Animal Library: Richardson's Ground Squirrels

Please enjoy this information based on our experience, but we no longer breed the animals below, or have any contacts for them.

Richardson's Ground Squirrels

(Richardson's Ground Squirrel)

Richardson’s Ground Squirrels at Millermeade Farms

  • The Spring of 2007 we had the wild adventure of selling baby wild-caught Richard’s Ground Squirrels.
  • When the babies came in they were cute as could be, a little nervous but quite easy to handle.
  • The day after our RSG’s arrived we set about taking pictures (which you will find in this article) and accidentally left a cage lid partially open. What a circus. The sleeping and calm babies wasted no time in creating bedlam in the critter room! Surprisingly, they were easy to catch and no worse for wear.
  • Some of the babies did need some extra TLC. Not all babies ate and drank well and many had to be watched very carefully.
  • We found that baby RGSs took A LOT of handling to keep them friendly and personable.
  • We had a great time with them but until my kids are a little older I doubt we will be up for the challenge of giving so much attention to all the babies until they go to their new homes.

Taking Care of a Baby Richardson’s Ground Squirrel

  • It is critical to make sure that all baby animals are eating and drinking well.
  • To my knowledge all RSGs are wild caught and have not been successfully raised in captivity. Therefore, it is important to understand that the eating and drinking habits of the ground squirrels may not be used to the traditional feeding and watering techniques as our domestically raised pets.
  • Young squirrels are curious and adventurous so make absolutely certain that your new pet is not able to chew out or squeeze out of its new cage.

Cage and Equipment Requirements

  • Richardson’s ground squirrels live most of their lives in underground burrows. Therefore the best cage will provide the squirrel room to run, play, and burrow.
  • They are not good climbers like arboreal squirrels and can fall and injure themselves.
  • Many owners suggest that the best cage is a multi-level ferret cage or a cage designed for rabbits or guinea pigs.
  • Plenty of hay should be provided in the bottom of the cage so that if a RSG falls from any height it has a safe and padded landing.
  • Rotating cages can keep your squirrel from becoming bored.
  • Chew toys are recommend for enrichment and teeth care.
  • Closely monitor play outside the cage. RSGs are chewers and they can damage household furnishings or injure themselves through their own curiosity.

Accessories

  • Accessories can include clay flowerpots, PVC tubes, and other objects to hide in.
  • Most RSGs love to run in a wheel.
  • I suggest keeping a small wooden nesting box in their cage.
  • Since ground squirrels are rodents, they WILL gnaw on the plastic or wood in their cages.

Bedding and Nesting Material

  • Line the cage tray with pine shavings, aspen shavings, care fresh pet bedding or another absorbent material.
  • Never use cedar shavings because the oils and dust from cedar can be harmful to small mammals.
  • Timothy hay not only provides nourishment but excellent nesting material as well.
  • We noticed that our baby squirrels ate in one area, slept in another area, and pottied in yet another area which makes cage cleaning much simpler.
  • According to RSG experts they can be successfully litter box trained and are generally very clean animals that do not smell.

Food – in the wild

  • In the wild RSGs are herbivores. Vegetation traditionally composes 80-100% of their diet (Michener). Their natural diet includes leaves, flowers, forage grasses, legumes and seeds depending on their region.
  • A small portion of their diet is composed of insects.
  • Ground squirrels do not hunt for food but they may eat tiny amounts or carrion.

Food – Richardson’s Ground Squirrel Exotic Diet

  • We feed our baby Richardson’s Lil’ Nifty Nuggets made by Pet-Pro Products. You order it directly from the company at 1-877-977-8310. By using me as a referral (Gail Miller or my #G2119D) and you will save 10% on every order.
  • Pet stores carrying Pet-Pro Products can also order the food for you.

Food – fruits, vegetables, grasses and grains

Richardson's Ground Squirrels
  • Timothy hay is an excellent choice and easy to find.
  • Alfalfa hay should only be used as a treat in limited quantities.
  • Only small amounts of fruits or vegetables are required each day.
  • Vegetables include romaine lettuce, carrots, green beans, squash and sweet potatoes.
  • Grass and dandelions that are not treated with pesticides, fertilizers or other chemicals.
  • AVOID any GREEN parts of a potato because it contains toxins that can be harmful to them.
  • Fruits include plums, apples, and pears.
  • A mix of grains can include oats, wheat, barley, and unsweetened/unsalted cereal.

Food – treats

  • All treats should be given in moderation and should be used as a way to provide enrichment and variety in the diet.
  • Nuts, dry dog food, yogurt, and parrot mix are poplar treat suggestions.
  • Rolled oats are another ideal treat or supplement.
  • Insect treats can include mealworms, super worms (only one or two per day), and crickets.
  • RSGs love fresh corn on the cob but use in only in moderation.
  • According to S&S Exotics dried corn on the cob, hard beef bones, or dried pig ears are good for the teeth.

Water

  • It should be obvious that wild-caught animals do not naturally drink from a water bottle.
  • Provide both water bottle and water dish and once you are certain your RSG is using the water bottle you can remove the dish.

Bonding and Handling

  • Richardson’s Ground squirrels are generally very gentle and enjoy being handled.
  • The best way to promote bonding is to build trust. Most Richardson’s Ground Squirrels thrive on love and attention.
  • Your pet WILL bite if it feels threatened or provoked. RSGs are not domesticated and even with consistent handling there is not guarantee that your pet will not bite or scratch when handled. Such a risk is present with any pet.
  • Snuggle and cuddle with your new pet in an area where it can be easily caught without chasing or further traumatizing your new pet.
  • The bathtub is a great place to sit and allow your pet to climb over you and explore in a safe and non-threatening environment.
  • Ground squirrels are QUICK so it is best to avoid any opportunity for them to run loose.
  • Do not allow your new pet to jump out of its cage door. It is best to prevent the chance of injury.
  • According to Prairie Exotics, a popular greeting is for your squirrel to open its mouth. It isn’t being aggressive but its unique way of saying “Hello”.
  • Recognizing and responding to your pet’s body language and vocal signals is important in understanding your pets needs and desires.

Veterinary Care

  • Little information is available on the veterinary care required for captive Richardson’s Ground Squirrels.
  • RSGs have been kept as pets for some time and at this point in time vaccinations or shots are not routinely given.
  • Zoonotic diseases are diseases that are passed to humans from animals. Common pets such as cats, dogs, birds, and reptiles can all transfer pathogens to humans. However, like the previously mentioned pets, Richardson’s Ground Squirrels are not known to carry diseases the present an immediate danger to their owners.
  • Children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system should use caution when handling animals.
  • Prairie Exotics recommends a few drops of Caloidal Silver to kill germs and bacteria and to promote good health but it is best to check with your veterinarian before giving supplements.

Vital Statistics

  • They are diurnal meaning they are most often awake dawn and dusk.
  • They are obligate hibernators.
  • Ground squirrels fed a high quality food compared to their counterparts living on native grasslands. Average weight is approximately 1.5 pounds (Prairie Exotics). They should not weigh over three pounds. Overweight squirrels will have weight related health problems and can die early if not closely monitored.
  • Adult size is typically 8 inches long.
  • Sources vary in life expectancy from 5-7 years in captivity.
  • According to Prairie Exotics, RSGs are highly social and are best kept in pairs or trios.

Hibernation

  • Richardson’s Ground Squirrels hibernate alone in a special burrow chamber called the hibernaculum.
  • The hibernaculum is a plugged with soil when the animal enters hibernation.
  • RSG’s hibernate 4-9 months depending on age and gender.

Miscellaneous Information

  • The scientific name for Richardson’s Ground Squirrels is Spermophilus richardsonii. They are also known by other names including: gophers, prairie gophers, yellow gophers, picketpins, flickertails, and tawny American marmots.
  • The name “Flickertails” originates from their constantly trembling tails
  • They closely resemble their relatives the prairie dogs and are often confused with them but they are much smaller and a completely different species.
  • They are commonly found in the northern prairies of North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Canada.
  • RSGs are considered agricultural pests. Many are exterminated to protect crops.
  • There are RSG enthusiasts the believe they should NOT be kept as pets simply because they are wild animals Even when wild caught females give birth in captivity their offspring are not domesticated.

Re-release into the Wild

  • These animals CANNOT be release back into the wild for a variety of reasons.
  • It is believed that they can only survive as part of the family unit from which they came (Michener).
  • According to Michener, “They will certainly die an unpleasant death after release, either from harassment from ground squirrels who are not their kin, from predators, or from exposure through not having a burrow system”.
  • It is cruel as well as illegal to release pets into the wild.
  • Help protect our rights to own exotic pets by practicing responsible pet ownership!!

Resources

  • http://people.uleth.ca/~michener/main.htm G.R. Michener 5/16/07
  • http://www.sandsexoticanimals.com/care/rgsc/rgsc.html 5/16/07
  • http://www.balzacbilly.com/richardson_ground_squirrel.htm 5/16/07
  • http://www.geocities.com/prairie_exotics/ 5/16/07

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