A Southern Flying Squirrel Makes An Interesting and Unusual Pet
Flying Squirrels are arboreal nocturnal creatures not generally found in the pet trade. But the Southern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys volans) is sometimes available in states where it is legal to own. Southern Flying Squirrels used to be a very popular turn-of-the-century pet in the southern United States.
If you are ready for a commitment of time and energy and want a unique pet, then consider a flying squirrel. While not legal for ownership in most states of the U.S., there are some states that do allow flying squirrel ownership. You need to check with your state’s Fish & Game Dept. to know the laws.
It is not worth the risk and fines to be caught with an illegally-obtained squirrel pet. If you are lucky, you live in a state that allows and sells Flying Squirrels from reputable breeders. This is the only best way to acquire your fancy pet through legal and up-front means while not affecting the wild population.
Captive Bred, or Wild-Caught Flying Squirrel?
Captive-bred is the best choice for acquiring a flying squirrel as they will already be acclimated to being around humans. They would be healthy and known to be disease-free and it is best if possible to get one weaned recently. This way they will bond more easily with you and perhaps even be friendlier and more accepting of you.
With a lifespan of 6 to possibly as much as 15 years when kept in captivity, your pet will be with you for a very long time.
Do Flying Squirrels Really Fly?
No. Flying Squirrels don’t actually ‘fly’ of course, they glide. They will make leaps from high objects to escape and it is not uncommon for your pet squirrel to make a glide from you to another object. Keep this in mind if you are carrying your pet around onto, say, a balcony. One leap and you may just lose your pet to the wild.
They are also nocturnal but if kept as a pet they will wake and be active around your schedule and interactions with them. This is similar to the activities of other nocturnal pets such as the spiny hedgehog, or ferrets, which sleep a lot during the day as well.
Similar to the Sugar Glider, Flying Squirrels are Easier to Care For and Feed
With a similar appearance to the Sugar Glider (which is actually a 'Gliding Possum' and not a true squirrel,) the Southern and Northern Flying Squirrel have several advantages over their Aussie lookalikes.
Flying squirrels prefer living singly whereas Sugar Gliders are happiest in pairs, same-gender ‘buddies’ is deemed acceptable.
Male or female, the temperament of the Flying Squirrel is fairly similar so either gender would be a fine choice.
Feeding a Natural Diet to your Flying Squirrel
Being a native North American creature, it would be easier for owners in this hemisphere to feed their pet a more natural diet whereas the Sugar Glider is necessarily denied many of their natural food choices.
Flying Squirrels will eat seeds, nuts, grains, and fruits of many varieties. They are particularly fond of the seeds of pine trees. Fungi and tree buds, flowers, nuts & seeds, wild berries of the region, -it's all good!
They will also consume fledgling birds and the eggs of these same nesting birds. Opportunistic, almost anything is on the menu. A wide and varied diet is a very healthy bet. A calcium supplement is required for the captive Flying Squirrel. Many calcium supplement products for small mammals are available at your favorite pet store.
Unlike the sugar Glider, the teeth of the flying Squirrel do grow continually throughout their lifetime and as such, they require branches, bark and bones to gnaw upon.
They are also called the Eastern Flying Squirrel, "Glaucomys volans."
Their teeth can grow as much as 5 or 6 inches per year, so gnawing helps to maintain proper length. Herein probably lays the kernel root of why some misguided pet owners and even misinformed vets ‘float’ or ‘clip’ the teeth of Sugar Gliders. It is in the mistaken notion that their teeth will continue to grow. Sugar Glider teeth do not continually grow, so floating/clipping is a painful, useless and cruel procedure. Provide them with branches and bones to chew upon and let their teeth behave as they would in nature.
Housing a Flying Squirrel Pet
Housing multiple Flying Squirrels (or Sugar Gliders for that matter) most likely requires the same tactic used with ferret ownership. that is, 1.5 beds per captive rounding-up to the nearest whole number.
In other words, one creature needs two places to sleep while two squirrels housed together require three separate places to sleep, and so forth. This is a good rule of thumb and should be carried-over into ownership of Flying Squirrels as well. It reduces stress and provides variety and alleviates boredom and stress as well. It can contribute to a socially well-behaved pet flying squirrel.
Flying Squirrels have no real diseases to be immediately concerned about, although one should make sure that your pet is free of fleas and ticks. They would likely only have these if wild-caught or have proximity to animals that interact with the outdoors such as a dog or cat in the home that has outdoor privileges. Keep your squirrel away from the dog or cat. Of course, any fleas that the dog or cat import to the home can eventually find their way into your squirrel’s cage and thus, onto your pet so make sure they are prevented from havng fleas and mites too.
Avoid the Use of Cedar and Pine Wood Chips with Small Mammals such as the Flying Squirrel
A reminder too that wood chips (especially cedar) is a very poor substrate because it is known to give off phenol vapors which are toxic to small mammals. Small mammals including Sugar Gliders and Flying Squirrels are prone to respiratory distress, so cedar chips are very toxic for them. There are better substrates available for small mammals that are safe and phenol-toxicity-free.
(To the left) The similar but slightly larger Northern Flying Squirrel has tawny brown coat instead of gray. Like the Southern Flying Squirrel, this northern variety is an important prey-specie for meat-eating animals such as the endangered spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) which is probably part of why ownership of flying squirrels is illegal.
Trapping or capturing (as in live-catching traps) for the pet trade is unlawful as it might interfere with the diet of another endangered specie.
Like the Southern Flying Squirrels, the Northern Flying Squirrels will co-habitat in winter for warmth and here, the record the the most Northern Flying Squirrels cohabiting in one nest is a communal group of nearly 50 individuals.
Flying squirrels of both species are known to disseminate fungus spores and pine seeds in their fecals, thus spreading flora and keeping the forest healthy with new growth patterns of plants and trees. Again, another reason for their protection from the pet trade.
Wild-Caught Flying Squirrels, and Legality of Ownership
Flying Squirrels when wild-caught are not nearly as frantic and upset as are Grey squirrels, which become violent with fear and rage of the injustice of being caged. The very temperament of Flying Squirrels along with their cuteness and that lovable fluffy tail invites desire to have one for a domestic pet!
But the legality of owning squirrels varies from state to state, so you are responsible to know this in advance. Having a ‘pet’ squirrel is possibly a misnomer if the squirrel is wild-caught and domesticated to the point of being ‘un-releasable.’ There is a fine point of distinction therein.
But if you find yourself lucky enough to have a Flying Squirrel for a pet you will enjoy the company of a very entertaining creature that will bring you a lot of joy for years to come.