Southern Flying Squirrels are well suited to domestic life, but require some considerations, as do all creatures. For housing, flying squirrels can be kept caged, but the cage needs to be roomy, perhaps more tall than wide or deep. Ideal cage sizes begin at 2.5'width x 1.5'depth x 3' or 4' height. Because they are naturally arboreal, flyers are most comfortable if they can be kept in an elevated location (a shelf, or on top of a dresser). They like to have at least two nesting places, in a cage, and benefit from having some "playground" apparatus. This can be as simple as a climbing rope or branch. Some find their squirrels will use a rodent wheel. These wheels, however, do represent some danger, as flyers have been known to break their limbs by catching a leg between the wheel and its supporting frame. For this reason, when using an exercise wheel, a wheel that is attached by a spool to the cage may be a safer alternative to the more common "Ferris" type exercise wheels seen in hamster cages.
Optimally, flying squirrels are allowed exercise in a flyer safe room, or aviary, if kept caged. This means a room without any gaps around heating plumbing lines, or other wall holes, and windows that are either kept closed at all times, or fitted with hardware cloth reinforced screens. Vinyl screens represent no barrier, to a flying squirrel. They easily chew through the screening. They are also capable of cutting some fine wire mesh screens, although not so easily as the vinyl. Although not so likely as rabbits and rats, flying squirrels do chew the plastic insulation off appliance cords, and have been known to be electrocuted by exploring the electric outlets in a room. For this reason, the outlets represent some danger, and to be very safe, a plug protector is advised. The ideal flyer room has recessed, covered ceiling lighting. Ceiling fans represent a danger, for flyers do love to jump to the blades. If the fan were in operation, it would without question kill a flyer, should the flyer jump toward it, even if spinning at its lowest setting. For this reason, fitting a ceiling fan with a protective hardware cloth "cage", allowing at least 3" of clearance between the blades and the hardware cloth, is recommended. With a ceiling fan that is suspended from a rod, this is difficult to manage, and thus, it would be best to disconnect any ceiling fan so designed, and remove it from the flyer's room.
In a flyer safe room, you might consider allowing a flyer a closet "drey". They benefit from both the sense of security, and the darkness, a closet can offer. Within the closet, you can allow a shelf for a nest box, and another for a feeding station, with a third for a latrine.
Flying squirrels do not "litter train", but they do tend to use one area as a latrine, and thus, housekeeping is not that difficult. Their dropping are more spontaneously deposited, but are small, dry quickly, and are for the most part odorless. A quick sweep with a vacuum will often do the trick. Perhaps more housekeeping is needed to clean up spent sunflower and pumpkin seed shells, and the emptied shells of filberts, pecans, and other hard nuts.
Young flying squirrels benefit from dedicated personal attention. Carrying a flyer on your person, inside your shirt, during the day, will do much to keep the flyer bonded to you. Allowing the flyer to awaken at its own time, and avoiding the urge to hold the flyer still during its active period, will keep the flyer happy to be on you. Restricting a flyer during the evening, by holding it in your grip, will make any normal and healthy flyer most uncomfortable, and will likely result in your being bitten. Holding in one's hand, without a tight grip, is best done during the daylight hours, and should be taught when the flyer is still quite young. During its waking period, gently caressing the flyer's chin and brow, and gently massaging the flyer's back, when they rest on your torso, is a happier experience than being held tightly in one's palm. Eons of evolution tell all rodents that a grip spells death. Working with, instead of against, this instinctive, evolutionary knowledge, is the way to a happy relationship with a flyer. When a flyer knows you to be its "warm, safe, mobile tree", it will do almost anything to be within immediate reach (jumping distance) of you, and you will be rewarded with a close bond developed through mutual trust, rather than a "friendship" foisted upon the flyer by physical restraint.
Feeding a southern flying squirrel is a simple thing. Hard shelled nuts are vital, as they provide not only nutrition, but necessary tooth care. Like all rodents, flying squirrels have gnawing incisors with open roots, that grow continuously during the squirrel's life. Without hard gnawing surfaces, these teeth can grow too long, and create a serious danger to the squirrel's ability to eat, at all. Hazelnuts, Pecans, Walnuts and Hickories are all favoured by flying squirrels. White oak acorns offer less tooth care, but are still favoured. Red oak acorns are less prized, as they tend to be bitter, and contain more tannin. The flowers, buds and seeds of the sugar maple are enjoyed, as are the same parts of the honey locust. Pine nuts, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed and corn are all enjoyed. Flyers also benefit from fresh fruit and vegetables. Apples, pears, peach, nectarines, plums, grapes and berries (raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackberries), are all important to a flyer's diet. Flyers often enjoy broccoli and cauliflower, and spring greens such as dandelion, and white clover flowers. Insects such as Japanese beetle grubs and June bugs, crickets, and such, are a valuable source of protein, but a word to the wise - collecting from the neighbourhood can be a danger. Even if you do not use pesticides, if your neighbours do (for instance, on their roses, etc), you can wind up poisoning your flyer. It may be better to limit the insect items to those raised specifically for pet use - wax worms, crickets and meal worms are all easily found from pet supply companies. Offering a liberal and varied diet will do much to maintain a healthy flyer.
As is true for all life, a clean source of water is vital. Because of their nocturnal nature, a source of Vitamin D3 is suggested, and the easiest way to provide this is with a liquid multivitamin formulated for mammals, in the dosage recommended for small rodents (do not overdose). A calcium block is often suggested, as is a mineralised salt block (often sold for rabbits, etc.) The advantage of a block over a powder is the little ones seem to know instinctively whether or not they need this mineral in their diet, and will chew on the block only when needed, provided there are other things to use, for the natural desire to gnaw (such as an oak or locust or maple firelog split). Although many use rodent ball-type water bottles, an open dish of water provides perhaps a more natural drinking position, for a squirrel. Care needs to be taken to freshen water daily, when using a liquid vitamin. These squirrels dehydrate easily, and a shallow water dish that cannot be tipped is highly recommended.
If a flying squirrel has many things with which to occupy its time and energy, they will seldom eat themselves into obesity. However, if kept caged, without enough exercise, they can get fat, which will likely shorten their life spans. Most nuts and seeds, and corn, are high-fat foods; thus one should watch a flyer's weight and condition, and offer more fruit than high-fat foods. Still, keep in mind their metabolism is designed for nuts & seeds. A careful balance must be maintained, but offered the variety, and the mental activity, most flyers are capable of monitoring their own diet.
Flying squirrels are very endearing, and quickly become "tuned in" to their human friends. When they mature, they often seem to know just when you really want their company. They may occupy themselves with exploring, or checking on their cache of nuts, etc., but seldom ignore their human, especially if they are "only" flyers. In groups of two or more, they may be less dependent, but they will be no less friendly, if you maintain the contact as they mature.
Flyers do seem to go through some cyclic mood swings, as they mature, and yearly, during the breeding season; but these are easily "ridden out". Rare is the flyer that does not "come back around", given the time and attention, and allowed to come on its terms, not yours. Understanding and patience will go a long way, to insure a happy and long association with a flyer. The rewards are beyond counting! :~}
If you are interested in a companion flying squirrel, I highly recommend you visit the National Flying Squirrel Association's forums, at http://www.nfsa.us/phpBB2 There, you'll be able to correspond with other flying squirrel fanicers, who may be able to provide you with a contact to a hobby flying squirrel breeder.
The above illustrations are:
Boy with Squirrel (aka Portrait of Henry Pelham) (1765), by John Singleton Copley (1738 - 1815)
Deborah Hall (1766), by William Williams (1727 - 1791)
Note in both illustrations, it appears that the flying squirrels are on a fine chain. In fact, it is the humans in the paintings, that are chained, by their affection for their wee companions! Keeping a flying squirrel on any sort of line is not recommended, at all, and is highly dangerous to the well being of the flyer.
The music on this page is: Claude Debussy Arabesque