TECHNIQUE

Catching and Handling of Squirrels (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: Sciurus carolinensis - Eastern grey squirrel, Sciurus vulgaris - Eurasian red squirrel.

These species are within the family Sciuridae.

  • Squirrels are highly agile, move extremely fast and can climb and jump very well.
  • Bites from squirrels may be very deep because of their long incisors and can reach bone; thick gloves (gauntlets) are recommended for protection when handling squirrels.

Catching:

  • Encouraging the squirrel to enter a box, cage or bag is preferable to catching by hand or with a net, if possible.
  • A net with a padded rim may be used to catch squirrels, or a humane catching cage may be used in an enclosed space.
  • Grasp the squirrel's head and neck firmly through the net before carefully working the net off the animal.
  • The animal may be transferred directly from a net into a suitable container without direct handling if examination is not required.
  • Do not catch by the tail as the skin may strip off.
  • (B123, B151, D25, W163)
  • For animals within a large enclosure a trap may be useful as squirrels are) very curious and investigate new objects. To minimise stress once caught the trap should contain a darkened plywood nest box 23cm. x 23cms. at the end with suitable dry bedding and ample food. (W163)

Handling:

  • Always handle in a small enclosed space due to the high risk of escape during handling.
  • Squirrels may be held with (gloved) thumb and forefinger around the neck, one foreleg held between the forefinger and the middle finger; the weight of the squirrel should be supported by the hand under the foreleg and by the other hand.
  • May be gripped with the thumb and forefingers of one hand around the neck firmly but not too tightly while the other hand restrains and supports the body.(W163)
  • Do not hold by the tail as the skin may strip off.
  • (B123, B151, D24)

Restraint for physical examination:

  • Examination of conscious squirrels is extremely difficult.
  • The use of strong cotton "zip cones" (a conical piece of canvas, held closed with a zip)has been described for routine weighing, examination, implantation of microchips and similar procedures.(W163)
  • Examination under general anaesthesia is preferred for casualty animals. (V.w26)

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.
  • 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 general anaesthesia and recovery.
  • (B205, D24)
  • The length of starvation prior to induction of general anaesthesia should be appropriate for the species in question and the likelihood of regurgitation. Clinical judgement should be used as to the pros and cons of starvation in an emergency situation. Starvation may not be appropriate for small species with a high metabolic rate which must eat frequently to survive.
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.
  • The handling of conscious squirrels should be minimised: it is stressful to the squirrel and risks injury to the handler.
Notes
  • Thick gloves (gauntlets are recommended for protection from bites).
  • However some handlers prefer not to use gloves.(W163)
  • Fine net mesh size minimises the risk of entanglement, particularly of claws.
  • A padded hoop reduces the risk of injury to the animal from the edge of the hoop during capture.
Complications/ Limitations / Risk
  • Squirrels are fast-moving, extremely agile and not easy to handle and restrain safely.
  • Squirrels commonly struggle when restrained (as do most rodents).
  • Handling and restraint is generally stressful to the squirrel.
  • Danger of injury to the handler from bites: bites can be serious as teeth are long and sharp (may reach bone).
  • Squirrels scratch and Sciurus carolinensis - Grey squirrel in particular will also rake the handler's arms using hind feet with sharp claws.
  • Even apparently unconscious squirrels may bite.
  • Risk of escape (always handle in a small enclosed space).
  • Risk of the tail skin being pulled off if a squirrel is caught or held by the tail.
  • Risk of injury to the animal if struck by the hoop of a net.
  • Risk of entanglement of e.g. claws in the net (fine mesh size minimises the risk of such entanglement).
  • Squirrels may "play dead" and then escape as soon as the handler's grip relaxes.(W163)
Equipment / Chemicals required and Suppliers
  • Thick gloves.
  • Net, cloth or with fine mesh size and preferably with a padded rim.
Expertise level / Ease of Use
  • Experience is advantageous for handling these animals; confidence in handling reduces the risks to both the animal and the handler.
Cost/ Availability
  • Nets and humane catching cages may be available from specialist suppliers, veterinary suppliers or some good pet stores; costs are variable.
  • Nets may be constructed from readily-available inexpensive materials.
  • 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
References

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