Hand-rearing Stoats, Weasels etc.  (Wildlife Casualty Management)
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Summary Information
Type of technique Health & Management / UK Wildlife Casualty Management // Techniques:
Synonyms and Keywords N.B.  This information should be read in association with: Hand-rearing of Orphaned Wildlife
Description This page has been prepared for the "UK Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the needs of the following species:Martes martes - Pine marten, Mustela erminea - Stoat, Mustela nivalis - Weasel, Mustela putorius - Polecat, Mustela vison - American mink.

These species are within the family Mustelidae.

Initial Care: 

General mammal information: 

  • On arrival any young mammal should be weighed, warmed, stimulated to urinate/defecate and given supplementary fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration. 
  • The age should be determined if possible. (See individual species information pages, sections "Appearance - Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
  • The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over several feeds.
  • See: Hand Rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information. for further general information.

General Care (including warmth and hygiene):

General mammal information

  • Young mammals have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns, particularly when unfurred or only sparsely furred.
  • Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate
  • Provide a temperature range, e.g. by heating one end of the container more than the other, which, while not allowing either overheating or chilling, permits the animal to chose the position at which it feels most comfortable.
  • The container used should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to move into a comfortable position.
  • The sides of the container should be sufficiently high to prevent the occupant falling out.
  • Bedding materials should be soft, comfortable and either disposable or easily washed. They should keep the animal dry and be changed as frequently as necessary to prevent soiling.
  • (B194, P3.1987.w5, V.w5)

Small mammal information:

  • Maintain small mammals initially at 32C, then 28C, later 23C.(P3.1987.w5)
  • Initially at 95F for a hairless baby, 90F for a haired infant with the eyes still closed, and reduce by 5F per week once the eyes are open.(B194)

Weasels, stoats, etc. specific information:

  • Keep newborn kits at 85F and a minimum 50% relative humidity.(B16.7.w7)

Milk replacer:

Suggested milk replacers include:

  • Goat's milk or Esbilac (Pet Ag) puppy milk replacer. (B151)
  • KMR kitten milk replacer (Pet-Ag Inc).(B16.7.w7)
  • For domestic ferrets: puppy milk or kitten milk replacer.(B232)


  • Catac kitten bottle with small teat.(B151)
  • A small syringe with a small Catac teat attached may give greater control over milk delivery to small infants.(V.w5)

Feeding Frequency:

General mammal information: 

  • Varies depending on species.
  • In general, every 2-3 hours during the day and longer intervals at night. (P3.1987.w5)
  • More frequent feeding (e.g. every hour) may be required for very small species, particularly for neonates.(V.w5)

Weasels, stoats, etc. specific information:

  • Feed every two hours up to one week old.(B16.7.w7)
  • May be left unfed at night from the second week.(B16.7.w7)
  • Feed four or five times a day.(B151)
  • For domestic ferrets: feed every two hours initially.(B232)

Feeding Technique: 

Small mammal information:

  • To encourage feeding in very small animals, place a drop of milk on lips, preferably with animal held upright.(P3.1987.w5)
  • To feed using a medicine dropper:
    • Hold the infant in one hand with its head slightly higher than its body, place the dropper just inside the animal's lips and press the bulb extremely gently to place a tiny drop of formula in the infant's mouth to encourage feeding to start. As it begins to suck or lick the dropper may be pressed very gently to assist the infant to take the formula.(B194)
    • If a bubble of liquid appears at the nose or the infant opens its mouth wide, immediately stop feeding and tilt the infant head down to allow the excess formula to drain from its mouth. Give the infant a chance to recover then start again more slowly.(B194)
    • Refill the dropper as required.(B194)
    • Some infants may feed by licking individual hanging drops of the end of the dropper.(B194)
    • Clean any excess from the infant's nose/chin after each feed.(B194)
  • A similar technique can be used with a small syringe, pressing very slowly on the plunger as the infant sucks or licks.(V.w5)
  • When feeding very small neonates it is vital that the feeding technique used provides milk at a sufficiently slow rate to minimise the risk of milk being inhaled with resultant aspiration pneumonia.(V.w26)


General mammal information:

  • Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x weight(kg) 0.83. (P19.1.w5, P3.1987.w3)

General carnivore information:

  • May be fed up to 35-40% of body weight per day, and about 25-50ml/kg per feed. (J34.9.w1)

Stoat, weasel etc. specific information:

  • For domestic ferrets: feed the infant until it is satisfied but avoid overfeeding. (B232)


General mammal information:

  • Most infant mammals require gentle stimulation of the ano-genital area (using e.g. a damp cotton bud, damp cotton wool or damp soft paper towel) in order to urinate and defecate. 
  • This should be done when the animal is first presented and at every feed until voluntary elimination is observed.


General mammal information:

  • Weigh daily. 



  • It is an offence to release Mustela vison - American mink as they are listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 14  which makes it an offence "for any person to release or allow to escape into the wild any animal which
    (a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state; or (b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9".(W5.Jan01)
  • Domestic ferrets, even if acquired as feral animals, should not be released into the wild.
  • See: Release of Casualty Stoats, Weasels etc.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Wild animals should not be taken for hand-rearing unless they are definitely orphaned, abandoned, injured/visibly unwell, or in immediate danger.
  • Minimise contact and handling during hand-rearing.(B151)
  • An ordinary outdoor thermometer may be used to indicate the temperature in the container used to house the orphan.(B194)
  • Routine records should be maintained of daily weight, times of each feed, quantities of milk consumed, urine/faeces production and general condition/demeanour. Such records provide an objective means of assessing progress and provide useful data for improving rearing methods.(V.w5)
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • These species are easily imprinted if they are handled too often during rearing although this may not necessarily reduce the chance of their survival after release.(V.w27)
  • Easily tamed: minimise contact and handling.(B151)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Esbilac (Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES).
  • KMR (Pet Ag, Kruus UK Ltd., Unit 17, Moor Lane Industrial Estate, Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire, LS25 6ES).
  • Goats' milk: Many supermarkets and health food stores.
  • Kitten feeding bottle: Catac.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Considerable time commitment involved.
  • Manual dexterity is important for caring for these very small individuals.
  • Requires empathy, observation skills and the ability to "read" the animal's body language.
  • Experience with hand rearing is useful and likely to greatly increase the success rate.
  • If the carer does not have experience with these species advice should be sought from experienced rehabilitators and other people with expertise with these species. 
Cost/ Availability
  • Products and equipment required for hand-rearing these animals are all widely available and not particularly expensive.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
  • Hand-rearing should not be started unless the carer is prepared to give the time and effort required for rearing to release, or to ensure that appropriate care will be continued through to release.
  • Consider whether hand-rearing is the best option for the individual compared with leaving it in the wild.
  • Consider whether euthanasia is a more humane/kinder option for the individual than attempting hand-rearing.
  • An offence may be committed under the Abandonment of Animals Act, 1960 section 1 if a released animal does not have a reasonable chance of survival (i.e. a chance similar to its non-rehabilitated peers). It is an offence under this Act for a person having control or charge of an animal to abandon it permanently or otherwise in circumstances likely to cause unnecessary suffering. This may include release at an unsuitable site, in the wrong territory, unfit, not having learned to hunt, at the wrong time of year etc. (J35.147.w1, B156.21.w21, B223, W5.Jan01)
  • The Mink (Keeping) Order 1987 prohibits the keeping of Mustela vison - American mink without a licence. Requirements of the licence give restrictions on how the mink are to be kept, including the provision of a "mink-proof" boundary fence with an overhang. Licences issued by: MAFF (Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food). (J35.147.w1)
  • It is an offence to release Mustela vison - American mink as they are listed under Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, Section 14  which makes it an offence "for any person to release or allow to escape into the wild any animal which
    (a) is of a kind which is not ordinarily resident in and is not a regular visitor to Great Britain in a wild state; or (b) is included in Part I of Schedule 9".(W5.Jan01)
  • Before rearing Mustela vison - American mink careful consideration should be given regarding whether suitable permanent captive accommodation is available.
  • See: Legislation relating to Wildlife Casualties for further information on legislation.
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

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