It’s difficult to catch squirrels in the act of bathing but not because it’s an especially rare behavior. They’re just a little too quick for most of us to see. The best way to spot how squirrels bathe is to sit and watch your garden from indoors.
Squirrels prefer taking a dust bath to clean their coats and keep free from parasites rather than washing in water. Squirrels roll in the dirt, twisting and tumbling in circles to remove grime, loose hairs and excess oils from their coat. Squirrels have extremely dense coats which can take a long time to dry if they wash in water.
When they chance upon a location where the soil is dry and sandy, they’ll roll in the dirt until their fur is covered in powdery dust. There are various reasons for this which we’ll discuss a little later.
How Do Squirrels Take A Bath
You’re unlikely to see squirrels dust bathing unless you’re purposely looking out for the behavior. They’re shy, cautious mammals with all the jumpiness you’d expect from a prey animal.
I’ve seen the squirrels in my garden bathing, but it took several weeks of quiet observation before they trusted the environment enough to let their guard down.
If you don’t know what you’re observing, it can look a little strange. Squirrels roll in the dirt, twisting and tumbling in circles, head first, then feet, then head first again.
Some move so fast they look like they’re in distress but there’s no need to worry. They’re just keeping their coats clean and free of parasites.
Dust bathing is common in mammals and especially small rodents. Squirrels, chinchillas, degus, hamsters, and some species of rat bathe in this way.
Dust bathing removes grime, loose hairs and excess oils from a squirrel’s coat in the same way water would but without the risk of prolonged dampness.
Squirrels have extremely dense coats which can take a long time to dry. Being such small animals, prolonged wetness can quickly lead to hypothermia and death.
It’s just not worth the risk when out in the wild where food may be scarce, and predators are abundant. Squirrels flip-flop around in the dust instead and take great pleasure in their bathing routine.
Social Grooming and Bathing
Squirrels dust bathe alone though they may keep watch for one another while they do so. Rolling around in the mud can leave these animals in a vulnerable position and some groups will alarm-call to warn of approaching predators.
Social grooming does occur among squirrels though it is harder to spot due to their speed and ability to blend into the tree line.
Grooming includes rubbing, scratching, licking and gnawing and is not too dissimilar to the grooming behaviors seen in primates.
Squirrels groom one another to strengthen their bonds and remove fleas and other parasites. Social grooming occurs most often between younger siblings.
How Often Do Squirrels Bathe
Squirrels take dust baths 2 to 3 times per week. It’s important they don’t overdo it as the dust can dry out their skin.
Squirrels kept as domestic pets should be provided with a deep-bottomed container, such as a washing-up bowl, for dust bathing. Remove it from the cage, enclosure or room after your pet has finished tumbling and rolling.
If you want to provide a dust bath for the wild squirrels in your yard, fill a washing-up bowl halfway with chinchilla dust and place it somewhere up off the ground.
You could even tie it to a pole or overhanging branch to create the equivalent of a swinging hot tub for your furry friends.
Can You Give A Squirrel A Bath
You can give a squirrel a bath however it’s unlikely you’d ever need to. The only circumstance to give a squirrel a water bath is when you’re hand raising a sick squirrel.
If a baby has severe diarrhea or is infested with lice or ticks, it could be a last resort.
It’s much safer to moisten a cloth and rub the squirrels skin to keep it clean at least until it’s old enough to dust bathe. As already explained, warm water can quickly turn into accelerated heat loss for an animal this small.
Older domesticated squirrels and wild squirrels do not need water baths. Just provide the equipment they need to take dust baths.
How To Bathe A Squirrel
These steps are designed for domestic squirrels that have been hand-reared as pets, but you can try them out on wild squirrels as well.
Simply leave the bathing container in a safe spot where it’s not in the direct path of cats and other garden predators.
1 – Get yourself a deep-bottomed container with smooth sides. A standard washing-up bowl is perfect for this.
2 – Cover the bottom with a fine dust that’s safe for bathing. Squirrels bathe in the natural dirt they find outdoors but it’s unlikely you’ll find a good spot unless you live in a very dry region. The best approach is to buy a bag of Chinchilla Dust Bath from Amazon. That way you know it’s safe and parasite-free.
3 – Put the dust bath in your squirrel’s enclosure or atop a flat surface where it’s not going to slide off the edge as the animal wriggles and rolls.
4 – Step aside and allow your squirrel to enjoy themselves. Remove the dust container when they’ve had enough. If a pet squirrel is under stimulated, they may bathe excessively for entertainment, and this can create skin problems. Remove the dust bath when it’s no longer needed.
5 – Repeat 2 to 3 times per week for a healthy, happy squirrel.
Helpful Tips To Know When Bathing A Squirrel
Here are some things to remember when caring for a pet squirrel:
- It is rare for wild squirrels to bathe in water. Avoid submerging a pet squirrel’s body in water even if it’s a comfortable temperature. This is extra important for kittens as they lose body heat very quickly when wet.
- To clean a squirrel that is too young to dust bathe, moisten a damp cloth and gently rub the animal’s skin. Keep the baby as warm as possible afterward to prevent dangerous levels of heat loss.
- Never use perfumed or scented products on a pet squirrel or any other rodent. It may impair their coat’s natural ability to produce pheromones and keep them warm and rainproof.
- When providing a dust bath to a pet squirrel, make sure it’s capable of climbing out of the container by itself or stay nearby to supervise and intervene where necessary. Squirrels are superb climbers so it’s rare for them to get stuck. A washing-up bowl has high sides but they’re a good size for a limber squirrel. Avoid using a container with higher sides than this.
- If you want to spot groups of squirrels engaging in mutual grooming behaviors, leave food out in your garden but observe from indoors. You’ll need a window that’s big enough to look out onto your yard. It’ll take time, perhaps even several weeks, but be patient and stay still and you might see the squirrels in the trees come down to play.
It’s worth noting that squirrels don’t make great pets. In many states, it’s illegal to own one because it’s so difficult to meet their basic needs.
They require an expensive, constantly varied diet, have razor-sharp teeth and claws and can become depressed if they don’t have lots of space and freedom to move around.
Squirrels are not easy to care for so if you find an abandoned squirrel, I strongly recommend you take it to the nearest vet.
Remember, it’s much more responsible to make friends with the wild squirrels in your yard than it is to keep one as a pet.