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September 2, 2020

When and How to Rescue a Mammal

Wild animals require specialized treatment and diets to recover from injuries or to develop into healthy adults so please do not attempt to care for or raise wildlife yourself. Remember, in the state of Wisconsin it is illegal to possess a wild animal without a permit unless you are transporting that animal to a licensed wildlife rehabilitator.

In many situations young mammals need only a little help or no help at all. Contrary to popular belief, parents will not reject their babies if humans have touched them.

Cottontail Rabbits

Baby cottontail rabbits spend most of their time alone in the nest without the mother rabbit. If you find a baby rabbit and the nest is still intact, place the baby(ies) back into the nest and cover with twigs or leaves. The nest will be a shallow depression in the ground and may be lined with fur. The mother rabbit only visits the nest at dusk and dawn so don’t be surprised that you never see her.

If the baby rabbits are at least 4-5 inches long, able to hop, have their eyes open and ears up, they are old enough to be on their own.

White-tailed Deer Fawns

Mother deer normally leave their fawns alone while they forage for food. The fawn’s spots, lack of body odor and ability to remain very still protect the fawn from predators. If the baby is alert, clean, and either active or trying to hide by lying on the ground, leave the fawn alone and leave the area. The mother will not return if people or pets are present.


Baby opossums spend their first two months in mother’s pouch, and the next two months close to mom – often on her back. During these first four months, they depend on mom. However, once the baby opossums are 5-6 inches long (excluding the tail) they are large enough to be independent from their mothers.

Tree Squirrels

If the squirrel‘s eyes are still closed, it has probably fallen from its nest. If uninjured, the baby squirrel should be placed back in its nest, if it is safe to do so. If the squirrel cannot safely be placed back in its nest, place the squirrel on a soft ravel-free cloth in a container and place it at the base of the tree. There is a good chance the mother will find the baby and return it to the nest herself. Keep an eye on the baby squirrel from indoors or from a distance so your presence doesn’t prevent the mother from returning. Squirrels with bushy tails that are approximately half of the size of adults are old enough to be on their own.


If a raccoon family has taken up residence in your house or garage, they can usually be forced to relocate by making the area less appealing. To do this, place ammonia soaked rags, a radio set on a talk or rock station and bright lights at the entrance for several days in a row. The mother will likely relocate the babies to another den site, carrying one baby at a time. If you find healthy raccoon kits (babies) outside of their den, they can be placed in a ventilated box at the entrance overnight for the mother to retrieve.

When to Rescue a Mammal

In the following situations a rescue may be needed

  • If the mammal is bleeding, shivering, lethargic, or unresponsive
  • If the mammal has been attacked by a cat or dog
  • If the parents or siblings are known to be dead

How to Rescue a Mammal

  • Find a suitable container (cardboard box, pet carrier). Poke air holes in it, if needed. Line it with a clean, soft cloth or paper towel
  • Gently pick up the animal (wear gloves or cover with a cloth) and place in the container
  • Secure the container so the animal cannot crawl or jump out
  • Keep the animal in a warm, dark, quiet place away from pets and children. Remember stress from over handling can kill
  • Do not give food and only give water if the animal can stand and drinks on their own
  • Contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator as soon as possible to arrange for the wild animal to get help

Remember any wild animal, when scared, will try and protect itself.

Please contact a wildlife rehabilitator prior to rescuing or transporting any wild animal.