Northern Flying Squirrel Species Profile

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 require similar care to that of sugar gliders and even pet birds, but they do have their own unique requirements. Even though they are high-energy, nocturnal rodents who love to climb and glide, as pets they also require many hours of hands-on attention and socializing with their owner.

Flying squirrels require spacious cages and like many other rodents, they need hard things to chew on to keep their teeth trimmed and healthy. Flying squirrels are entertaining to watch, and they have fun personalities. They can make a great pet for the right person, but they are high-maintenance animals that require a fair amount of supervision. As such, they are not ideal pets for young children.

Species Overview

Common Name: Northern flying squirrels

Scientific Name: Glaucomys sabrinus

Adult Size: 8 to 10 inches long (including the tail), weighing up to 4 ounces

Life Expectancy: 10 to 15 years in captivity

Northern Flying Squirrel Behavior and Temperament

Northern flying squirrels don’t "fly" with actual wings but rather, they glide from tree to tree by spreading their arms and legs apart. The kite-like skin folds between their front and back legs can catch even a light breeze, so they appear to be flying. These skin folds are called patagium, and this membrane acts like a parachute that allows the flying squirrel to glide more than 100 feet in a single bound.

While there are 44 species of flying squirrels, just two of these species, the Northern and Southern flying squirrels, are native to North America. These animals are extremely wary of people in the wild, and it would 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 accidental injury, 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 awoken to their squirrel sleeping at their feet or on their pillows. Some squirrels may also try to 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.

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 metal cages are also available with different bar spacing sizes for different bird species.

By adding chicken wire mesh to all inside surfaces of the cage, some owners can modify a store-bought cage that has wider bar spacings. This works well and is usually less expensive than purchasing a cage with smaller bar spacings, yet this retrofit is time-consuming. Care must be taken to avoid any sharp edges and missed surfaces.

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. Provide nest boxes and soft nesting materials such as non-colored paper towels or inkless newspaper.

Food and Water

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 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 and other than an occasional calcium deficiency, they are not prone to any common rodent diseases. 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.

Is It Legal to Own a Pet 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 these wild species as pets. Legal acquisition of a pet Northern flying squirrel is typically obtained only through a breeder and then by securing the proper state permits; this varies by state.

Purchasing Your Northern Flying Squirrel

Most flying squirrels that are purchased from a breeder are sent home with their new owners while they are still babies. They are then bottle-fed for a few weeks to encourage bonding with their new parent.

The process of bonding with a pet squirrel is the same process that is followed by owners of pet sugar glider babies. Owners need to wear fabric pouches around their necks but inside their shirt. Keeping the new squirrel inside this pouch allows the baby to learn to recognize the owner's scent.

With the bottle-feeding, neck pouches, and keeping the owner's T-shirt in the squirrel's cage, a strong bond is made with a baby Northern flying squirrel. With sufficient handling at a young age, proper care, and good exercise, Northern flying squirrels can make very entertaining and interesting pets for a very attentive person. Make sure you have everything your new squirrel will need before bringing it home so that you can spend all of your time bonding with your baby 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, check out these other small exotic species:

Otherwise, check out other exotic animals that can be your pet.