Spring is a common time for people to encounter an injured or orphaned wild animal. The first question most would-be rescuers ask is, “What should I do?” Understanding the basics can provide vital guidance when there’s wildlife in need.
Most importantly – if you see what you think may be sick, injured or orphaned wildlife, don’t immediately remove it from its natural habitat. The bird or animal may not need assistance and you could actually do more harm in your attempt to help. Some species leave their offspring alone temporarily, especially during the day. For example, deer and cottontail rabbits spend much of the day away from their well-camouflaged offspring to minimize the chance of predators finding them.
To determine if young wildlife is truly orphaned, check the animal periodically for 24 to 48 hours to see if it is still around. Are parents nearby? Do you see other babies? Do you see a nesting site? Can they be returned to the nest? Keep your distance. Keep cats and dogs away from the area inhabited by the young animal; the adult may not return if it is noisy or if predators or people are close by.
If you find an abandoned or injured animal the best thing you can do is to call your local Animal Control Officer. They are familiar with handling and equipped to care for these animals. The Officers are knowledgeable about the location and hours of operation of wildlife rehabilitators. Do not handle the animal unless advised to do so. REMEMBER these are wild animals and they can bite or injure you. Some animals in this area (who may appear healthy) are carrying Rabies, a fatal disease that can be passed to humans or pets with a tiny bite or scratch. If you cannot safely capture the animal, keep a close eye on it and its location. If you must handle the animal, take care to minimize the risk of injury to yourself and to the animal. Wear protective clothing and equipment, such as very thick leather gloves, to avoid bites or scratches; wash your hands well after handling the animal. If you or one of your pets does get injured by the animal you must call the Health Department of Animal Control Officer immediately to report the injury and have the animal tested for Rabies.
If you decide to help a wild orphan or injured animal, contacting a wildlife rehabilitation facility is the first priority, as many of these are in need of veterinary attention and specialized care if they are to survive. If no rehabilitators are available in your area, contact a veterinarian to seek assistance for the animal.
Safely capture the animal with a towel or blanket. Then place the animal in a cardboard box with small holes poked in it for air or a pet carrier. Place paper towels or newspapers in the bottom. With baby mammals, you can put a piece of fleece material but do not use terry cloth, wash clothes, or towels; as the loops can come loose and strangle the animal. NEVER GIVE FOOD OR WATER! Improperly feeding a baby animal may cause them to inhale water or food which can be deadly. Also, do not try to bandage any injuries!
Place the animal in a quiet environment. It will need a mild heat source. You can make a “sock buddy” by taking an old gym sock, putting rice in it, and microwaving the sock for 30 second intervals until warm. Place the sock buddy next to the baby. Take the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator or a veterinarian within 24 hours of capture.
If you’re the type of person who would be compelled to help injured or orphaned wildlife, investigate your local resources before an emergency arises. Find out who can help you to perform a rescue out in the field and find out where you can take the animal for veterinary care and rehabilitation and keep those agencies’ contact information handy – you never know when you’re going to come across an animal in need!
Kara Ruthberg DVM