Emergency Treatment for MBD
Get calcium into the squirrel IMMEDIATELY! Not later, not tomorrow - NOW. Delaying treatment can cause death or permanent paralysis.
You will need:
Tums, rolaids, or calcium supplement (any kind)*
A syringe or spoon
Crush one pill and add a little water or fruit juice to make a toothpaste consistency mixture. Use a syringe or spoon to force-feed the mixture to the squirrel.
On the first day, getting calcium in the squirrel’s system quickly is more important than the type of calcium or amount. After you give the initial dose of calcium, give 100 mg every 4 hours (50 mg for smaller squirrels such as red squirrels, flyers, or juveniles less than 12 weeks old). Going forward, most squirrels will need around 500 mg per day (250 mg for flyers or small squirrels). See the Long-Term Treatment for MBD below.
*Any kind of calcium pill is okay for the first dose, and you can use Tums for a few days, but long-term it’s best to use plain calcium carbonate (without Vitamin D).
The easiest way to dose calcium in the long term is to mix it with a small amount of peanut butter, crushed nuts, yogurt, baby food, or any wet/moist food your squirrel likes. This way you don't have to continue to force-feed the straight calcium, which is stressful for the squirrel.
Example: If you mix 500 mg of calcium with 1/2 teaspoon of peanut butter and roll it into 5 little balls, each ball will contain 100 mg calcium. You can also mix the calcium with formula or fruit juice which can be licked from a syringe or spoon. You might need to experiment to find what works best for your squirrel.
What to Watch For…
Your squirrel's symptoms should improve within a few hours or days (younger squirrels typically respond faster). If the squirrel is feeling better but still paralyzed, they may have a spinal injury due to weak bones.
The acute symptoms (weakness, loss of appetite, lethargy, seizures, paralysis) will usually improve within a few hours or days, but this does not mean the squirrel is cured. It will take months to rebuild the calcium levels in the bones to a healthy level.
MBD causes brittle bones that break easily. You should pad the bottom of your squirrel's cage and keep them away from high places, where they might jump and break a bone and injure themself.
Heat is soothing for a squirrel with MBD. Use a heating pad set on low heat (make sure he can't chew the pad or cord) or a rice buddy (a sock filled with dry rice/beans, microwaved for about 20 seconds).
Long-Term Treatment for MBD
1. Calcium Dosage
Starting on the second day, most squirrels will begin with 500 mg elemental calcium per day (250 mg for flyers, etc.) divided into 5 doses. See How to Read a Calcium Label below for more information. Note: the label on Henry's Healthy Calcium uses elemental calcium.
Keep notes on how much calcium you give so you can adjust the dosage if needed. It is best to work with someone knowledgeable about MBD when adjusting the dosage.
The goal is to give enough calcium to eliminate all symptoms, but not so much that your squirrel is excreting extra calcium in his urine or feces.
- Within 1-5 days, your squirrel should be alert, active, and eating, with no seizures or paralysis. If your squirrel is still having symptoms or is having "ups and downs" during the day, you may need to increase the dosage. You can also try giving out smaller doses more often.
- White feces or a white film on dried urine may mean the dosage can be reduced. Giving smaller doses more often can also help with this, as smaller, more frequent doses are easier to absorb.
Note: Once your squirrel begins eating Henry's blocks, you should cut his calcium dosage in half because the blocks also contain calcium.
2. The next step to curing MBD is to fix the diet:
- Remove ALL seeds, nuts, corn, and treats, including stashes.
- Follow the Healthy Diet for Pet Squirrels. Your squirrel MUST eat blocks every day to receive a steady dose of calcium - as well as other essential vitamins and minerals.
3. Gradually Reduce the Dosage Over Time
Once you have figured out the best dosage schedule for your squirrel, they are eating Henry’s blocks every day and remain in stable condition for 2 weeks, you can reduce the total daily amount of calcium by 50 mg. Continue reducing the dosage every 2 weeks until the squirrel is only getting 50 mg of extra calcium per day. Then after 2 months, try eliminating the extra calcium supplements altogether.
If symptoms return at any point, give an emergency 100 mg dose, then go back to a higher dosage for 2 weeks. Be careful with dosage reductions; always carefully watch for any return of symptoms. MBD relapses are very serious and often fatal.
Note: This MBD treatment is a "standardized" treatment that will get most cases on the road to recovery. However, the treatment for each squirrel may be slightly different, depending on the age of the squirrel, severity of disease, and other factors.
How to Read a Calcium Label
The information below will help you figure out how much elemental calcium is in your Tums. Remember, when dosing calcium, it’s the elemental calcium that counts!
Quick Guide to the Calcium Content of Tums:
- Regular Strength: 200 mg/per tablet
- Extra Strength 750: 300 mg/per tablet
- Ultra Strength 1000: 400 mg/per tablet
How to Read a Calcium Supplement Label
Don’t rely on the front label!
You would think that each tablet of “Tums Ultra Strength 1000” would contain 1,000 mg of calcium - but that’s incorrect!
Look at the label on the back of the package.
Here you can see that each tablet contains 1,000 mg of calcium carbonate. Calcium carbonate contains around 40% pure calcium - that means each tablet contains around 400 mg calcium.
Further down the label, you can find the “Other Information”. These will always state the amount of calcium - not “calcium carbonate” or “calcium citrate”, just calcium - and that means elemental (or pure) calcium.
Here you can see it states that each tablet contains 400 mg elemental calcium.