Catching and Handling of Shrews (Wildlife Casualty Management)

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 Wildlife Casualty Handling and Transport which contains background information together with links to the Electronic Library and Organisations (UK Contacts). The related Species pages contain similar linkages.
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: Crocidura russula - Greater white-toothed shrew, Crocidura suaveolus - Lesser white-toothed shrew, Neomys fodiens - Eurasian water shrew, Sorex araneus - Eurasian common shrew, Sorex coronatus - French shrew, Sorex minutus - Eurasian pygmy shrew

These species are within the family Soricidae.


  • Catching by hand may be possible, although these species are agile and may move very fast.
    • May be caught by the base of the tail.
    • May be caught by the scruff of the neck.
    • A small net (size suitable for catching small birds) may be useful for catching.
    • Fine mesh size minimises the risk of entanglement in a net, particularly of claws.
  • Grasp head and neck firmly through the net before carefully working the net off the animal.
  • May be transferred directly from a net into a suitable container without direct handling if examination is not required.
  • May be held briefly by the base of the tail to be placed in a container.(D25)
  • It may be possible to place a jam-jar over the animal then slide a piece of thin card along the ground to trap the animal before lifting the jar.
  • (D25, J23.13.w14,B151,B199)


  • May be held by the scruff of the neck. (J23.13.w14)
  • May be held briefly with a hand grasping firmly but gently around the whole body.(B151)
  • Minimise handling time; transfer into a small container as soon as possible.
  • Whenever possible, use indirect methods for handling, e.g. encourage to run into a plastic or cardboard tube to transfer between containers.
  • (B123, B151, D25)

Restraint for examination and treatment:

  • Brief examination and minor treatment may be carried out using physical restraint.
  • Alternatively, and if lack of movement is important, the use of chemical restraint may be advisable.

General Anaesthesia and Sedation:

 Suggested protocols for sedation and general anaesthesia include:

  • As with other small mammals, general anaesthesia may be induced in an anaesthetic chamber.
  • Mask induction of general anaesthesia may also be used, but this can lead to handling stress.
  • Isoflurane is the anaesthetic agent of choice.
    • Induction of general anaesthesia at 4% and maintenance at 2% is suggested.(B123)
  • Halothane may be used as an alternative to isoflurane.
  • Maintain on isoflurane inhalation anaesthesia with oxygen (no nitrous oxide), delivered via a face mask e.g. made from a plastic syringe barrel.
  • Use a low-resistance circuit such as a T-piece.
  • Allowing some leakage from the face mask further reduces resistance;
    • Some form of active scavenging should be used to reduce atmospheric pollution.
  • Avoid excessively high flow rates of oxygen, as this increases heat loss and the risk of hypothermia.
  • Consider fluid therapy during general anaesthesia of small mammals to replace water losses; subcutaneous fluids would be appropriate.
  • Action should be taken to reduce heat loss of small mammals during general anaesthesia, to reduce the risk of hypothermia e.g. keep on a heated pad during anaesthesia and recovery.
  • (B123, B205)
  • Starvation prior to general anaesthesia should not be performed in these species.
Appropriate Use (?)
  • Catch only if necessary.
  • Handling of wild animals should be minimised.
  • Consider design of accommodation and timing of treatments to minimise requirements for capture and handling.
  • Consider whether physical or chemical restraint is more appropriate.
  • Minimise direct handling to minimise stress.
  • Gloves may be worn:
    • for protection from bites.
    • particularly for handling water shrews to reduce risk of infection from bites.
    • may increase the confidence of the handler.
  • Light gloves are preferable to minimise loss of sensitivity and dexterity.
  • Take measures to reduce heat loss during general anaesthesia, e.g. place on a heated pad.

(B123, B151, D25).

Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Shrews will bite in self-defence.
  • Neomys fodiens - Eurasian water shrew is known to be venomous. "Envenomation of a human being is usually of little consequence, but precautions should be taken." (B123)
  • Shrews are easily stressed by handling.
  • Excessive handling may lead to both overheating and hypoglycaemia. (B123, D25).
  • Considerable risk of hypothermia when small mammals are anaesthetised.(B123, B205)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Gloves.
  • Net, preferably with padded rim.
  • Glass jar, if required, for catching.
  • Appropriate drugs for chemical restraint, if required.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • These species are not difficult to handle, although handling is easier with experience.
Cost/ Availability
  • Nets may be obtained from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or good pet stores; their cost is variable.
  • Gloves and glass jars are widely available.
  • Nets may be hand-constructed from readily-available inexpensive materials.
  • Some drugs used for chemical restraint are expensive.
  • Drugs used for chemical restraint may only be available to veterinary surgeons or other licensed persons.
Legal and Ethical Considerations
Author Debra Bourne
Referee Becki Lawson and Suzanne Boardman

Return to Top of Page