A cross-sectional survey to evaluate the pet squirrel population and ownership profiles.
While the presence of squirrels in households is growing, little data is published on their status in captivity. A web-based questionnaire for owners was devised eliciting information about them, their squirrels and their squirrels' husbandry and health. One hundred owners answered the survey, with most respondents being located in Europe (n=81). Only data from these respondents were analysed. Twenty-five percents of the owners housed an invasive non-native species of European Union concern (S. carolinensis and T. sibiricus), some of which were younger than three years of age and all but one were sexually intact. This is of particular concern, as the acquisition of these invasive species is illegal since 2015 (European Union Regulation 1143/2014), due to the severe threats they pose to biodiversity. Moreover, escapes derived from improper keeping of intact specimens may augment feral populations or establish new colonies. Among 81 cases, only 5% were neutered, mostly for health reasons. Sixty-three percents of the squirrels had health problems, particularly dermatologic (52%) and intestinal disorders (34%). Most owners reported to visit the veterinarian only if their pet was ill rather than for preventive care. This is the first survey on pet squirrel ownership reported to date. Information that emerges from this study will be useful in implementing rational veterinary strategies for managing pet squirrels properly and, in parallel, meeting the challenges arising from private keeping of alien species.