When to help Squirrels
Modified on: Mon, 29 Nov, 2021 at 7:22 PM
As you are likely aware, there are two species of squirrel living in the UK – the native Red Squirrel and the introduced Grey. The 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 help when needed. Unfortunately, there are legal complications surrounding Grey Squirrels which mean it is illegal to help them without a license. As a result many organisations are forced to euthanase any Grey Squirrel casualty. If you need help with a Grey Squirrel, please get in touch for help to find a rescues which is able to help 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 them 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 may be best left to heal in the wild. But if the squirrel has a major injury such as a broken limb or damaged eye, they will need to be rescued.
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. You can read our guide to reuniting them with Mum here.
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. This article contains sources of the treatment (listed as a fox mange remedy but it works for squirrels too).
When to leave alone
An adult or juvenile 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. This it is nothing to worry about as long as the squirrel appears healthy, although it shouldn’t be encouraged.
A squirrel which appears 'frozen' or is making a squawking noise
Often when spooked, squirrels will climb up high and stay there for many hours until they feel safe. Often they will come down at dusk. Intervening here is likely to do more harm than good by scaring the squirrel into jumping from a height.
Capture, Containment and Care
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.
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 them into and give them 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 they want to. Don’t put the hot water bottle in with the squirrel just in case they're 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.
You can find rescues in your area by putting your location into the search facility at directory.helpwildlife.co.uk. If you are unsure whether to intervene or you have difficulty finding a rescue who can help, you can contact us via helpwildlife.co.uk/helpdesk and our volunteers will give you advice and support.
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