Two nestling grey squirrels kept as pets

February 7, 2024

Two nestling grey squirrels were among the sixty-one animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a tricolored heron, a common loon, an American crow, a big brown bat and a gopher tortoise.

A woman brought two nestling grey squirrels to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital after allowing her young children to care for the nestlings for three weeks. When asked what prompted her to bring the squirrels to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital, she stated her son came to her because one of the babies was gasping, unable to breathe, and he was concerned the baby was dying.

The nestling squirrels were in grave condition. Dull, had severely increased respiratory effort, bloated, malnourished, underweight, dehydrated and covered in urine and puppy formula. Hospital staff administered pain medication, an antibiotic and electrolytes subcutaneously, and provided a Chinese herb to address the bloat and pain that accompanies bloat then settled the nestlings in an animal intensive care unit on supplemental oxygen to rest.

Conservancy veterinarian, Dr. PJ Deitschel, uses a stethoscope to listen to a nestling squirrel’s lung sounds. The squirrels received improper home care and arrived at the wildlife hospital in respiratory distress.

Staff monitored the nestlings closely and offered oral electrolytes after the babies had rested for three hours.

The nestlings were eager to nurse, but were continuously sneezing and had difficulty breathing. The squirrels had been fed processed nuts and other inappropriate food items that did not provide proper nutrition or calcium needed for strong bones and growth thus, a calcium supplement was administered once the squirrels were rehydrated and showed good urine output. Treatment and health checks throughout the first night at the hospital showed the nestlings were still bloated.

Staff was concerned whether the squirrels would survive the night.

It was a pleasant surprise to find both nestling squirrels alive the following morning and to see that the medications and treatment provided alleviated the bloating.


A second antibiotic was added to the treatment plan due to the severity of the respiratory issues the squirrels were exhibiting and a dilute milk replacement formula specifically made for grey squirrels was slowly introduced to the squirrels’ diet. Improvement in the squirrels’ health is slow and interspersed with bouts of gas and bloat so continued consistent care and close monitoring has been required.

In many cases, people find young wild animals and attempt to care for them because they did not know about the Conservancy’s Wildlife Hospital. They had good intentions when offering aide. This situation was different, the mother who allowed her young children to raise these squirrels for three weeks openly admitted to hospital staff she should have been a better parent and told her kids they weren’t allowed to keep the squirrels.

She allowed her children to treat the squirrels as playthings with no consideration for the pain, stress, fear and suffering these squirrels endured. While disappointing to see the lack of respect for wildlife, our hope is the family learned from this situation and will act differently if a similar situation presents itself in the future.

When assisting wildlife, the first thought should be getting the animal professional help, not to keep it as a pet. Wild creatures do not make good pets. All wild animals have very specific nutritional and husbandry requirements that are difficult to replicate in a captive situation. Proper nutrition is critical for any young animal, and if babies receive an improper diet, it can negatively affect their health for the rest of their lives. At this point, hospital staff is still uncertain if these two squirrels will fully recover and be releasable because of the improper nutrition they received at a critical stage in their development.

Please, if you find an animal you believe is injured, sick or orphaned, do not attempt to care for it yourself. Wild animals require care from professionals with experience and knowledge working with wildlife. It is illegal to raise orphaned native wildlife without appropriate state permits. Call our wildlife hospital if you find an animal in distress; that is why we are here and we will do everything possible to help while keeping the animal’s well-being our top priority.

Recent Releases

Two red-shouldered hawks, five eastern cottontails, an anhinga, a marsh rabbit and four grey squirrels were released this past week.

Opportunities to Help

Please visit the Conservancy website to view all of the amazing volunteer opportunities at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida. Your volunteer time, donations, and memberships are vital in helping us continue our work to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital does not receive any local, state or federal funding. Our work is funded by the generosity of donors who believe in our work.

Joanna Fitzgerald is the Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see