and skins 
  6. Processed foods 
  7. Pet food for other animals (dog food)

1. Peanuts 

Peanuts

Contrary to popular belief, peanuts are not the best food for squirrels. They can contain aflatoxin, a type of chemical produced by two molds, Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus.  

Aflatoxin is a potent liver carcinogen in rodents.[2] 

It’s not only peanuts that can cause harm. All nuts can be problematic. Squirrels with a diet high in nuts are at risk of developing Metabolic Bone Disease. This irreversible and potentially fatal disease causes squirrels’ bones to become brittle and break easily. [3]

2. Corn

Corn

Although squirrels often eat corn in the wild, it can be a host for the carcinogen aflatoxin that can harm squirrels.[4]

3. Chocolate 

Chocolate is poisonous to many animals, including squirrels. This is due to two substances: theobromine and caffeine.

Theobromine has such a toxic effect on animals that it has been used to poison coyotes.[7]

Animals don’t have to eat much chocolate to be affected. Most animals have slower metabolisms than humans, meaning they can’t process theobromine as well as humans.

In small animals, like squirrels, 1,76 ounces (50 grams) of chocolate is toxic.[8] 

4. Fruit Seeds 

You can feed squirrels fruit, but always remove the seeds in fruits other than berries. Persin in fruit seeds can cause heart failure in squirrels.[2]

5. Avocado Skin and Pits

Avocado skin and pits

Squirrels can eat avocado, but not skins and pits, which also contain persin.[9] 

6. Processed foods 

Squirrels can’t tolerate high levels of sugar, salt, preservatives, and transfats common in processed foods. It can make them sick.

7. Pet Food for Other Animals

What Makes a Good Dog Food

Squirrels will eat dog or cat food pellets if given the opportunity, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for them.

Foods made for dogs and cats have nutrition profiles designed specifically for these animals. The amount of protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals is too high for squirrels. They have different nutritional needs.

Is It Okay to Feed Squirrels? 

No, you should not feed squirrels. Feeding wildlife, including squirrels, is banned in some regions. Feeding squirrels can also lead to unnatural squirrel population growth, increased aggression, unwanted pests and predators, and nutritional deficiencies.

Some people love feeding the squirrels in their garden or at a local park. While it seems harmless, it can have negative consequences for both squirrels and people. 

It is also illegal in some places:

  • In Toronto, a couple was fined for feeding a squirrel in their backyard.[10]
  • In California, people are not allowed to disrupt wild animals’ normal behavior patterns, including feeding squirrels.[11]

Risks of Feeding Squirrels 

Here are the risks associated with feeding squirrels: 

  1. Aids unnatural squirrel population growth. 
  2. Attracts unwanted pests and predators. 
  3. Squirrels can become aggressive. 
  4. Increases squirrels’ risks of nutritional deficiencies. 

1. Aids Unnatural Squirrel Population Growth

Aids Unnatural Squirrel Population Growth

An increased food supply cause the squirrel population to grow.[12] 

This growth can appear in the invasive, non-native squirrel population at the expense of native squirrel populations. 

This is happening in some areas of the U.K and the U.S. where the Eastern gray squirrel is not native and outcompetes the smaller native red squirrels for food and shelter. 

The more squirrels there are, the more food and shelter they need.

If the squirrels can’t find space in trees for their drays (nests), they move into attics and roof eaves. Once they occupy a home, they can cause considerable damage by gnawing at wood, ripping up insulation for their nests, and gnawing through electrical cables. 

2. Attracts Unwanted Pests and Predators

If you’re putting out food for squirrels, don’t be surprised if other rodents catch on to the steady supply of food. 

Rats, possums, and raccoons are happy to eat food left out for squirrels. 

An increased number of rodents in your garden leads to an increase in predators too. Owls, hawks, and coyotes all prey on rodents.

3. Squirrels Can Become Aggressive

Squirrels Can Become Aggressive
Image Source

When squirrels get fed by humans, they get accustomed to the presence of people. They lose their natural fear of humans.

When squirrels lose their fear of humans and see humans as food providers, they become aggressive when food is being withheld.

If you hand-feed squirrels in your garden, they come to expect all humans to feed them. They start running up to other members of your household or your neighbors. When the expected food is not provided, they bite.[13] 

Even when squirrels are getting what they want, they can bite. 

A study of squirrel bites in Scotland found that 76% of people bitten were hand-feeding squirrels at the time. [14] 

4. Increases Squirrels’ Risks of Nutritional Deficiencies

Squirrels eat a wide range of foods that they find in nature. When people start feeding them, they fill up on one type of food and don’t bother to forage for other foods. 

This results in a nutritionally deficient diet that can lead to disease. 

For example, a diet high in nuts alone has been linked to Metabolic Bone Disease, an irreversible and potentially fatal condition that causes brittle bones that break easily. [15]

About Monique Warner

Monique is an avid dog lover who grew up with dogs, cats, and budgies as pets. She has worked as a pet sitter and dog walker. With her passion for dogs and pets alike, she writes articles with the intention of helping pet owners solve their biggest struggles.

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