Keeping a pet squirrel

These small animals belong to the Tamia family. There are many varieties in the wild and lately the Siberian or Korean squirrel has become popular as a pet. Its body measures between 12 and 17 cm, including the tail, so it is smaller than other squirrels of the same genus. The most famous relatives are the Chip and Dale cartoon Chip and Dale, which are North American chipmunks. Their fur is a vivid cinnamon color, with five stripes running down their backs, alternating light and dark colors. Lighter, almost white varieties with almond-colored stripes have been achieved. It has small ears, slightly rounded at the tips.

Having a pet squirrel is becoming more and more common because they are small and very friendly. In addition, unlike other rodents, they are diurnal, which makes it easier to observe them in activity.

What does the chipmunk look like in the wild?

Its natural habitat extends across northern Asia, from central Russia to China, Korea and northern Japan. It lives in wooded areas with shrubs and spends most of its time on the ground, where it builds its home, although it has sharp nails that allow it to climb with great agility and feed in trees as well. Unlike the pet squirrel, in its habitat it feeds on plants, conifer seeds, nuts, tree buds, mushrooms and forest fruits, as well as cultivated grains such as wheat and oats. They may also attack some insects, lizards and small birds in their nests. They like to hide their food by burying it about 5 cm under the ground. They are very clean and groom their entire body, starting with the tail, even grooming each other.

The breeding season begins in April, shortly after awakening from hibernation. Around May or June a litter of approximately 4 to 6 cubs is born. In Siberia only one litter is born per year, but in warmer places a second litter may be born during the summer.

What is the pet squirrel like?

They are somewhat shy little animals and do not like to be picked up by the tail or back; if you want to pick one up, you must place food in the palm of your hand and wait for it to come up on its own. They usually get used to their owners and are friendly with them, but are always wary of strangers. If you take them out of the cage they like to climb on your shoulder, but if they can they will quickly reach a higher place, such as a piece of furniture, to be able to observe the surroundings. Since they are very agile, it is best to restrict them to a single room. Be very careful that your pet squirrel does not escape. On the one hand you will miss your pet, but they can also be a serious risk to the ecosystem, as they are predators of wild birds’ nests. In England there is great concern at the moment about escaped chipmunks, and the public has been alerted to capture them dead or alive.

If you are going to buy a Korean (or Siberian) squirrel, choose one as young as possible. From 6 weeks old they are already weaned and can eat on their own. Look for one that has bright eyes, healthy fur, is active and curious. If possible, bring your hand closer and choose the one that approaches you with more confidence. They are not ideal pets for small children, as they are easily frightened by their screams and clumsy, jerky movements.

Squirrels as pets can live alone, but they will enjoy having a cage mate. Two squirrels of the same sex will get along fine if they live together as infants, but not if you try to bring them together as adults. It is easier for male and female squirrels to live together, even if you introduce them as adults. In the case of animals of different sexes, you should make sure that they get along well all year round. If the male is in heat and the female does not receive it well, it will be better to separate them for a few days. Remember to give them places to hide from each other if they prefer.

Once you have your pet squirrel at home you will need to be patient and “win her over” by offering her sunflower or peanut seeds, first through the bars and then putting your hand inside the cage until she agrees to climb into your palm. When you first take her out of the cage, secure the room first, closing all doors and blocking any gaps where she can hide. In time she will tame herself and you will be able to take her out with less care.

Do you have a pet squirrel or are you thinking about getting one? Tell us what your squirrel is like or ask us any questions you need to ask before you get one.

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