Squirrel Dentition

It’s raining squirrels

This year’s second brood of baby squirrels continues to arrive at WildCare in record numbers! Last year, from August 1 – September 10, 2019 we admitted 70 baby squirrels. This year, over the same date range, we have admitted 110! And they keep coming in!

Baby squirrels have large heads, which means that when they tumble from their nests high in the trees, they often land head- or face-first.

This is exactly what happened to this baby Eastern Gray Squirrel.

She arrived at the Wildlife Hospital with a bloody nose, a split lip, and worst of all, her two upper front teeth, her incisors, completely broken off.

Fortunately, due to the prevalence of tooth injuries in baby squirrel patients, WildCare’s Director of Animal Care, Melanie Piazza has become something of an expert in squirrel dentition. Under her care, this baby’s teeth should regrow… but it is quite a process!

Squirrels are rodents, and one characteristic of rodents is that their teeth continue to grow throughout their lives. Rodents need to chew on hard objects to help keep their teeth at the proper length. These amazing teeth align perfectly in the rodent’s mouth, and both top and bottom teeth wear away perpetually at the same rate.

Sometimes a severe malocclusion like this one can be fixed, but it depends on how the teeth grow back after they have been trimmed. An underlying issue in the squirrel’s jaw that prevents the teeth from growing in proper alignment means the teeth would ultimately puncture through the roof of his mouth.

This is a necessary adaptation, as rodents use their strong jaws and teeth as their primary tools for everything from cracking into food to accessing den space. For instance, beavers use their constantly-growing teeth to cut down trees for their dams. Squirrels need their sharp teeth not only for self-defense, but to crack open many of the foods they like to eat, such as hard shelled nuts and acorns. Can you imagine being able to crack open a walnut with your teeth?

A squirrel would not be able to survive without his specialized teeth, but fortunately for baby squirrels like this one, the fact that rodent teeth grow continuously means that broken or lost incisors aren’t a death sentence, as long as they grow back in properly. This is where WildCare Medical Staff comes in– it is of the utmost importance that regrowing teeth properly align.

The treatment plan

A special tool (actually a paperclip sheathed in vet wrap) allows Med Staff to gently open a baby squirrel’s mouth and work on her teeth.

After having her bloody nose, split lip and broken teeth cleaned, this baby squirrel was given subcutaneous fluids to combat the dehydration from blood loss, the stress of her ordeal and the time she spent on the hot sidewalk before she was rescued. Then she was started on a course of antibiotics to prevent a gum infection and anti-inflammatory pain medication, and was given some time to rest and recover. Once stable, she was offered Pedialyte from a syringe with a soft nipple tip so as to be gentle on her sore gums and to help her digestive system transition from her mother’s milk to our formula.

She will go into Foster Care with a trained squirrel care volunteer, where she will receive formula feeds from a syringe approximately every four hours (that’s around the clock!) for the next few weeks as her teeth grow in.

Teeth must be checked on a regular basis to make sure they are growing in the proper alignment.

During this time, she will also have regular appointments with Medical Staff for dental exams. Because the bottom teeth are the longest and this patient’s are completely intact, they will keep growing. It is of the utmost importance to keep these bottom teeth trimmed for two reasons: first, so the upper teeth can grow in to the length they need to be before being worn down, and second so that the bottom teeth don’t overgrow into the roof of her mouth.

In order to obtain this balance, the teeth must be clipped and filed once a week. Fortunately rodent teeth don’t have the same nerves as human teeth, so the trimming and filing doesn’t hurt the patient. It is stressful, however, as going to the dentist is for many of us!

To complete the procedure, the squirrel is wrapped in a towel like a “burrito” to prevent her from wiggling during the procedure. Because we can’t get our patients to voluntarily open up and say “ahhh,” Medical Staff has devised a tool constructed from a paper clip covered in soft vet wrap to hold the patient’s jaws apart. The paperclip design allows staff to slide the device into the mouth easily the flat way, and then slowly turn it to vertical in the mouth to gently open the jaws.

This allows them to get to the teeth without being bitten (a major consideration when dealing with broken teeth on an adult squirrel patient!), while still allowing the squirrel to breathe easily.

The trimming and filing is done as quickly as possible, and the squirrel is returned to her cage with her Foster Care sibling squirrels.

Thanks to the speed at which rodent teeth grow, and this useful expertise of Medical Staff, this squirrel (and many others like her) will be chomping nuts in no time.

With luck, this baby’s teeth should regrow within two or three weeks, and she will be able to be released back to the wild as soon as she is old enough.

This entry was posted in Wildlife Patient Stories by Alison Hermance.

12 Responses to “Squirrel Dentition”

  1. Sharon Johnson

    How do I share this?

    Reply
    • Alison Hermance

      Uh oh, it looks like our share buttons are malfunctioning! We are working on fixing the problem, but until it is fixed you can share the story by copying and pasting the link. Sorry for the inconvenience!

      Reply
      • Alison Hermance

        Aaaaand now it looks like they’re working again! You should see the social media share buttons on the right-hand side of the page across from the video. There was a slight delay when I tested it, but it did eventually connect me to my social media sites.

        Reply
        • Janice Green

          What a great job you do for our wildlife and animals. I love all animals, wild or domestic and we must continue to protect, love and give them the tight to live. We are so proud of a team like you that will protect and care for them when need be. Blessings to all your furry friends and tram.

          Reply
  2. Lindsay E Mugglestone

    Great story! Lucky little squirrel.

    Reply
  3. Naila M Johnston

    God bless our animals and our animal HEROES!!
    Thank you for all you do!!

    Reply
  4. Stephanie Prescott

    Thank your for the good news you send–and the good work you do. (And who knew that rodents’ teeth continue to grow throughout their lives!)

    Reply
  5. Missy Harris

    Thank you for caring for these wonderful animals!

    Reply
  6. Lisa Blanck

    so sweet! caring for the smallest among us 🙂

    Reply
  7. Ellen Marie Domeny

    We just dropped off a 1 month old orphaned baby squirrel. We’ve had both bobcat kittens and baby foxes in the neighborhood and we think that is what got momma. This little squirrel was the cutest thing we ever saw, playing by itself and romping around the hillside in our backyard. But then that evening, it was lingering by our back door! Like a little tiny baby with nowhere to go. We watched it slowly tuck itself under the wood deck and that’s when we realized it was in trouble and immediately dialed Wildcare. It was such a relief to speak with someone (Nicole & Susanne) and get advice on what to do. We decided to let it try and survive the night outside and check in the morning. But I was so worried about this little critter and heard the fox during the night and hoped the baby squirrel would not be found out. The next morning we waited anxiously for it to appear. This was the day that the sun was obscured by smoke, the skies were a glowing orange and it never really got light. But the little baby squirrel finally appeared around 10:00 A.M. and I was so relieved he survived. he came down from the other side of the yard and it became apparent momma was nowhere around. So with instructions from Wildcare, my husband caught it and dropped it off at Wildcare. It was a 1 month old female that would have been with its mother for another 4-6 weeks! We hope to be part of her release back into the local habitat. It would be so fun to see a squirrel romping around knowing it might be her. Wildcare provided us with such peace of mind. I love this organization and will continue to donate often.

    Reply
  8. Francesca M Austin

    I read this article with great interest – being a bird room volunteer (before Covid stopped older volunteers like me) I don’t do much with squirrels. I had no idea that this was a common injury but certainly understand how a heavy head can hit the ground first, breaking teeth. Same thing happened when my daughter climbed out of her crib at age 10 months and fell head first, sending her two front teeth through her lips – she (and we) survived! Great save, Wildcare rehabbers and squirrel foster parents, of those very important front teeth.

    Reply
  9. Marley Mcdermott

    Thank you for caring & helpful God’s creations. There all beautiful.

    Reply

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