Four 6-week-old squirrels were discovered on train tracks in Berlin, Connecticut, last week. Their tails were braided in pairs, then the two knots were braided into one big tangle, Kensington Bird and Animal Hospital said.
Their tails incurred a few broken bones, which can heal, but lost blood flow often means amputation. One of the squirrels has already had its tail amputated, Anthony Dibella, a veterinary technician at the hospital, told CNN.
It's not uncommon for baby squirrels to naturally get their tails stuck together. It can happen in the wild if their mother doesn't clean them well enough or sap leaks into their nest and on their tails. The result is a sticky, painful mess -- kind of like if you got superglue stuck to your fingers, he said.
The difference with these squirrels, he said, is that when vet staff untangled their tails, they were clean -- and the braids were symmetrical.
"There was no sticking factor, which is why we think this was done purposely," he said.
Losing a tail is a big deal for baby squirrels
Despite their injuries, the squirrels are eating on their own now. Like any wild animal, they're feisty but frightened to be around people, he said.
"Squirrels revert back to the wild easily," he said. "The big factor is how well they can function without the tail."
A squirrel's tail is a security blanket of sorts that keeps them warm in the winter and cool in the summer and helps them balance when they're skittering up trees or across power lines. If they lose it at a young age in the wild, the injury could prove fatal.
It'll take a few weeks for the amputee squirrel to recover from its wounds.
In the meantime, Dibella said the hospital's contacted local animal control and the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protections to investigate the incident as animal abuse. Neither department responded to phone calls from CNN for comment.