Squirrels going days without food is a concerning yet common occurrence, especially in wintertime. If you’ve noticed a squirrel looking especially skinny or lethargic lately, you may be wondering – just how long can these bushy-tailed creatures survive without food?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Squirrels can live without food for around 7-10 days on average before starvation sets in. However, many factors impact their survival rate.

What Is the Average Starvation Timeline for Squirrels?

Squirrels are resilient creatures that can survive for a period of time without food. However, there is a limit to how long they can go before starvation sets in. Here is an overview of the typical starvation timeline for squirrels:

Day 1-3: Squirrels Start Living Off Fat Reserves

During the first few days without food, squirrels start utilizing their fat reserves for energy. They have built up substantial fat stores which allow them to function normally during this initial period. The squirrels remain active, foraging for food and going about their usual routines.

Their bodies have not yet begun metabolizing muscle or experiencing adverse effects. At this stage, the squirrels are simply living off their backup energy supply of fat.

Day 4-7: Extreme Hunger Sets In

After four to seven days without food, squirrels start becoming extremely hungry. With their fat reserves dwindling, their bodies ramp up signals and urges to eat. The squirrels may seem more frantic in their search for food.

During this phase, they start breaking down muscle tissue to create glucose for energy. This leads to muscle wasting and overall body weakness. Their immune system also weakens, making them more susceptible to predators and disease.

Day 7-10: Risk of Organ Failure & Death

By day seven to ten without food, squirrels are on the brink of death from starvation. With virtually no fat reserves left, extreme muscle wasting, and organ function decline, they are very weak and lethargic.

Starving squirrels may fall from trees as they no longer have the strength to hold on. They also often lose their evasion instincts and fall prey to predators they would normally outmaneuver.

Death typically occurs between seven and ten days due to heart or liver failure. The precise timeline depends on factors like the squirrel’s age, health status, time of year, and degree of stress.

In rare cases, very healthy squirrels in ideal weather conditions have survived up to 21 days without food before succumbing to starvation.

The best hope for squirrels facing starvation is to get access to food in time to regain strength and reverse the severe effects on their bodies. Even finding scraps or nuts from bird feeders can make the difference between life or death.

What Factors Impact How Long Squirrels Can Go Without Food?

Season and Temperature

Squirrels can survive longer without food during warmer seasons like spring and summer. When it’s warm, squirrels don’t need to expend as much energy to maintain their body temperature. This allows them to conserve more energy and fat reserves when food is scarce.

During cold winters, squirrels have to use more energy to keep warm, so their food reserves get depleted faster. If it’s below freezing for an extended time, squirrels may only survive 1-2 weeks without food before starvation sets in.

Age and Health Condition

A squirrel’s age and overall health impacts its ability to go without food. Young, healthy squirrels can generally go longer without eating than older or sick individuals. Older squirrels have lower energy levels and may not have robust fat reserves built up.

Any illness or injury that causes pain or discomfort will also accelerate the depletion of a squirrel’s resources. While healthy adult squirrels may last over a month without food, elderly or unwell ones may only make it a few weeks at most.

Built Up Winter Fat Reserves

The time of year makes a big difference in how long squirrels can go without food. In the fall, squirrels spend weeks busily building up fat reserves to survive the winter. According to National Geographic, they may amass enough body fat to comprise up to 50% of their weight.

With these substantial reserves, healthy squirrels can last over a month in winter without additional food. By spring, their reserves are depleted, so going more than 2-3 weeks without eating becomes life threatening.

Summer brings plenty of food, allowing squirrels to replenish their fat stores before the next winter.

How Can You Help a Hungry Squirrel in Winter?

Winter can be an extremely difficult time for squirrels to find food. As temperatures drop and food sources become scarce, caring humans can take steps to help their hungry squirrel neighbors survive until spring.

Provide Supplementary Food Sources

One of the best ways to help squirrels in winter is to give them extra food. Some good options include:

  • Nuts – Acorns, walnuts, pecans, almonds. These are a natural part of a squirrel’s diet.
  • Seeds – Unsalted sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, etc. Look for seed mixes designed for wild birds.
  • Fruits – Apples, berries, mangoes, pears. Cut into small pieces.
  • Vegetables – Carrots, corn, peas, broccoli. Again, cut into small, bite-sized portions.

Avoid seasoned mixes or snacks made for humans, as these can be unhealthy for squirrels. The best approach is to replicate foods a squirrel would naturally forage in warmer seasons.

Use Specialized Feeders

Placing food directly on the ground may attract rodents other than squirrels. A better option is to use squirrel-specific feeders, such as:

  • Platform feeders – Flat trays or platforms raised off the ground. These allow squirrels to eat while keeping food away from mice and rats.
  • Tube feeders – Cylindrical transparent tubes with perches. Squirrels climb onto the perches to reach the food inside.
  • Box feeders – Enclosed plastic or wooden boxes with cut-out holes. The holes are sized so only squirrels can enter.

Position feeders near trees or structures where you know squirrels are active. Keep them filled regularly with fresh food and water.

Provide Nesting Materials

In addition to food, squirrels appreciate materials to build their winter nests. You can leave natural items like:

  • Pine cones
  • Leaves
  • Twigs
  • Bark strips
  • Moss

Avoid synthetic fabrics, which can tangle around squirrels. Place nesting materials under trees or near den sites.

Let Squirrels Know Food is Available

It may take time for squirrels to discover and grow accustomed to your new feeders. You can encourage them by:

  • Placing feeders near active squirrel habitats
  • Sprinkling some food on the ground at first, then gradually only filling the feeder
  • Using bright-colored feeders that attract their attention
  • Making subtle sounds or tapping on the feeder
  • Applying strong-smelling extracts near the feeder, like vanilla or almond

With patience, hungry squirrels will learn to visit feeders and nesting areas. Just be sure to maintain fresh supplies as long as cold weather persists.

Avoid Direct Interaction

When helping squirrels, do not try to touch, handle, or interact with them directly. Squirrels are still wild animals that can bite or scratch if frightened. Admire them from a distance for their own health and safety.

With some creativity and care, you can give squirrels a survival boost in tough winters until springtime returns. These resourceful creatures will appreciate the support.

When to Call Wildlife Rescue for Starving Squirrels

Seeing a sick or injured squirrel can be heartbreaking. As caring people, our natural instinct is to want to help. But when is it appropriate to intervene, and when is it best to let nature take its course? Here are some tips on determining when to call wildlife rescue:

Look for signs of starvation

A starving squirrel may exhibit some of the following symptoms:

  • Appearing thin and emaciated
  • Moving slowly and weakly
  • Constantly foraging for food
  • Approaching humans for food
  • Having a hunched posture

If the squirrel seems unable to find food on its own, it likely needs assistance to survive. Healthy squirrels are normally adept foragers and climbers.

Assess the squirrel’s age

Baby squirrels found alone almost certainly need help. They are unable to survive without their mother before 8-10 weeks old. If you find a baby squirrel on the ground crying and looking for its mother, it needs to be rescued.

For adults, assess their body condition. A healthy adult should not need intervention. But a starving, injured or ill adult needs rehabilitation.

Consider the time of year

During warmer months, squirrels can easily find natural food sources like nuts, seeds, fruits and fungi. But deep winter and spring can be lean times when squirrels struggle to find enough to eat.

If you spot a scrawny squirrel in mid-late winter, early spring, it likely needs a supplemental food source until natural food becomes abundant again.

Provide supplemental feeding

Before calling a wildlife rehabilitator, you can try offering supplemental food and water to see if the squirrel recovers on its own. Provide nutritious foods like unsalted nuts, seeds, hard boiled eggs, fruits and vegetables. Offer water in a low bowl.

Monitor the squirrel for several days. If it begins acting normally again, intervention may not be needed. But if there is no improvement, bring it to a wildlife rehab center for professional care.

With supportive care from wildlife rescuers, most starving squirrels can fully recover and be released back to the wild. So don’t hesitate to reach out for help if a squirrel seems in distress.


In conclusion, squirrels can only survive about 7-10 days without food before the effects of starvation endanger their lives. Frigid winter temperatures and lack of food supplies make it extra difficult for squirrels to endure long periods of hunger.

If you spot a squirrel who seems to be struggling with obvious rib bones, lethargy or trouble walking, it likely urgently needs nutritional support. Providing healthy foods like nuts, seeds and fruit can give starving squirrels a lifesaving boost to help them hold on until springtime brings renewed foraging opportunities.

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