The advice here varies considerably according to the species. In many cases it is not unusual for mothers to leave their babies unattended for several hours. It is important to remember that mammal parents recognise their babies through scent. So if you handle a baby, Mum may reject or even kill it. So you must always avoid handling the baby other than to remove it from immediate danger. If you must handle it then try to minimise your scent by using gloves or wiping your hands on the grass before hand. Unless the animal is clearly injured or in immediate danger, it is always advisable to seek advice from a wildlife rescue before intervening.
When to Help
|If the animal has been caught by a cat or dog|
|Cats and, to a lesser extent, dogs have large amount of bacteria on their teeth. This passes into the bloodstream of the animal they bite and can cause serious infection which will often be fatal in a wild animal.|
|If the baby is obviously injured or appears unwell|
|If you can see a wound or the baby looks ill eg has a hunched appearance or staring coat, then it’s going to need help.|
|A lone baby away from its nest or den|
|If a baby, other than a deer or rabbit, is away from its nest with no sign of any parents for several hours it may have been abandoned. Call a wildlife rescue for further advice.|
|A baby squirrel out of its drey|
|A baby whose tail fur is flat not bushy is too young to be out of its drey. If you know the location of the drey and can safely return it, try this and observe. Otherwise it is likely to need help. If an older baby squirrel follows you and climbs up your leg, this usually means it needs help too.|
|If the baby is in immediate danger|
|If the baby is under immediate threat from a cat, cars or any other danger then it needs help. Try not to leave your scent on the baby though as it may be possible to return it later.|
|If the mother of nursing babies has been killed.|
|Call for assistance urgently|
|A nest of babies with no mother present.|
|It is perfectly normal for the parents to spend time away from the babies. Observe from a distance for several hours and seek further advice if no parents return. If the nest has been disturbed, put back what you can without leaving too much human scent and come away and observe. Mum should hopefully come back and move the babies on to somewhere safe.|
|A single deer fawn on its own.|
|Deer leave their babies unattended for most of the day. Again observe and seek further advice if there is no sign of Mum after several hours. Deer are difficult to raise and return to the wild if handreared so please do not touch the baby until an expert has been able to assess the situation.|
Capture, Containment and Care
Unless the baby is in immediate danger, we recommend that you contact a wildlife rescue BEFORE touching the baby to be certain that it is appropriate for you to intervene.
Most baby mammals should be fairly easy to capture as they initially lack much fear of humans. However, proceed with caution with a baby squirrel, fox or badger which has its eyes open as they may bite. Try to minimise the smell of human on the baby just in case there is any hope of reuniting baby with its parents later. Ideally wear a pair or gloves (muddy gardening gloves are ideal). If not you can use a towel – wipe it on the ground first to try to remove some of the human/chemical smell from it. If you must use bare hands, wipe them on the ground first too.
A cardboard box is likely to suffice for small animals such as squirrels or hedgehogs. For fox and badger cubs a carry box designed for cats might be more secure. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes. A towel on the bottom will make the animal more comfortable. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.
Any baby with its eyes still shut will be unable to regulate its own body temperature. It may be scorching outside but a very young baby will still need supplementary heat. You can put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the baby can get away from the heat if it wants to. If the baby begins to pant, remove the heat source immediately. If you have a thermometer check the temperature on the bottle – it should be about 30 degrees celsius. The baby should feel pleasantly warm to the touch. Allowing the baby to get too hot or too cold can be fatal!
Very young babies may need feeding as often as every two hours BUT this is a difficult and specialist job and should not be undertaken by the inexperienced. It is all too easy to get it wrong and drown the baby or make it inhale the milk and develop pneumonia.
NEVER, ever, ever give a baby cow’s milk. It is too high in lactose for other species to digest and can cause diarrhoea, dehydration and death. This includes skimmed milk, evaporated milk and watered down cow’s milk. Cow’s milk in any form is a huge no-no! If for some reason you cannot get help for the baby quickly and you know what you are doing some kitten and puppy formulas are suitable for wild animals – check with a wildlife rescue for the species you have found. But please ONLY if you know what you’re doing and for some reason can’t get the baby to a rescue for several hours.
If the babies eyes are shut it will not be able to toilet for itself. You will need to gently stimulate the genitals with a damp cotton bud until the baby passes urine. This is vital if you feed the baby or have it in your care for more than a few hours. If the baby does not pass urine it will get an infection and become very ill.
NB – this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours. If you are not able to get the baby to a wildlife rescue within this time, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period.
Could I just keep it?
No, no, no, no, no! If you take only one thing away from this website please let it be this. Wild animals are just that. They are not pets. Handrearing these animals is difficult, incredibly time consuming and oh so very easy to get wrong. Every year wildlife rescues are left to pick up the pieces after being brought emaciated animals with terrible diarrhoea and pneumonia because someone has tried to rear them and got it wrong.
Even if you do get through this stage when the animal grows up the call of the wild will get them and that cute cuddly baby will turn into a manic, frustrated creature who will bite you through fear, anger and frustration at being caged when it should be running free. The animals we keep as pets have been domesticated over centuries. Wild animals cannot be toilet trained and cannot be taught the difference between right and wrong. They will mess in your house, they will destroy your furniture, chew through your doors, bite you and your children etc.
If you’re reading this website, if you’ve gone to the trouble to rescue something then you must really love animals. Please demonstrate this by doing what is best for it. Please take it to an experienced wildlife rescue so that it can have the best possible chance of being rehabilitated and returned to the wild. If you have fallen in love with it why not offer to help at your local wildlife rescue and perhaps get involved with rearing babies for them? Some rescues have foster schemes where helpers take babies home with them either full time or even just an evening a week to help ease the burden on them.