Patches- A furry tale with a Super Squirrel and mange treatment

Last fall, we put up a birdfeeder in our backyard that turned our suburban Seattle backyard into a mini-zoo. There were chickadees, nuthatches, jays, robins, thrushes, towhees and many other birds. To keep the squirrels from destroying my birdfeeder, I kept a ground feeding tray for them.

Soon I could recognize the lovable pests. There was the mischievous fat squirrel, Rascal, the competitive brothers (I later realized they were mates) Chip and Dale, and some other regulars. By January, our backyard pets associated me with the F-word… FOOD.

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Rascal the birdfeeder destroyer

Chip and Dale fighting

Chip and Dale fighting

 Most of them were happy co-existing with me, but one little guy decided to go where no squirrels dared. One day, as I watched him finish his food from behind the window, he stood up on his hind legs, clasped his hands, looked straight into my eyes and waited expectantly.

Hungry-puppy pose

Hungry-puppy pose

 I thought I was going nuts, because lately I’d been staying home so much. Then it happened the next day, and the next. I put a finger against the window and he bounded right up to it, pawing at the glass and looking back and forth from me to the table where I kept the food. This little guy really was talking to me!

And so started an extraordinary friendship. Every time I went downstairs for breakfast or lunch, he ran up to the window and assumed his hungry-puppy pose. He was tuning himself to my routine! He bounded around excitedly in a flash of gray fur when I spotted him, and soon stayed put at the tray when I went to refill it.

patches mange stage 1

Initial balding along spine and shoulders

Then he started balding along his spine and shoulders. At first, it was just a little bit, but then he lost hair at an alarming rate. It was still March and quite cold, so I feared he would freeze to death. Frantic, I found a squirrel lovers’ forum, The Squirrel Board, to determine whether this was molting or something else. They were stumped, because it looked like Mange, a common fungal skin disorder, but he didn’t have scaly skin, a major symptom of Mange. Mange was a possibility as Seattle is wet almost all year through. They suggested the antibiotic paste Ivermectin 1.87%, but wrong/over dosage can be lethal, so I refrained from treating him yet.

To make things worse, as his fur thinned I realized my squirrel, Patches, was a she. It was early spring and she was probably a nursing mom, and I wasn’t sure how safe Ivermectin would be for her kits.

I eventually found a blog by a squirrel rehabilitator, which made me quite certain her skin condition was Dermatophytosis, and the best way to treat her was to give her a good diet and virgin coconut oil. So I gave her Kaytee Forti-diet for hamsters and gerbils, half a walnut with quarter teaspoon of coconut oil and some powder from cuttlefish bone (normally found in the pet bird section). It’s the closest I could find to the recommended KayTee Forti-Diet for Rats and Mice.

Patches eating2 JPEG

Patches and I are BFFS

By March end, Patches and I had become inseparable. She scampered up to me as I sat out, held my hand with her little paws, put her little snout in my palms and nibbled away. She liked to show off, too. When other squirrels competed for food, she’d call for me. When I went out and other squirrels backed off a few feet, she’d scamper up to me boldly and hang out, showing her fellow squirrels how close we were. She knew I always gave her second servings and after that, the walnut as a dessert, so she pleaded (read demanded) only twice. Sometimes she’d ask for some other food. No I’m not nuts, people, this squirrel talked.

She was a big bully too. Sometimes this 1.5 pound creature sat near my feet and growled, trying to dominate me like she bullied the other squirrels. A loud clap and an admonishment worked and after a few times, we finally established the alpha in the relationship and she recognized my saying “good girl” as a cue to scuttle away.

But her condition got worse. By April, she was completely bald waist up. Her exposed skin turned gray but not scaly, so I finally guessed it was another form of Mange, called Notoedric Mange. Desperate, I started administering the Ivermectin hidden in her walnut, hoping that her kits were old enough to handle it as well. If she didn’t show up for a few days, I agonized that I’d killed her. But Patches is a super squirrel. In three weeks, she stopped balding. In four, she had fine fur on her upper body. By end of May, Patches had turned into a fur ball. She did develop some fresh bald patches on her lower body, but she managed to grow it back, so maybe that bit was molting.

patches mange stage 3 jpeg

4th week. Her bald upper body has fine fur.

Patches mange stage 4 jpeg

Dosage completed. Upper body furry, lower body molting

I was delighted I could do my bit for my furry friend, although I was terrified I may have killed her kits. But I recently saw her hopping along with a little squirrel, I really hope it was her kit.

As our rental lease expiration approaches, with a heavy heart, we’ve decided to wean our backyard pets so they’ll be self-sufficient by fall. So starting June, we now feed them just once a week, unless someone looks obviously hungry.

I haven’t seen Patches in weeks, but last I saw her, she was happy, healthy and bullying other squirrels as usual. Thanks to her, all the animals in our yard see us as friends, and many other squirrels now eat right next to us as we sit out. But no one has talked to us. The Jays, however, have learned how to ask for food, and the little chickadees stay put, grumbling impatiently, when we go out.

Although I miss her sorely, I know it’s for the good. Patches taught me so many things, and she gave me the greatest gift of all—her trust. Coming from a wild animal, it’s exhilarating and fulfilling like nothing else.

She’ll always occupy a special patch in my heart, for I know she’s a one in a million squirrel.

Patches healed

Healthy, happy and hungry

Endnotes:

Want to see Patches in Action? Watch here

I’m just another squirrel lover who somehow managed to treat a wild squirrel. Please check with an expert or a squirrel lover’s forum if you see a sick squirrel and want to help.

Notoedric Mange was my best guess and Ivermectin did work, but I’d like to know what Patches really had. If you know, please tell me!

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About chaitanya

Since the day I realized that making two words rhyme was the first step to poetry (a step I've now thankfully outgrown) I've been writing. I've just been too shy to blog. But What is the Question? is a baby step toward exploring my blogability. I aim to post twice a month and I'll try my very best to not bore you, because I hate boring blogs too! Keep checking back in!

Posted on June 25, 2013, in Food for Thought and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Nice Post! its so nice to know you’re doing something nice for our furry little friends! Let me know if I can be of assistance in any way.

    And I’d love to introduce Patches to the wonders of of a certain Mr Johnnie Walker, But I don’t think she’d take it so well.

    PS: How do you know its a she??? 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks Rohit! I dearly miss Patches although it was I who cut myself off. How do I know she’s a female? To put it delicately, you can see her nursing mom parts 🙂

      Did you know alcohol is poisonous to animals? So please don’t try it with your furry friend!

      Like

      • 🙂 I was curious to know

        And yes, alcohol is detrimental to animals. I wont be trying that out anytime soon. Patches is so deft with her movements( I think all squirrels are). I was wondering how she’d be if she were a little high-thats all. I’d never actually do that.

        Like

      • haha, got you… I’ve seen my friends try that with their dogs and it was hilarious at the time, although we weren’t aware of this fact then.

        Patches is super quick, even for a squirrel!

        Like

  2. love and care !! Loved knowing how you got pally to Patches and how you stood by your friend in times of need.I have normally seen these creatures behave very shy and defensive .. hence the physical closeness which you developed with Patches was indeed an indication of her trust on you!! I am now gonna watch the video too 🙂

    Like

    • Thanks, they know when they can lower their guards around someone, and they saw that we were no threat.
      Although other animals in our yard have become comfortable with us, no one is as expressive as her.

      Like

  3. That was a treat of a post. Reminded me of Mahadevi Verma’s Gillu. Thanks for sharing.

    Like

  4. Patches seems really connected to you…:)
    Thanks for sharing the concerned forums. My mum loves squirrel…perhaps more than me 😦 we have 2 as pet and they are no less than an army of lunatics 😛 We enjoy there company a lot 🙂

    Like

  5. This is so heart-warming. Please don’t go, extend your lease.

    Like

  6. Incredible story there. What happened after?

    Thanks!

    Like

  7. I hope that there was a way you could tell the next tenants that they were used to being treated kindly by you so that the people don’t treat them as “extra nuisances” and call some wildlife control (aka killer) to “get rid of them” and hopefully they let them wean themselves away from your kindness or even better if they are kind to them themselves! I have a really good relationship with my squirrels too and so far have asked my neighbor to take over and wean them (unless it’s winter) slowly from depending on “my house” if something happens to me. 🙂

    Like

    • It is so heartening that you have thought so far into the future, feeding squirrels/birds is defly a responsibility as we need to provide a reliable, healthy source of food. I’m happy to say that I successfully weaned my squirrels/birds. I was concerned that the next tenants might have issues, or cats(I like cats, but they like eating squirrels). By the time we left at the end of summer, our backyard wildlife had found plenty of food in other places. I missed them, but it’s for their best!

      Like

  8. Great story, beautifully written, betraying your love for squirrels – congratulations on appreciating the most adorable animal on earth!

    Yes, Patches is a very special squirrel. Such squirrels are one in a hundred. The reason she was looking into your eyes was because she recognized your love for her. She reciprocated by trusting you.

    It seems to me that Patches skin disorder was dermatophytosis, caused most likely by malnutrition. Patches looks as though she was still nursing her babies; close to weaning: Her udders are still large, teats erect; her lower body heavier. I had the same situation with my beloved Grebka. She was losing her fur rapidly; was scratching herself all the time. I gave her a mixture of peanut butter and coconut oil and her fur started soon regrowing rapidly.

    Do not feed squirrels with gloves on, though!

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    Liked by 1 person

    • Mathews,

      Thanks for your thoughtful message, it’s so good to hear encouraging words from another squirrel lover! Gaining a wild animal’s trust and friendship and being able to help in a small way was fulfilling like nothing else. In my new home, I continue to feed squirrels (and even a rabbit), but none of them have communicated like Patches, I miss her terribly.
      It’s good to know my amateur diagnosis was right, although it looks like I could have done without Ivermectin after all. I did, however, administer it about a month after that picture was taken, so I hope the kids were weaned by then. I’ll also include peanut butter in the future for any sick squirrel, thanks for these suggestions.
      I only wore gloves because I wasn’t sure if she had mange, and if it’s transferable to humans. I hope it doesn’t introduce harmful chemicals into the food?

      Like

  9. I would have had to take her and her kitten with me.

    She may have suffered shock and passed due to your absence – I hope not. Seen it happen though.

    We have a boy, Buddy, who is about 5 months. He runs free in our home, a few hours a day and is very intelligent. People asked, “Doesn’t he destroy things?”. No, he doesn’t. We raised him from a week.or two old, after a hurricane skimmed b the Florida coast and blew hundreds of babies out of their nests. It was touch and go got a while, but, with the help of some experts, he’s now a healthy boy. We couldn’t have released him, though, because, he is a midget. He only grew a little, as the others passed him in size. But, he is amazing. We take him to the mall and once inside and in a area where there aren’t many people, he gets on my.shoulder and stays there until it’s time to leave. Then he hopes right in the let carrier, ready to get out in the car and sit on the steering wheel.

    I know you miss your friend and you should be commended for helping her.

    Like

    • Buddy sounds super cute! Squirrels are very intelligent creatures! It is wonderful that in such a difficult time you thought of rescuing the little fellas.
      I was very tempted to do the same, but since she was happy being an alpha in her territory and since we travel a lot, we decided to slowly wean her off of our food. It took me 3 months to do that and by then end I was only keepin out a few morsels every week just to check if all my squirrels were well. They were, and I’m happy to have done my bit.

      Like

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