Ever since I started rehabilitating orphaned and injured squirrels many years ago, I would often read a reference to squirrels "purring." Among the numerous squirrels I've raised from infancy or toddler hood, I had never heard a "purr" from any of them. Chirps, barks and squeals, yes, but purrs, no!
I have a handicapped squirrel named Lucky who has been part of our family for almost two years. According to conventional Rehabilitation standards, I'm supposed to euthanize her because; "If you can not return an animal to the wild, it should be euthanized!" Other so-called "experts" have said; "Squirrels only make good pets for the first six months of their lives, then they become too wild and unpredictable to safely keep as pets." While I agree that a healthy squirrel with no physical handicap should absolutely be allowed to choose to return to the wild, I contend that a squirrel has at least the "potential" to be a good and loving pet! But, I'm a maverick when it comes to agreeing with conventional wisdom!
Even though Squirrel Nutrition is my specialty, I've learned a lot from my little female blind squirrel! And just this week, I discovered that she does indeed purr! That is, if you want to call it a purr. It sounds more like the sound a pig makes when it is rooting around in the dirt for food, only very soft and quiet. I think the reason I never heard it before is because her huge habitat, that takes up 25% of a wall in my office, is located near my computer that has a constant background noise from the cooling fan. The sound is so soft, that you have to have your ear very close to her when she is doing it.
This piqued my curiosity as to what initiates this audible behavior. What I discovered was that it seemed to be a direct response to only certain attention I give her. I can take food to her and she will accept it, then, in typical squirrel fashion, will turn her back on me and treat me like a threat to that food. If I try to pet her when she has food she will either try to move away or turn and push my fingers away. I've always wondered why there are times when she will not come out of her cage willingly, while other times she will jump right on to my hand as soon as I put it in the cage. It all has to do with that purr!
The purr appears to be a willingness for social interaction. If I walk up to her cage and talk to her and say her name, she will eventually come to the side of the cage and check me out. Since she is a blind squirrel, when she realizes it's me, she starts quietly purring, or as I call it, "oinking," indicating that she knows who I am and she's willing to come out as soon as I open the cage. The conclusion I draw from this is that squirrels purr when they feel safe, contented and willing to interact with others! It makes me feel really good to think that our Lucky girl feels safe and contented and that she is able to verbalize that to us!