The Story of Rusty the Red

Original Author: Steve Willis

The inspiring story of two very dedicated humans and one very lucky red squirrel kitten. Rescuing and rehabilitating any wild animal is fraught with challenges and red squirrels are no exception. Here is the tail, sorry tale, of Rusty the Red!


Here is an account of the rehabilitation of a red squirrel kitten by two phenomenally dedicated volunteers, Dawn and Terry. Based in north east Scotland they have picked up a great deal of knowledge and experience of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife. Whilst they had never reared a red squirrel before they knew enough about what young animals need to give it a fighting chance.

We must emphasise that this sort of thing should only be undertaken by experienced professionals and that the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SSPCA) should always be contacted in the first instance upon finding an injured red squirrel.

Over to Dawn and Terry…

‘Rusty was brought in to the vets on 20th August after being found on a road. At that point he weighed 80g and was heaving with lice, fleas and the odd tick. After some research, we learned that it was safe to use an Ivermectin based mite treatment for birds which worked well. We estimated him to be about 4 to 5 weeks old.

Rusty as a tiny kitten, when he was first brought into the vets. 

We carried him around in a hat and fed him on demand with kitten replacement milk using a syringe with a long teat on it. At that stage he was feeding every 2 hours or so, and 2 or 3 times during the night. He was ‘toiletted’ at every feed.

He progressed well, gaining weight rapidly, 30g a week easily and becoming increasingly active as the days went by. We began to wean him after a couple of weeks, using reduced sugar Farleys Rusks in kitten milk to start with, then offering a selection of different foods such as pine nuts, hazelnuts, broccoli, and a rat/mouse mix. Twice a week he had a couple of drops of Abidec childrens multivitamin, which he took willingly. He became able to go to the loo by himself and was pretty clean, weeing in one spot.

Red squirrel kittens will spend much of their first few weeks sleeping in a cosy drey. To re-create the same conditions Dawn and Terry wrapped him a fleece hat. Note the ‘hot water bottle’- a rubber glove filled with warm water!

Now, at about 9 or 10 weeks old he weighs 220g and he is ready for the next stage of his life. He lives free in the spare bedroom where he has hazel and pine boughs (as well as wardrobes!) to climb on and he has learned to shell, eat and hide wild hazelnuts which we have collected from the woods. Interestingly, he much prefers these over most other foods, and will eat them in preference to shop-bought nuts. He has a natural mistrust of strangers and anything else that is unfamiliar, which we hope will stand him in good stead for his life in the wild. He has never been caged, so has developed good strength and agility.

Rusty tucks into a fantastic range of foods- everything a developing animal needs.

So now we prepare to say goodbye to this little fellow. We shall take him to the SSPCA on Tuesday where he will be put into an indoor aviary and introduced to another squirrel of about his age, then he will be moved to a large outdoor aviary in a quiet part of the centre and will have very little human interaction whilst he learns the skills he will need for the future. Finally, he will be taken to a release site where the squirrels are fed and from that point he will be free.

Rusty weighing in at an impressive 226g. A fantastic turn-around in fortunes- he has nearly tripled in weight in just over a month. All thanks to Dawn and Terry!

We wish him well, we have been privileged to have had this time with such a beautiful animal and he has taught us much.’

If you find an injured or abandoned red squirrel our advice is to contact the SSPCA directly. If the squirrel appears to be diseased then also contact your local Saving Scotland’s Red Squirrels Project Officer as soon as you can. Rusty is now with the SSPCA and we will try and update you on his progress!

HUGE thanks to Dawn and Terry for their amazing efforts and dedication!!!

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