What Are the Best Tips for Hand-Rearing Orphaned Wildlife Like Squirrels or Bunnies?

April 4, 2024

Discover a world of compassion and care in the field of wildlife rescue. Most of us have stumbled upon a baby animal, looking vulnerable and alone. You might have come across an orphaned squirrel or bunny, and the sight tugs at your heartstrings. With their soft fur and innocent eyes, they become hard to resist. But what do you do? You want to help but don’t know where to start. This comprehensive guide aims to equip you with essential knowledge on the best practices for hand-rearing orphaned wildlife such as squirrels and bunnies.

Understanding the Basics

Before you dive into rearing orphaned animals, it’s crucial to understand the basics. You need to be aware of what you’re getting into, and be sure of your commitment. Remember, raising an orphaned animal isn’t merely an act of kindness but also a responsibility.

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Firstly, not every young animal you find is orphaned. Many wildlife mothers leave their young unattended during the day while they forage for food. If you find a baby squirrel or bunny, observe from a distance. If the mother doesn’t return after a few hours, only then should you consider stepping in to help.

Secondly, rearing orphaned wildlife requires time, dedication, and resources. It’s quite different from caring for domesticated animals. These animals will eventually return to the wild, so their treatment should be in line with that goal.

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Preparing a Suitable Nest

After you’ve determined that the baby animal is indeed orphaned, the first step is to create a safe and comfortable nest. This nest is a temporary home that simulates the snug, warm environment of a natural nest.

A cardboard box makes an excellent nest. Line the bottom with towels or fleece blankets to keep the young animal warm. Make sure the box is large enough for the baby to move around, but not too big that it feels exposed.

Avoid using hay or straw as bedding because they can be abrasive to the baby’s skin and may contain mites or other pests. Make sure the box is kept in a quiet, warm, and secure place, away from pets and children.

Feeding the Orphaned Animal

Feeding is the most intensive part of raising a baby animal. The diet and feeding schedule depend on the species, age, and health of the animal.

Baby squirrels and bunnies, for instance, require feeding every few hours. You’ll need to feed them with a special milk formula designed for orphaned wildlife using a small syringe or baby animal feeding bottle.

It’s important to warm the formula before feeding, but be careful not to overheat it as it could burn the baby’s mouth. Always feed the animal in an upright position to prevent aspiration. Never force-feed, and let the baby pace the feeding.

It’s also important to stimulate the baby to urinate and defecate, as they cannot do this on their own. You can do this by gently rubbing their lower abdomen and genital area with a warm, wet cotton ball.

Monitoring Health and Development

Just like human babies, young animals need regular health monitoring. You need to keep an eye on their weight gain, development milestones, and signs of illness.

Weight gain is a good indication that the animal is healthy and developing well. Use a small scale to weigh the baby every day.

Development milestones depend on the species. For instance, baby squirrels open their eyes at around five weeks old and start to eat solid food at six to seven weeks. If the baby is not reaching these milestones, it might be a sign of a health problem.

Signs of illness in baby animals can be subtle. Look out for lethargy, loss of appetite, diarrhea, or changes in behavior. If you notice any of these signs, seek help from a wildlife rehabilitation expert immediately.

Preparing for Release

The ultimate goal of raising orphaned wildlife is to release them back into the wild. It’s a bittersweet moment, as you’ve nurtured them from a helpless state to a creature ready to tackle the wild.

Before release, make sure the animal is healthy, has reached the right age, and has developed necessary survival skills such as foraging for food and evading predators. Choose a suitable release site that provides ample food and shelter and has minimal human activity.

Remember, rearing orphaned wildlife is a rewarding task but also challenging. It’s an opportunity to give back to nature. Every baby squirrel or bunny you help raise and release is a testament to your dedication and love for wildlife. With these tips, you’re well-prepared to do your part in helping preserve our precious wildlife.

Collaborating with Wildlife Rehabilitators

Working with a wildlife rehabilitator or a wildlife hospital can greatly enhance the success of your attempts to raise an orphaned animal. Wildlife rehabilitators have specialized training in caring for sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals, and they can provide invaluable guidance and resources.

A wildlife rehabilitator can help you determine the baby’s age and tailor a care plan based on its specific needs. For instance, baby squirrels and baby birds have different dietary requirements and development milestones. By working with a rehabilitator, you can ensure that you’re providing the appropriate care for the animal you’re raising.

In addition, wildlife rehabilitators can provide vaccinations and medical treatment, as well as monitor the animal’s health over time. They can also assist with the process of reintroducing the animal back into the wild, which requires careful planning and monitoring.

Working with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator also ensures that you’re complying with local laws and regulations. In many regions, it’s illegal to keep wild animals without a permit, even with the intention of helping them. Reach out to your local wildlife center or animal control department for information on accredited wildlife rehabilitators in your area.

Utilizing Appropriate Heat Sources

Keeping a baby squirrel or any other baby animal warm is crucial, as they cannot regulate their body temperature as adults do. A heating pad or a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel can be used to provide the necessary warmth. However, it’s important to ensure that the heat source is not too hot, as this can lead to dehydration or burns.

Place the heat source on one side of the nest box, not underneath it. This allows the baby animal to move away if it becomes too warm. Check the temperature frequently to make sure it stays within an acceptable range.

Remember, the goal is to mimic the warmth provided by the animal’s mother, which is around 35-37 degrees Celsius (95-99 degrees Fahrenheit). A common mistake is to make the nest too warm, which can be just as harmful as making it too cold. Be mindful of this as you care for the baby animal.


Hand-rearing orphaned wildlife like squirrels or bunnies is a rewarding and fulfilling experience that will help preserve the natural balance of our environment. However, it’s not a task to be taken lightly. It requires a deep sense of commitment, patience, and dedication.

Following the best practices outlined in this guide – understanding the basics, preparing a suitable nest, feeding the animal, monitoring its health and development, preparing for release, collaborating with a wildlife rehabilitator, and using appropriate heat sources – will increase your chances of successfully raising and releasing a healthy wild animal.

Remember, every baby squirrel or bunny you help nurture is a testament to your love for wildlife. They are creatures that need our help, and with the right approach, you can make a significant difference in their lives.

We hope this guide will inspire you and equip you with the knowledge you need to become a successful wildlife carer, contributing to wildlife conservation efforts and making our world a better place for all types of animals.