This page will tell you how to help a sick or injured reptile or amphibian, like a snake, turtle, or frog. If the animal you have found is not a reptile or amphibian, click here to go back to the species selection page.

Because reptiles and amphibians are independent from the moment they hatch, even small “babies” should be assessed and handled the same way as adults.

Signs that a reptile or amphibian is sick or injured

Reptiles and amphibians are “cold blooded” (the scientific term is ectothermic), so they need the heat of the sun to get their bodies warm. They are often seen sunning themselves in warm, open spots — that can be normal. Look for these signs that they might need help:

  • There are obvious wounds or blood on the body, or a turtle has a crack in its shell
  • One or more of its legs, or head look like they’re pointing in the wrong direction
  • There are string, fishing line, or fish hooks/lures on some part of the animal’s body
  • The animal is found when the daytime temperature is below 10°C, or has accidentally been dug up or uncovered during the winter
  • It has been in the same spot for several hours and does not move away when approached

If you’ve determined that the reptile or amphibian needs help, the next step is getting it safe and secure until you can find help for it. If you already have it contained, contact a wildlife rehabilitator right away.

Because of some special considerations with reptiles and amphibians, we recommend using a plastic container instead of a cardboard box to get them safely contained. If you have found a snapping turtle, click here or scroll to the bottom of the page for instructions.

How to contain a reptile or amphibian

You will need:

  • a plastic container of appropriate size like a rubbermaid tote, a large tupperware, or a clean margarine container — make sure to poke air holes in the lid before you get started!
  • a damp paper towel or towel (species dependent)

Most species of reptiles and amphibians — except snapping turtles — can be gently scooped up and placed in a plastic container with a tight-fitting lid (with air holes!). Amphibians like frogs or salamanders have very sensitive skin, so try to avoid touching them with your bare hands. You can also try the “spider method” instead: place the container directly over the animal, and slide the lid underneath to get it contained.

Don’t put them in water

NEVER put a reptile or amphibian — even an aquatic one — in water for temporary care or transport.  An injured, sick, or frightened animal may not be able to keep itself above water to breathe. It’s true that salamanders, frogs, and turtles should be kept moist until you can get them help. The safest way is to wet a paper towel or a dish cloth and place it in the bottom of their container.  This isn’t necessary for snakes.

Once the animal is contained, contact a wildlife rehabilitator for advice. Reptiles and amphibians should be kept at room temperature while waiting for help.

How to contain a snapping turtle

Snapping turtles are not naturally aggressive, but they will defend themselves (by snapping!) if threatened. The safest way to contain them is the “spider method”: place the container right over the turtle, and slide a piece of wood, plastic, or cardboard underneath.

If you have to pick the turtle up, remember that they can snap about 1/2-way back across their shell. Avoid the front 2/3 of the turtle. There are a few ways to do this:

  • Pick the turtle up by grasping the back of its shell just above its hind legs (see sidebar photo). DON’T use this method with turtles who have a broken or cracked shell.
  • Use the “pizza hold”: slide one hand under the turtle (they can’t snap under their body), and grasp the base of the tail with the other hand. NEVER pick up a snapping turtle — or any other animal — by the tail.

Once the turtle is contained, put it in a dark, quiet place (a closet or bathroom is perfect!) and contact a wildlife rehabilitator. Reptiles and amphibians should be kept at room temperature while waiting for help.

Temporary care

While you are waiting to hear back from a wildlife rehabilitator, keep the animal contained in a dark, quiet place. Don’t give it any food or water until you have spoken to a rehabilitator . Further temporary care instructions can be found here.