Squirrels have a taste for nuts and will go to great lengths to get them. But what happens if you offer salted peanuts instead of regular ones? Can too much salt hurt squirrels? This comprehensive guide dives deep into whether squirrels can safely eat salted peanuts.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Squirrels can eat small amounts of salted peanuts on occasion. However, too much dietary salt is unhealthy for squirrels and can cause serious medical issues over time.

In this nearly 3000 word guide, you’ll learn about squirrel diets, their salt tolerance, how much is too much, signs of salt toxicity, safer snack alternatives, and tips to support local squirrel health.

Understanding Squirrel Diets

Natural Food Sources

In the wild, squirrels consume a variety of natural foods to meet their nutritional needs. Tree squirrels like eastern gray squirrels and fox squirrels feed primarily on nuts, acorns, tree sap, berries, mushrooms, roots, tree bark and buds.

Ground squirrels like chipmunks also eat nuts, seeds, fruits and fungi, but have a taste for insects, eggs and baby birds when available.

These natural food sources provide squirrels with carbohydrates and essential vitamins and minerals. However, their diets change based on the season – in warmer months they eat more readily available fruits, seeds and insects. In winter, nuts and fungi become staple foods.

Squirrels spend fall collecting and storing nuts to survive harsh winters.

Human-Provided Foods

Many people enjoy feeding squirrels, which leads these bushy-tailed creatures to also consume human foods outside their natural diets. Squirrels readily accept peanuts, corn, cereal, bread, pet food, bird seed and even salty snack foods like chips and pretzels.

Urban squirrels in particular get up to 25% of calories from human foods.

While amusing to provide, research shows that a human diet has risks for squirrels. A 2020 study found city squirrels had more heart disease from the unhealthy fats, sugars and sodium in human food. Wildlife rehabilitators also report more obesity and salt toxicity cases.

So experts recommend limiting salty human foods.

Ideal Nutritional Balance

Nutrient Function
Protein Building muscle
Fats Energy and warmth
Carbs Main energy source
Vitamin C Collagen formation
Calcium Bone strength

To meet all nutritional needs, squirrels should consume a balanced mix of proteins to support growth and activity, healthy fats to store energy for winter, complex carbs as their main energy source, plus vitamins and minerals for immune function and bodily processes.

While the occasional peanut won’t harm them, a predominantly human diet prevents squirrels from getting this complete nutrition. For good health, squirrels require their natural foods – berries, nuts, sap, fungi, eggs, and so forth. So when feeding squirrels, unsalted nuts and seeds are best.

Squirrels and Salt Tolerance

Sodium Requirements for Squirrels

Like humans, squirrels need some sodium in their diets to maintain proper fluid balance, nerve function, and metabolism. However, their requirements are much lower than ours. Squirrels’ natural diets of nuts, seeds, fruits, and veggies contain adequate levels of sodium for their needs.

In fact, squirrels only need approximately 10-20 mg of sodium per day. For reference, most humans require at least 500 mg per day.

Health Risks of Too Much Salt

While small amounts of sodium are beneficial, too much can be harmful to squirrels’ health. Excessive sodium intake can lead to issues like:

  • High blood pressure
  • Kidney strain
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

High-sodium foods also increase thirst, which can potentially cause squirrels to drink too much water. This can disrupt their fluid and electrolyte balance.

Safe Upper Limits

There are no definitive maximum sodium guidelines established specifically for squirrels. However, experts generally recommend limiting their salt intake to no more than 50-100 mg per day as an upper safe limit. Going above this on a regular basis may jeopardize their health over time.

The bottom line is that squirrels have very minimal sodium needs. While small infrequent amounts of salty foods like salted peanuts aren’t necessarily harmful, they should not make up a significant portion of squirrels’ diets.

Signs of Salt Toxicity in Squirrels

Excessive Thirst

One of the first signs that a squirrel is suffering from too much salt intake is increased thirst. The high salt concentration in the body causes the squirrel to lose more water and become dehydrated. To compensate, the squirrel will desperately drink any water it can find trying to rehydrate itself.

You may observe squirrels drinking frequently from bird baths, puddles, dripping outdoor faucets, etc. if they are dealing with salt toxicity.

Appetite Changes

Too much salt can negatively impact a squirrel’s appetite in a couple key ways:

  • Loss of appetite – High sodium levels sometimes lead to nausea and stomach discomfort, making the squirrel disinterested in eating.
  • Increased hunger – In other cases, the body craves more food trying to balance electrolyte levels, so the squirrel seems hungrier than normal.

If you notice squirrels that typically greedily eat all peanuts you put out are starting to eat less or are acting extra voracious, it may be tied to salt toxicity.

Gastrointestinal Distress

In addition to appetite abnormalities, squirrels with salt poisoning often deal with unpleasant gastrointestinal issues like:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Constipation
  • Bloating and cramping

The GI tract struggles to manage the irrigation caused by excess sodium. These symptoms result and can lead to dangerous dehydration if severe.

Disorientation and Lethargy

As sodium poisoning progresses in squirrels, you may observe them acting confused about their surroundings or lacking their normal energetic demeanor. Excess salt causes fluid shifts that affect hydration in the brain and central nervous system.

Squirrels become increasingly lethargic and uncoordinated. They struggle orienting themselves properly or fail to respond to threats that would normally cause them to scurry away. These are major red flags of salt toxicity requiring immediate veterinary assistance.

Seizures in Extreme Cases

If squirrels with high salt intake go untreated, the worst symptom that can arise is seizures. Unbalanced sodium and potassium levels affect nerve function, causing the muscles and brain to act erratically.

Seizures render the squirrel extremely vulnerable to predators, falling from trees, and serious injury. Any wildlife rehabilitator observing seizures would immediately begin emergency supportive treatment to try stabilizing the squirrel before permanent damage or death occurs.

While the occasional salted peanut likely poses little harm, too much dietary sodium can clearly endanger squirrels’ health. Monitoring for these symptoms allows quick intervention to reverse salt poisoning.

Veterinary formulas exist to bind excess salt and restore normal hydration and electrolyte balance. So with proper treatment, squirrels can fully recover if salt toxicity is caught early enough.

Healthier Snack Alternatives

When offering snacks to squirrels, it’s important to provide options that are nutritious and healthy. While salted peanuts may seem like an easy choice, too much salt is not good for squirrels. Fortunately, there are many great alternatives that squirrels love and that offer health benefits.

Unsalted Nuts

One of the best options is unsalted nuts, such as almonds, pecans, walnuts, and hazelnuts. These provide protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants without added salt. When buying unshelled nuts, look for those with no salt or flavorings added.

You can also find raw shelled nuts, though these are often pricier.

Unsalted nuts make great on-the-go snacks for active squirrels. They are full of nutrients to help maintain healthy muscles, organs, bones, and fur. Just be sure to chop large nuts into bite-sized pieces so they are easier for squirrels to eat.

Chopped Fruit and Berries

Squirrels also enjoy fresh fruits and berries like apples, pears, bananas, oranges, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and more. These offer natural sugars, fiber, vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients that support overall health.

The key is chopping or slicing the fruits into small, squirrel-friendly pieces. Whole fruits can be choking hazards. You can include a mix of 3-4 different fruits or berries to give some variety.

Leafy Greens and Vegetables

Don’t forget vegetables! Leafy greens like kale, spinach, lettuces, and fresh veggies like broccoli, carrots, sweet potatoes, green beans, snap peas, and more make nutritious squirrel treats. They provide vitamins A, C, K, fiber, antioxidants, and other benefits.

Chop the greens and veggies into bite-sized portions. You can mix them into fruit mixes or serve them separately. Squirrels typically prefer sweeter produce but offering some greens and veggies adds important nutrition.

Vegetable/Fruit Key Nutrients
Kale Vitamins A, C, K
Carrots Vitamin A
Broccoli Vitamins C, K
Blueberries Antioxidants

Whole Grains

Some healthy whole grain options for squirrels include cooked brown rice, barley, buckwheat, millet, and more. These provide B vitamins, iron, fiber, protein, and magnesium.

The key is properly preparing the grains by boiling until soft, then chopping them into pieces once cooled. Combining whole grains with nuts, fruits, and veggies makes a nutritionally balanced snack mix.

When putting together squirrel snack mixes, variety is key for providing a spectrum of vitamins, minerals, and other beneficial compounds. Rotate different fruits, veggies, nuts, and grains to cover all the bases. This gives squirrels the nutrition they need to stay energized and healthy.

Supporting Local Squirrel Health

Provide Clean Water Sources

Access to clean water is crucial for squirrels’ health. We can support local squirrel populations by providing fresh water sources like bird baths or small outdoor ponds. Be sure to change the water daily to prevent mosquito breeding.

Squirrels will appreciate the hydration, especially during hot summer months when water needs are highest.

Offer a Nutritious Variety of Foods

While squirrels enjoy peanuts, feeding them too many salty snacks can lead to health issues. It’s best to offer a nutritious variety like walnuts, almonds, pecans, hazelnuts, and unsalted peanuts. Squirrels also enjoy fresh fruits and veggies like apples, carrots, lettuce greens, broccoli florets, and corn kernels.

Having a diverse “menu” ensures squirrels get the vitamins and minerals they need.

Avoid Overfeeding

It’s easy to overfeed local squirrels without meaning to. But an unlimited food source can lead to obesity, territorial fighting, and dependency on humans for survival. Stick to scatter feeding small amounts in different locations to prevent these issues.

Signs it’s time to cut back include aggressive behavior over food and squirrels stashing excess amounts.

Know Signs of Illness

Keep an eye out for any signs of disease in your local squirrels, like lethargy, hair loss, seizures, and discharge from eyes/nose. These may indicate potentially contagious illnesses like mange or distemper that require swift wildlife rehabilitator intervention.

Familiarize yourself with common squirrel diseases so you can act fast if trouble arises.

Contact Wildlife Rehabilitators When Needed

If you spot injured, sick, or orphaned squirrels in your area, resist the urge to intervene yourself. Squirrels are wild animals that can bite or scratch when frightened. Instead, immediately contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator to handle the situation properly.

With quick professional assistance, the squirrel will have the best chance of recovery and safe return to nature.


While an occasional salted peanut won’t severely harm them, squirrels don’t need dietary salt and can easily eat too much. For their healthiest, salt-free diets with natural foods or unsalted nuts and seeds are best.

Avoid overfeeding, be mindful of signs of illness, and contact wildlife rehabilitators if needed. With a little care, we can all support the neighborhood squirrels around us.

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