Northern flying squirrels are similar in their care to that of pet birds or sugar gliders but they do have their own special requirements. They are high-energy, nocturnal rodents who love to climb and glide.
They also require a lot of space and like many other rodents, need hard things to chew on to keep their teeth healthy and trimmed. Flying squirrels are entertaining to watch and have fun personalities and can make a great pet for the right person. But they're not low-maintenance pets, and require a fair amount of supervision. They're probably not ideal pets for young children.
Common Name: Northern flying squirrels
Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus
Adult Size: Between 8 and 10 inches long (including the tail), and up to 4 ounces
Life Expectancy: About 10 to 15 years in captivity
Difficulty of Care: Moderate. Flying squirrels need a lot of hands-on attention.
Northern Flying Squirrels Behavior and Temperament
Northern flying squirrels don’t "fly" using wings but rather glide from tree to tree by spreading their arms and legs apart. They let the skin folds between their front and back legs catch a breeze and they appear to be flying.
These skin folds are called patagium and this membrane acts like a parachute to allow the flying squirrel to glide over 100 feet in a single bound.
While there are 44 species of flying squirrels, just two of these species (Northern and Southern flying squirrels) are native to North America. Legal acquisition of a pet Northern flying squirrel is typically obtained through a breeder and then by securing the proper state permits (this varies by state).
These animals are extremely wary of people in the wild, and it will be difficult if not impossible to completely tame a Northern flying squirrel that has not been raised by humans.
Housing the Northern Flying Squirrel
Whatever enclosure is chosen for your flying squirrel it must have very small spaces between the bars or mesh to prevent escapes or other accidents, especially if you have a baby flying squirrel. A flying squirrel that has bonded with its owner will try to get to them at all costs.
Owners that have cages with bars spaced too far apart have woken to their squirrel sleeping at their feet or on their pillows. Some squirrels may try to then return to their cages and are only able to get part of their body back in. This has led to fatal outcomes for the poor little flying squirrels that get stuck.
Tall bird cages are often used to house flying squirrels. Metal is much more difficult for a rodent to chew through and metal cages are available with different bar spacing sizes for birds.
Some owners will revise a store bought cage with wider bar spacing by adding chicken wire mesh to all surfaces of the cage. This works well and is usually less expensive than purchasing a cage with smaller bar spacing but it is time-consuming and care must be taken to avoid any sharp edges and missed surfaces.
Vertical height is more important than horizontal space in cages as flying squirrels enjoy going as high as they can.
Be sure to provide areas in the cage where your Northern squirrel can climb; often branches are good for this as are ropes made of cotton fibers. Provide nest boxes and soft nesting materials such as paper towels or newspapers.
Food and Water
Like many rodents, flying squirrels eat a variety of foods. As pets, nuts, seeds, parrot biscuits, fruits, vegetables, mealworms, lichens, fungi, and other treats are given to Northern flying squirrels together along with a calcium supplement to create a complete diet.
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 rounds out the nutritional requirements of a squirrel along with the added calcium.
Prepackaged, formulated diets can be found online for flying squirrels as well, but these vary in their nutritional value.
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 file 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.
Common Health Problems
Northern flying squirrels are generally hardy, and other than an occasional calcium deficiency, are not prone to any common rodent diseases. Look for a veterinarian in your area who specializes in rodent care so you can ensure your pet is healthy.
Purchasing Your Northern Flying Squirrel
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 them as pets.
Most flying squirrels that are purchased from a breeder are sent home as babies with their new owners. They are then bottle-fed for a few weeks to encourage bonding with their new parent. Fabric pouches are worn around flying squirrel owner necks inside their shirts with the new squirrels inside to allow the squirrel to recognize the owner's scent.
With the bottle-feeding, neck pouches, and the owner's T-shirt kept in the squirrel's cage, a strong bond is made with a baby Northern flying squirrel. This is just like the bonding that is done with pet sugar gliders and their owners.
With a lot of handling at a young age, proper care, and exercise, Northern flying squirrels can make very entertaining and interesting pets for the right person. Make sure you have everything you need for your new squirrel before bringing them home so that you can spend all your spare time bonding with your new pet.
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, here are some other animals that may be of interest:
Otherwise, check out these other pets you may like.