As you are no doubt aware there are two species of squirrel living in the UK – the native red squirrel and the introduced grey. These advice below primarily relates to grey squirrels as this is by far the more likely species you will encounter. Grey squirrels are sometimes considered vermin but we believe that every animal has the same right to a safe and comfortable life. However, there are legal complications surrounding helping grey squirrels which mean it is illegal to release them into the wild or to keep them without a license. Because of this many organisations will routinely euthanase any grey squirrel casualty. If you need help with a grey squirrel, please get in touch for advice about rescues who will care for them without killing them.
You also need to be aware that squirrels can give a very bad bite when scared so need to be handled with extreme caution.
When to rescue
A squirrel caught by a cat
The squirrel must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause it to develop fatal septicaemia.
A squirrel caught by a dog or hit by a car
The squirrel must be assessed for injuries and treated for shock
A squirrel with a serious injury
Given the legal situation, a mild injury such as a skin wound or sprain should be left to heal in the wild. But if the squirrel has a major injury such as a broken limb or damaged eye, it will need to be rescued.
You can find a wildlife rescue in your area by putting your location into the search facility on our map page.
When to take other action
A baby squirrel out of the nest
It is normal for squirrel mothers to spend the day away from the babies and sometimes they'll get bored and hungry and go for a wander. Mum will usually round them up when she returns. If you know where the nest is, you can return the babies to it. Otherwise, keep pets and children away and observe from a distance. Seek help from a rescue if Mum has not returned by dusk.
A squirrel with bald patches and/or minor skin wounds
Like foxes, squirrels can suffer with sarcoptic mange which causes itching, leading to loss of fur and, in advanced cases, skin damage. This can be treated with a remedy added to their food. Contact your local rescue for help.
When to leave alone
An adult squirrel approaching people for food
This is quite common, especially in parks where they are used to being fed by people. The squirrel may even climb up your leg. If an adult does this it is nothing to worry about, although it shouldn’t be encouraged. In a baby this may be a cry for help.
A squirrel which appears 'frozen' or is making a squawking noise
These are normal reactions to a shock or a close encounter with a predator.
Squirrels can give you quite a nasty bite so should always be handled with care. Never simply pick one up with your bare hands. Cover the squirrel with a thick towel and try to “shuffle” it gently into a box turned on its side. That way you don’t need to actually pick the squirrel up. If this isn’t possible or the squirrel has injuries which doing this may make worse, use the towel to ensure the squirrel cannot see your hand before picking it up.
Your average cardboard box may not be sufficient to contain an angry squirrel. They regularly gnaw through wood so making a hole in cardboard is easy in comparison. Many rescues will have a tale to tell about needing to extract an angry squirrel from behind someone's brake pedal! Try to find a cat carrier or at least a very heavy duty box to put him into and give him a towel for comfort too. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
It is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water if you are getting the squirrel to a rescue quickly. Feeding a shocked, ill, or weakened animal can cause lethal complications. Never attempt to force feed water and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol to any wildlife.
If the squirrel is injured or collapsed supplementary heat may be helpful. You can put a hot water bottle underneath one end of the box ensuring the squirrel can get away from the heat if he wants to. Don’t put the hot water bottle in with the squirrel just in case he’s feeling nibbly!
NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.