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How Long Can a Squirrel Go Without Water?

Kristie Leong M.D. is a family practitioner who believes in the power of nutrition and a healthy lifestyle to prevent and fight illness.

How long can a squirrel go without water? Squirrels are an essential part of any backyard ecosystem and a natural part of the food chain. They even help aerate your soil and keep it healthy by digging holes in the ground. So, we want the little critters around!

With summers growing hotter from climate, survival during times of drought becomes more of an issue for all animals including squirrels. Does this endanger squirrels? Let's look at how squirrels get their water and how long they can survive if they don’t have access to it.

Squirrels Need Water for Survival

Water is essential to life. Animals can live longer without food than without water. Every cell in a squirrel's body needs water to survive. Up to 60% of a squirrel's weight is made up of water, and every organ and system in its body depends on it. Water is important for:

  • Maintaining fluid balance
  • Transporting substances through the body
  • Maintaining a healthy body temperature
  • Healthy kidney and liver function
  • Producing saliva and for digestion
  • Joint health

Ideally, squirrels should get water throughout the day. How long can a squirrel go without water? It depends on whether they have access to food with high water content. If they don’t, they will only survive for a few days.

However, their bodies can adapt in ways that help them conserve fluid, so they may survive as long as 4 days, even if they don’t have access to water or food that’s high in water.

Squirrels Can Adapt To Lack Of Water

One way they compensate is by producing less urine to conserve fluids. Squirrels have another clever tactic for surviving when they don't have water and when temperatures are hot outside. They crawl into burrows underground where it's cooler.

As they cool down, their body temperature drops, their metabolism slows, and they require less water. It's not ideal but it can help a squirrel survive for a short time without water.

Another trick squirrels use when they overheat is to "sploot," or spread their body across any cool surface they can find to lower their body temperature. If you see a squirrel lying on the ground with their feet up in the air, they may be splooting to cool off.

Where Squirrels Get Water

Squirrels get water from many sources including:

  • Bird baths
  • Ponds
  • Puddles of water
  • Snow
  • Dog bowls
  • Rivers
  • Streams
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Squirrels also get water from the foods they eat. By eating food with high water content, like vegetables they snag from gardens and fruit from trees, squirrels require less water from other sources.

These frisky creatures can also get water by eating leaves and other insects. During the winter, they can eat snow off the ground to help meet their water requirements.

Therefore, it's not common for a squirrel to die from dehydration since they have so many sources of water. But with climate change, they may have to further adapt to avoid dehydration.

Fortunately, squirrels can survive only a few ounces of water per day if they have access to foods that contain water.

Squirrels That Hibernate Can Survive For Longer Without Water

Most squirrels don’t hibernate but there is a species that does. It’s called the 13-lined ground squirrel (Ictidomys tridecemlineatus). These squirrels can survive for 8 months without drinking water or eating food. How do they do it?

Scientists discovered they remove electrolytes and glucose from their blood and store them elsewhere in their body so their blood concentration stays in a healthier range during their hibernation. Plus, their heart rate and metabolism slow, so they need less water. However, most squirrels have not acquired this adaptation.

Squirrels Aren’t Efficient At Sweating

One way humans lose water to release heat is by sweating. Squirrels only have a few sweat glands on the bottom of their feet and between their toes. Therefore, sweating isn’t their main way of regulating body temperature.

They also don’t lose a lot of water from sweating like humans can. When temperatures get too hot, they week out the coolest spot possible and slow their activity to avoid overheating.

If the temperatures are high and squirrels don’t have enough water, they can develop heat exhaustion or heat stroke just as humans can. Heat stroke is a medical emergency that can cause brain damage or death.

If you have a pet squirrel, make sure they always have adequate water and a cool place to hide from the heat and cool off.

Lack of Water Is Harmful to Squirrels and Other Wildlife

How long can a squirrel go without water? Several days, but longer if they have access to food with a high water content like fruits, vegetables, leaves, and bugs. It's hard to imagine any creature going without water for very long.

However, if you have squirrels that hang around your home and you're worried about how long they can survive without water, help your furry friends stay hydrated. If you offer them food, ensure it’s fresh and moist so they don't suffer from dehydration.

You can also provide them with a source of water. Be aware that the Humane Society of the United States recommends against feeding wild animals. So, consider the pros and cons of doing so.

References:

  • https://www.facebook.com/MayoClinicHealthSystem. Water: Essential to your body. Mayo Clinic Health System. Published July 22, 2020. Accessed July 6, 2022. https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/water-essential-to-your-body
  • "Biological Roles of Water: Why is water necessary for life?." 26 Sept. 2019, https://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/uncategorized/2019/biological-roles-of-water-why-is-water-necessary-for-life/.
  • "Find answers to wildlife problems - The Humane Society of the United States." https://www.humanesociety.org/wildlife-management-solutions.

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