Baby Mammals: Squirrels, Raccoons, Skunks and Rabbits, what do I do with them?

General Discussion Apr 17, 2013 No Comments

Baby Mammals: Squirrels, Raccoons, Skunks and Rabbits, what do I do with them?

By Lisa Keelty, Environmental and Wildlife Technician
Sherwood Park Animal Hospital


There are 89 different species of mammals that reside within Quebec. The ones most commonly seen in rural areas are the Eastern Grey Squirrel, Raccoon, Striped Skunk and Eastern Cottontail. As early as April these critters start giving birth. Most of us have had a friend or family member who, at one time or another, found a baby mammal. Our native wildlife is nothing like our pet dogs and cats, so knowing WHEN or IF these animals are in need of help can save their lives and also save a wildlife-rehab worker a lot of hard and perhaps unnecessary work.

Infant or Juvenile?

There is a big difference between an infant and juvenile mammal. Infants are still blind, under-developed and helpless. These infant animals need their parents to survive. Juveniles, however, look almost like adults except they are smaller, their eyes are open, and they can walk or move around on their own (or hop). In most cases these juvenile animals are old enough to take care of themselves.


Baby squirrels can occasionally fall from their nests and onto the ground because of various reasons:1. high winds, 2. larger siblings pushing out runts or 3. nest destruction by humans. In these cases the best thing to do is quickly inspect the animal and make sure it has no injury. If it looks fine and the squirrel nest is accessible place the pup (baby squirrel) back inside the nest. If the nest is too high off the ground, a make-shift basket can be made out of a plastic container and hung in an elevated area such as a branch. Make sure the pup is warm before putting him inside; towels and a plastic glove filled with hot water can help a young squirrel keep warm while it awaits its mother. If the animal is healthy, the mother will more often than not return to pick up her pup. If the mother does not return after 4 hours remove the baby and seek assistance from a professional (see below for more information on who to call for assistance).

Raccoons and Skunks

Raccoons and skunks are often found under sheds, balconies and other humanized areas of our backyards and properties. In most cases their pups are found when their den has been disturbed. Just like with squirrels it is always best to make sure that the babies are actually abandoned before taking action. Most mothers will retrieve their young if they are healthy and uninjured. If the animal is visibly in distress, hurt or not retrieved within 4 hours they will need a helping hand. Do not attempt to handle raccoons or skunks before contacting a trained professional, these animals can be carriers of disease such as rabies.

Eastern Cottontails

The Eastern Cottontail is a species of rabbit that can commonly be seen foraging on lawns early in the morning and evening. Unlike other species of mammals these guys tend to make their nests in open and poorly camouflaged areas. These nests can be disturbed by pets and human activities such as cutting the grass. Almost every one who accidentaly finds Eastern Cottontails assume they have been abandoned. The reality is that mothers will only return to the nest 1-2 times a day; at dawn and dusk, to feed their kits (baby rabbits). The rest of the time the only company they have is their brothers and sisters. If you find infant Eastern Cottontails the best thing to do is to leave them alone! These wild rabbits do very poorly in captivity. In general, only 1 out of 10 will survive when being hand-reared.

Some important tips when helping wildlife

– First establish if the animal in question is an infant or a juvenile; infants may need assistance, juveniles usually do not.
– Always observe from a great distance. The mother will not return to her nest or attempt to retrieve a pup or kit if there are any people or pets nearby.
– You can use garden gloves to pick up the pups, rubbing them with dirt can help reduce your smell (this isn’t absolutely required but certainly doesn’t hurt).
– Animals can be placed in small cardboard boxes with air holes, lined with towels and a hot water bottle if needed. Keep the box in a garage or an isolated area (away from your pets). Wildlife can carry parasites such as fleas and diseases that can be transmitted to your pet.
– If the animal is visibly injured or in distress, contact a professional for help.
– If the animal has been bitten by a cat or dog, contact a wildlife rehabilitator immediately; these animals need medical treatment to prevent infection that may be deadly.
– Always seek help if you are worried the animal is carrying a disease or is too large to handle by yourself. Your own safety always comes first!

Unfortunately there is no large scale wildlife rehabilitation center for mammals in Quebec; most animals are cared for by trained individuals with permits within their own homes. To find wildlife rehabilitators contact your local humane society.

For more information on how to recognize whether or not a young animal is in need of human help or for professional assistance with injured or nuisance wildlife visit the following links:

Found Mammal
Urban Animal Advocates
Humane Wildlife Control

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