Stabilizing & Transporting Wildlife
The instructions on this page are targeted towards transporting squirrels; however, they are appropriate for many other species of small mammals.
If you have any concerns about how to safely transport a particular species of wildlife or are concerned about disease transmission, please discuss it with the rehabilitator before approaching the animal.
Squirrels, rabbits and opossums are not rabies vector species and are considered to be relatively low risk when handled properly. To learn how to do this, please read the warnings and steps below very carefully before attempting any care.
Always take extreme care to protect yourself, your family and pets. Handling wildlife, particularly large carnivores or rabies vector species, can result in severe injury or death! Rabies vector species include bats, raccoons, fox, skunks and groundhogs. Bats are currently the only known reservoir of rabies in Washington State. It is estimated that no more than 1% of bats in nature are infected with rabies. Of the bats found on the ground 5 to 10% tested positive; therefore, it is recommended that you take extreme care if you choose to handle a bat on the ground.
Preparing an Orphan for Transport
1. Other than to treat life threatening injuries and provide supportive care, do not handle orphaned or injured wildlife.
2. Warm the baby and keep the baby warm. If the baby is cool to the touch. Carefully warm it before doing anything else!
3. Provide older babies a comfortable place to hide. Loosely wrap the baby in an old T-shirt or other soft fabric and place in a box in a quiet, dark, and warm location away from noise or other household activities.
4. Do not feed solid food or offer any milk or juice. You may offer a small amount of water or hydration fluid (such as unflavored Pedialyte) with a dropper or syringe if the baby is clearly dehydrated.
5. For young babies (eyes closed), stimulate the baby to urinate and defecate as they cannot do it without assistance.
Capturing Injured Juvenile/Adult Wildlife
Adult squirrels can be very tricky to handle. Use a heavy towel or blanket to loosely cover the animal. Handle wildlife with extreme care at your own risk! Squirrels have very sharp incisors and strong jaw muscles. Adult squirrels can even bite through heavy leather gloves!
The bite of an angry squirrel is roughly equivalent to having an ice pick stabbed into your hand (usually repeatedly) until either the squirrel gets tired or you let go. Even then, it is likely you will need to gently pry the squirrel’s mouth open by placing firm pressure on both sides of the squirrel’s mouth to open the jaw. You must move quickly secure the squirrel in a towel or let it go by tossing it (yes, gently!) away from you before it latches on again.
A squirrel has two defenses, the teeth and the claws. When these are secured, the squirrel cannot inflict damage. Severely injured squirrels are typically docile, but not always - always use good judgement.
1. Drape a sturdy towel over the squirrel, reach down and feel for the head and shoulders. Through the towel, place your hand on each side of the head with you palm on the shoulders. Gently pick up the towel with the squirrel inside and wrap the towel around the squirrel into a ‘squirrel burrito’. The towel can remain draped over the head but make sure the squirrel can breath. Place burrito in box and secure top. Make sure air can get in the box.
2. Place a towel in the bottom of a box and use a broom or other tool to very gently ‘sweep’ the squirrel into the box and secure the lid. Make sure air can get in the box.
Only attempt to capture the animal if:
1. It can be done safely for the handler
2. It can be done safely for the animal
3. The handler has the tools necessary to restrain and hold the animal
4. The handler can provide constant observation and attention during and following the procedure.
Transporting the Animal
Do not handle any wild animal if doing so risks your safety or the safety of others. If you are injured, you cannot help the animal. When in doubt, do not attempt to capture and wait for assistance from animal control or a wildlife rehabilitator.
Use a towel to cover the animal's head to calm it down and reduce shock.
Do not handle or pet the wild animal, this just creates more stress and may lead to deeper shock. Wild animals are not soothed the same way our domestic pets are by our touch or presence. Consider how you would feel being petted by a grizzly bear that chased your down and proceeded to pat your head! What looks like docility is more likely pure terror.
Keep a safe distance from the animal, and do what you can to protect it from harassment by pets and people (particularly curious children).
Wear gloves when handling all adults and eyes opened babies. Even though an adult can bite through them, they will provide some level of protection if loose enough that the squirrel is able to bite on an empty tip to keep him busy while he is transported to a cage or animal carrier. These will also protect from scratches.
Do not offer the animal food. You may offer water if it will be a while before you can transport the animal to a rehabilitator.
Prepare a well-ventilated, covered box of appropriate size by lining it with something absorbent, like newspaper or clean cloths (without holes or ragged or fringed edges). If you have no other alternative, wrap the animal in a towel or sweatshirt for immediate transport to a wildlife rehabilitation resource. Note: Adult squirrels (possums, raccoons, bears...) will rapidly chew out of a cardboard box. This is particularly inconvenient when you are driving 60 MPH.
While waiting to transport the animal, place the box in a safe, quiet, dark place that is free from noise, kids, pets and human traffic. Place a heating pad, set on the lowest temperature, underneath half of the box, allowing room to move to a cooler or warmer spot as needed. If the driving distance is far, ensure the animal remains warm and comfortable during transport. Do not play the radio or conduct loud conversations.
Other than to treat life threatening injuries, do not attempt to treat the animal’s injuries. The best treatment possible is to leave the animal as is until it can be transported to a wildlife rehabilitation facility or veterinarian. Additional handling causes stress and improper treatment can cause further injury. One exception is if the animal is bleeding excessively. If this is the case, simply apply gentle pressure to the wound to stop the bleeding. Do not apply a tourniquet of any kind. Animals with amputated limbs are rarely releasable.
Wash your hands immediately after handling wildlife. Always practice good sanitation. Do not eat, smoke or drink while handling wildlife. Even though baby animals are adorable in every way, resist the temptation to kiss them. Especially baby raccoons! (Actually, we don't recommend kissing adult raccoons either!)
Do not attempt to rehabilitate the wild animal on your own. Each animal has unique care needs that are highly specific to its species.
Call a licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility to arrange to drop off the animal.