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 pages primarily deal with 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. It is illegal to rescue, treat, keep or release them without a license. Because of this some organisations, including the RSPCA, will routinely euthanase any grey squirrel casualty. Always check with anyone you call that they are willing to treat a grey squirrel and won’t put it to sleep.
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 Help
|If the squirrel has been caught by a cat.|
|It must receive antibiotic treatment within a few hours or the bacteria on the cats teeth may cause it to develop fatal septacaemia.|
|If the squirrel has been attacked by a dog or hit by a car.|
|It will need to be treated for shock and properly assessed for injuries.|
|A squirrel with an obvious injury|
|A squirrel of any age with a visible wound or injury such as a damaged limb will need help.|
|Any baby squirrel out of its nest|
|If you know the location of the nest and can safely return the baby then it’s worth trying to do so. Try not to leave your scent on the baby. If not, it will need rescuing.|
|An adult squirrel approaching people for food|
|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 which is making a squawking noise.|
|These are normal reactions to a shock or a close encounter with a predator.|
Capture, Containment and Care
For advice concerning baby squirrels please see our baby mammals page.
Squirrels can give you quite a nasty bite so should always be handled with care. Never simply pick one up with your bare hands. I still have a scar from a squirrel bite I received nearly 20 years ago and that was from a baby!
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. This can be a quite an experience when you’re driving him to the wildlife rescue – I’ve extricated more than one 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. Avoid feeding peanuts as these can actually poison squirrels.
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. If you are not able to get the casualty to a wildlife rescue within this time, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period.