How to Help Orphaned Mice, Rats, and Voles

Nest of Mice, Rats or Voles Disturbed

If you accidentally uncovered a den of babies from one of these species in your garage, shed, house, or while gardening, don’t panic! Rodents are excellent mothers and will come back for their babies if you give them a chance. Once a nest is discovered or disturbed, they will often move the babies to a safer location.

If You Haven’t Moved the Nest Yet

That’s wonderful — just leave the nest where it is. Next, open any holes or entries you may have sealed off. Give the mother some time and space to come back for her babies. If the space is appropriate for her to remain and continue raising her babies, leave her be. If she has denned in an unsuitable space, where it’s not possible for her to remain, check our page on conflicts with small rodents for tips on getting her to move her babies somewhere else.

If You’ve Already Removed the Nest

If you’ve already removed the nest from where you found it, it’s best to give the mother a chance to come back for her babies.

If you still have the nesting material, recreate the nest, and return the nest and babies to the exact location where you found the original nest. This is the best method.

If you’ve discarded the nest and need to keep the babies safe while you figure out how to help them, put them in a small cardboard box with a soft towel or t-shirt. Even on a warm day babies can get cold, so give them a heat source:

  • a clean sock filled with dry, uncooked rice, and microwaved for one minute
  • a plastic bottle from the recycling bin filled with hot tap water wrapped in a facecloth or sock
  • an electric heating pad set to “LOW” and placed under half of the box.

Don’t give them any food or water — right now keeping them warm, dark, and quiet is more important.

Reuniting Babies With Their Mother

Small rodents are excellent mothers and will often come back for their babies if you give them a chance! Rodent moms will also take much better care of their babies than any human possibly could.

Place a shallow box with the babies (and heat source) as close as possible to the original nest site. If you can’t put the nest back into the original location where it was found, put it as close as you can to the entry point the mother was using. A baby rodent should be left out for one entire overnight period to see if the mother will come back. Small rodents are mostly nocturnal (active at night) and are likely to come looking for their babies while dark out. Make sure to KEEP THE BABIES WARM – refresh the heat source as needed.

Be patient

When a nest has been disturbed, we know that the mother rodent is often still nearby. She might be too frightened to come back right away, especially if people are near the den area.

What if it’s raining?

If it’s raining lightly, cover half of the box with a piece of cardboard. If it’s raining hard, bring the babies inside and keep them dark and quiet and warm until the weather clears up a bit. A mother rodent won’t be looking for her babies during a heavy rain.

Mother Has Not Returned

If the mother hasn’t come back by the next morning, the babies are probably orphaned. Mother rodents rarely abandon their babies, but sometimes the stress of having her nest disturbed can scare her away.

Make sure the babies are contained and have a heat source, don’t give them any food or water, and contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice.

Temporary Care

While you are waiting to hear back from a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the babies contained in a dark, quiet place. Don’t give them any food or water until you have spoken to a rehabilitator. Make sure they have a heat source. Further instructions can be found here.