Signs of a Dying Squirrel (And What To Do)

As an avid squirrel enthusiast with years of experience observing these energetic creatures, I often get asked how to tell if a squirrel is dying or nearing the end of its life. Spotting the signs of a dying squirrel can be difficult, but is important to recognize so that we can minimize any suffering the animal may be enduring.

In this guide, I’ll share the top indicators to look for that signal a squirrel may be dying. I’ll also provide tips on steps to take if you encounter a squirrel in distress.

How to Quickly Spot the Signs of a Dying Squirrel

Here are the most common physical and behavioral changes to look out for when trying to determine if a squirrel may be dying or extremely ill:

  • Lethargy and lack of energy – Healthy squirrels are very active and agile. A dying squirrel will often appear weak, slow-moving, or immobile.
  • Labored breathing – Watch for signs of respiratory distress like rapid, shallow breaths or making gasping sounds.
  • Discharge – You may notice mucus, pus, or even blood coming from the nose or mouth.
  • Weight loss – Squirrels nearing death often appear emaciated or underweight.
  • Poor coat condition – The fur may be dirty, matted, or bald patches may be present.
  • Unresponsiveness – The squirrel doesn’t react to noise, movement, or other external stimuli.
  • Loss of appetite – A dying squirrel will likely have no interest in food or water.

Recognizing Shock or Trauma in Squirrels

In addition to illness, signs of a dying squirrel may indicate the animal is in severe shock or has experienced physical trauma. Here’s what to look for:

  • Dilated pupils – Wide, dilated pupils that don’t respond to light can indicate shock.
  • Cold extremities – The paws or tail may feel cool to the touch due to reduced blood flow.
  • Trembling – Shivering or muscle spasms may be present.
  • Erratic behavior – Disorientation, stumbling, seizures, or convulsions can occur.
  • Visible injury – Look for wounds, broken bones, burns, or other impairments.

If a squirrel exhibits these signs but has no obvious external injuries, internal trauma may be present. Timely veterinary care gives the animal the greatest chance of survival.

Understanding Squirrel Body Language

In addition to physical symptoms, observing squirrel body language and posture can provide clues about their health status. Here are some important indicators:

  • Lying on the side – A healthy squirrel rarely lies stretched out. This can indicate injury, exhaustion, or neurological issues.
  • Head tilt or shaking – This can signal an inner ear disturbance or neurological problem.
  • Dragging rear legs – This may indicate spinal injury or pelvic fractures.
  • Self-mutilation – Excessive scratching, biting, or picking at their own bodies could signal extreme pain or neurological disease.
  • Walking in circles – This abnormal, repetitive motion is a sign of neurological or inner ear disease.

Take note if the squirrel is showing a limp, favored leg, lack of coordination, seizures, spasms, or unnatural movements. These warrant an exam by a wildlife veterinarian.

Signs of Illness in Squirrels

In addition to trauma, signs of a dying squirrel may be the result of disease or illness. Here are some common ailments to look out for:

Skin Conditions

  • Mange – Caused by mites, results in extreme hair loss and thickened skin.
  • Abscesses – Pockets of pus under the skin caused by bacterial infections.
  • Tumors or growths – Can indicate cancerous lesions or benign fatty masses.
  • Wounds/sores – Signs of injury or illness, often become infected.

Other Diseases

  • Distemper – Contagious viral infection that causes seizures, respiratory issues, lethargy, and poor coordination.
  • Mange – Caused by mites, results in extreme hair loss and thickened skin.
  • Abscesses – Pockets of pus under the skin caused by bacterial infections.
  • Rodent botfly infestation – Parasitic maggots burrow into squirrel flesh, usually the neck/head region.

These conditions require veterinary diagnosis and treatment. An experienced rehabber can also provide supportive care to give the squirrel its best chance of recovery.

What to Do if You Find a Sick or Dying Squirrel

If you encounter a squirrel displaying concerning symptoms, here are some steps to help:

  1. Observe from a distance – Note any visible injuries, abnormal behaviors, or signs of illness. Do not approach closely.
  2. Contact wildlife rehabilitator – They can best assess if intervention is needed and provide appropriate care instructions.
  3. Limit noise/activity – This helps reduce additional stress until help arrives.
  4. Follow rehabber instructions – They may advise leaving the animal alone or safely capturing and transporting it for treatment.
  5. Never administer food/water – Without understanding the squirrel’s condition, you could do more harm than good.
  6. Be cautious in handling it – Squirrels can bite and scratch when scared or in pain. Use thick gloves and towels.
  7. Squirrel not moving but alive – It is possible that a squirrel is not moving but breathing heavily due to illness, injury, or simply taking a break.

With quick action, even severely compromised squirrels can sometimes be nursed back to full health. But the key is contacting experts right away to ensure the animal isn’t suffering needlessly.


Identifying signs of a dying squirrel takes keen observation skills. Lethargy, labored breathing, unresponsiveness, and lack of appetite are some of the most telling indicators.

Trauma symptoms like dilated pupils and cold extremities may also be present. And visible skin conditions, parasites, or abnormal behaviors can signal underlying illness.

If you suspect a squirrel is unwell, contact wildlife rehabilitators right away to help assess the animal’s condition and recovery prospects.

With proper care, even very ill squirrels can sometimes fully recover. By understanding squirrel biology and behavior, we can better recognize when they require a helping hand.


What are some specific signs of neurological issues in squirrels?

Neurological signs to watch for include head tilting, circling or repetitive motions, limb weakness, lack of coordination, seizures, and unnatural postures like dragging legs. These suggest issues with the brain, spine, nerves, or inner ear.

How can you tell if a squirrel is cold or overheated?

A too-cold squirrel may shiver, seem lethargic, or hunch with limbs pulled in. Overheating signs include heavy panting, limbs splayed out, and salivating. Check the color of gums/tongue – they should be bubblegum pink. Pale gums indicate circulatory issues.

What are some tips for safe handling of an injured or ill squirrel?

Always wear heavy gloves to avoid bites. Cover with a towel to minimize stress. Use a thick cardboard box or animal carrier lined with soft t-shirts or blankets for transport. Keep the animal in a quiet, climate-controlled space while awaiting wildlife rehab assistance.

How soon do squirrel health issues need to be addressed?

It’s crucial to contact a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as concerning symptoms are noticed. Illnesses can rapidly escalate. Timely rehab intervention, even for badly compromised squirrels, can increase the chance of recovery.

What else should you avoid doing for a sick or injured squirrel?

Never give medications, fluids, or home remedies without rehabber guidance. Don’t attempt to keep an ill squirrel – they require expert evaluation and species-specific treatment. Never release a sick or impaired squirrel – they need supervised rehabilitation first.