Should You Keep a Northern Flying Squirrel as a Pet?

Characteristics, Housing, Diet, and Other Information

Adult female northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) accidentally frigtened from her nest box where she was nursing four young, central Alberta, Canada
Wayne Lynch / Getty Images

Northern flying squirrels are small nocturnal rodents that live in the forest canopy. They glide from tree to tree by spreading their arms and legs apart. The kite-like skin folds between their front and back legs, called patagia, catch air, so they appear to be flying. Northern flying squirrels require hands-on attention and socializing with their owners. They also need spacious cages and, like many other rodents, they need hard things to chew on to keep their teeth trimmed and healthy. Flying squirrels have fun personalities and can be great pets, but they do require a fair amount of supervision. As such, they are not ideal pets for young children.

Species Overview

Common Name: Northern flying squirrel

Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus

Adult Size: 8 to 10 inches long (head to tail), and up to 4 ounces

Lifespan: 10 to 15 years in captivity

Can You Own a Pet Northern Flying Squirrel?

Legality

Before bringing home a northern flying squirrel, make sure it's legal to keep them as pets where you live. Some areas may place restrictions on owning these wild species as pets. Legal acquisition of a pet flying squirrel is typically obtained only through a breeder and then by securing the proper state permits; this varies by state.

Ethics

Owning a wild animal as a pet is a subject full of ethical controversy. It can be argued that wild animals are the happiest and healthiest in their native habitats, but conscientious owners can offer environments and care that keep their exotic pets in top condition. People who feel that keeping a wild creature behind bars for most of its life is acceptable rarely encounter ethical quandaries about owning an exotic pet.

Things to Consider

Before bringing home a flying squirrel, consider all of its needs and decide whether or not you can fulfill them. Keeping a squirrel too confined or without adequately nutritious food is not only cruel but also prevents your pet from being as interactive and enjoyable as it can be.

Northern Flying Squirrel Behavior and Temperament

Northern flying squirrels are native to North America and are extremely wary of people in the wild. It would be difficult if not impossible to capture and completely tame a flying squirrel that was not raised by humans. Fortunately, captively bred flying squirrels are much more eager to bond with people, and they can be quite friendly with those they trust.

The process of bonding with a pet squirrel can be fun. You need to wear a fabric pouch around your neck, tucked inside your shirt. Keeping the new squirrel inside this pouch allows the squirrel to learn to recognize your scent. With sufficient handling at a young age, northern flying squirrels can be very affectionate and will enjoy being snuggled and carried. Your pet squirrel may even enjoy riding on your shoulders.

Northern flying squirrels are quiet animals, but they may scramble around their enclosure at night (since they are naturally nocturnal). If you want a sound night's sleep, it's best to keep your squirrel's enclosure out of your bedroom.

Housing

Whatever enclosure is chosen for your flying squirrel, it must have very small spaces between the bars or mesh to prevent escapes or accidental injury, especially if you have a baby flying squirrel. Squirrels that have bonded with their owners enjoy being in close contact and will attempt to escape to get closer.

The vertical height is more important than horizontal space in flying squirrel cages as they enjoy climbing up as high as they can go. Tall bird cages are often used to house flying squirrels. Metal cages are much more difficult for a rodent to chew through, and birdcages are also available with narrow bar spacing.

Be sure to provide areas in the cage onto which your Northern squirrel can climb; branches are good for this as are ropes made of chemical-free cotton fibers. Also, provide nest boxes where the squirrel can retreat for sleep and soft nesting materials such as strips of unbleached cotton fabric.

What Do Northern Flying Squirrels Eat and Drink?

Like many rodents, wild flying squirrels are omnivorous; they eat a variety of protein and vegetable foods. Nuts, seeds, fruits, vegetables, mealworms, lichens, fungi, and other treats are routinely eaten by northern flying squirrels. Many flying squirrel owners feed a base diet of a parrot seed mixture which is made up of different sunflower seeds, pellets, pumpkin seeds, and other sources of protein. An assortment of fruits and vegetables in moderation, healthy cereals, and parrot or monkey biscuits can help round out the nutritional requirements of a squirrel.

Since flying squirrels are prone to calcium deficiency, they need both calcium and vitamin D3 supplements included in their diets. A cuttlebone or calcium block in its enclosure will help to file down the squirrel's continuously growing teeth as well as contribute to its dietary needs. Try to limit foods high in phosphorous in your Northern flying squirrel's diets since phosphorous can interfere with calcium absorption. Prepackaged, formulated diets for flying squirrels can be found online, but these vary widely in their nutritional value.

Common Health Problems

Northern flying squirrels are generally hardy in captivity. Wild flying squirrels in the U.S., however, are susceptible to typhus, an infectious disease that can be transmitted to humans. As long as you purchase a captively bred squirrel from a reputable breeder and do not allow it to come into contact with wild squirrels, this should not be an issue. Look for a veterinarian in your area who specializes in rodent care so that you can ensure your pet remains healthy for the duration of its long life. Finding an exotic pet veterinarian could be tricky, so call local clinics and ask questions before purchasing a flying squirrel.

Exercise

Flying squirrels are active, energetic animals-but they are naturally nocturnal, so they are active at night. When keeping one as a pet, you should wake your squirrel during the day and take it out of its enclosure to scurry and climb around your house so that it gets enough exercise to stay fit and maintain a healthy weight. Your squirrel is more likely to clamber around its cage at night if it sleeps during the day and does not get enough exercise.

Grooming

There is no need to bathe or brush your flying squirrel. These animals groom themselves with their little tongue and paws, so they stay very clean without human help.

Size Information

Northern flying squirrels are small animals; their bodies can fit in the hand of an adult human. With their tails, they measure about 8 to 10 inches long and weigh up to just 4 ounces.

Pros and Cons of Owning a Northern Flying Squirrel

Northern flying squirrels are fun, curious, and energetic; they bond closely to humans they've grown up with. These characteristics make them fun pets, but the fact that they are nocturnal makes them less than ideal companions for the average person. They want to be awake and active during the hours when most people sleep.

Purchasing Your Northern Flying Squirrel

There are several flying squirrel breeders around the U.S. such as Janda Exotics in Texas which specializes in selling tame, healthy squirrel babies. Most breeders will not ship their squirrels, though, so you will need to consider traveling to pick up your new baby.

Most flying squirrels that are purchased from a breeder are sent home with their new owners while they are still babies. You will then bottle-feed your baby squirrel for a few weeks to encourage bonding with you. Make sure you have everything your new squirrel will need before bringing it home so that you can provide the care it needs.

Similar Pets to the Northern Flying Squirrel

If you like the Northern flying squirrel but haven't made up your mind that it's the pet for you, check out these other small exotic species:

FAQ
  • Are flying squirrels awake during the day?

    Flying squirrels are nocturnal and instinctively sleep in their nests during the day. You'll have to wake your squirrel in order to interact and provide playtime.

  • What is the hardest part of owning a flying squirrel?

    The biggest challenge of owning one of these animals is keeping them safely confined when you are not tending to them. Their enclosure should be well ventilated but with small enough spaces that the squirrel can't get its head caught and suffer injury or death.

  • Can you keep a flying squirrel with other pets?

    It's not a good idea to keep squirrels around cats, dogs, or even ferrets because these animals have the instinct to kill squirrels for food. Your squirrel will not be safe around these animals.

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