Protected Species

Animal name: Otter

Type: Mammal

Habitat: Caves, burrows or holes called holts

Diet: Fish, frogs and crustaceans as well as birds and small mammals

Lifespan: 10-15 years

Active: At night throughout the year

Family: Male is called a dog

Female is called a bitch

Babies/young are called cubs or sometimes kittens or kits


Where do you find otters?

Otters love water so they are typically found on the shores of rivers, lochs, waterways and coastal areas. The population is booming across Scotland after being pushed close to extinction back in mid 1900s. Scotland is home to a high proportion of the UK’s otter population, particularly on the western coast and islands. It is estimated that there are around 8000 otters in Scotland.

Whilst numbers are growing, they can still be difficult to spot. They spend most of their time in the water and sleep and breed in holts, which are normally caves, burrows or holes. Otters are not specifically nocturnal, but they are typically more active at night.

What do they eat?

Otters need to eat at least a kilo of food per day and get most of their food from the water. Their fantastic swimming skills, waterproof fur, rudder-like tail and webbed feet make them brilliant aquatic hunters, and otters typically feed on fish, frogs and crustaceans. They also occasionally prey on birds and mammals on waterfronts.

What threats do otters face?

Sadly, most otter mortalities in Scotland are caused by road traffic incidents, excluding natural causes.

Whilst otters are protected, they can get injured by snares, which may be set for pest control but indiscriminately harm lots of wildlife and domestic animals. The Scottish SPCA supports a complete ban on the use of snares.

What common problems/reasons lead to otters being cared by the Scottish SPCA?

Many of the otters we rescue are orphaned cubs who are too young to have the skills they need to survive in the wild. If a baby otter’s mother is killed or scared off, it will not be able to fend for itself.


I've come across...

An injured or sick otter

If an otter appears injured or sick, you should call our helpline immediately on 03000 999 999.

Orphaned fox cub

If you come across an otter cub that’s calling for its mother, observe it from a distance for a while so long as the cub is in a safe place. If the mother does not return within an hour or two or before dark, the youngster needs our support. At that point, you should call our animal helpline on 03000 999 999.

Dead Fox

If you come across a dead otter, please contact your local council who will be able to dispose of the body safely.

You can also report any deceased otters by filling in the form on the International Otter Survival Fund website.


How do we help otters at the National Wildlife Rescue Centre?

We have successfully hand-reared and released lots of cubs back in to the wild over the years.

Otters enjoy companionship, so where possible we pair them up.

As baby otters are dependent on their parents for a year, we need to look after them for months until they are old enough to make it on their own. Feeding and caring for an otter cub at our National Wildlife Centre for such a long time can get very costly so we welcome donations of puppy milk to build them up until they’re ready to start eating trout!

We try to time a release with when they would naturally leave their parents to find their own home. Any release is meticulously planned and takes in to account landowner permission, the population of other otters in the area and suitability for the species to have a long and happy life.

Additional Details

Otters are fully protected under the Conservation (Natural Habitats, &c.) Regulations 1994.

Members of the public can report live sightings or deceased otters by completing the Otter Watch online form on the International Otter Survival Fund website. The information helps to monitor the otter population and potentially highlight hotspots in the case of traffic casualties.