What to do if you find sick or injured wildlife

If you come across a sick or injured wild animal, it can be hard to know what to do. Wild animals can be very unpredictable if approached by humans, especially when they are injured or frightened. 

If you find injured or sick animal that’s small enough to handle, like a hedgehog or a garden bird, it’s best to phone your local vet or rehab centre before you try to catch them. They will be able to give you advice on how best to do this. You can also make sure they are set up to care for that species. 
In general it is best to:
  • Be careful. Remember, wild animals are not tame. Some can also spread diseases, especially if they bite you. Wear gloves if possible – gardening gloves work well. Good protection is especially important with bats as they are the only animal in the UK which can give you rabies. 
  • Catch the animal with a towel. Throwing a towel over an animal can prevent them from moving around and allow you to pick them up and into a transport box in the least stressful way. If you’re out and about and don’t have a towel you could use a jumper or coat instead.
  • Move the animal to a transport box. This can be a small cardboard box (with plenty of air holes) or a pet carrier. Be gentle placing them inside. Put a thick towel over the box to make it dark and dull sound to help keep the animal calm.
  • Take them straight to the vets or rehab centre. 

 

What to do with larger wildlife

Do not attempt to catch or transport larger injured animals, such as deer, badgers, seals, birds of prey and large waterfowl, on your own. Without the appropriate training and equipment, you can hurt yourself and put these animals at risk of further injuries.

If you come across a larger wild animal that seems to be injured or in distress:

  • Keep your distance so you don’t scare them. Keep other people and pets away too.
  • Find out your exact location. This will help any wildlife responders looking for the animal.
  • Call in the experts which would be the RSPCA in England and Wales or the Scottish SPCA in Scotland. The British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) are there to help marine mammals . A local wildlife rehabilitation centre might be able to give you advice or send someone to help too. Follow their advice.

 

Treating injured wildlife

Like all veterinary practices, if a wild animal’s life is in danger and they are injured or sick we will always provide emergency care, regardless of their species.

At PDSA, saving pets is what we’re all about. We care deeply about animal welfare and will help any sick animal in an emergency. However, PDSA is a charity and so we do not have the facilities or specialist expertise for rehabilitating wildlife beyond the initial emergency treatment.

Sometimes, sadly, we might not be able to treat sick or injured wildlife. We will always try our absolute best, but if the animal’s injuries are too serious and they can’t be rehabilitated and released our vets may take the tough decision to put them to sleep. It’s not fair for wild animals to be kept captive in close contact with humans for too long. They aren’t like our pets, who we can nurse back to health over long periods. Rest assured we will always try to treat the animal in the first instance.

 

When to help if they aren’t injured

Injured or sick wildlife can behave strangely. Nocturnal creatures like hedgehogs or bats who usually only come out at night might be seen during the day if they aren’t well.

Any wildlife, especially birds that are caught by a cat or dog, should be examined by a vet even if they aren’t visibly injured, because being caught or carried by these pets can cause shock, or fatal septicaemia.

 

What to do if you find a baby bird

Photo of fledgling bird in grass

In spring and summer you may often see baby birds on the ground, but this isn’t always a cause for concern.

Figure out if the bird is a nestling (no or very few feathers, not able to stand on its own) or a fledgling (completely covered in feathers, able to hop around) so you can understand the best thing to do. It’s OK to pop the bird back in the nest if it’s a nestling, but for fledglings it’s better leave them for their mum to find.

Our top tips for dealing with young birds are:

  • If you see a fledgling on the ground, don’t panic. Fledglings can often spend up to two weeks hopping around on the ground while they’re learning to fly. Chances are mum is close by – keep an eye on the baby to see if she comes back if you’re worried.
  • If you have a cat and see a baby bird hopping around in your garden, try your best to keep your cat away from the bird until mum has returned to and gotten them somewhere safe.
  • Try not to get involved if you can avoid it. Unless it is definitely injured, you usually won’t need to touch a fledgling.
  • If it looks healthy but too young to be out of the nest (a nestling), pop it back in the nest if possible. The bird may simply have fallen out. If you can’t see the nest, you can make a new one from a box and long grass and leave it somewhere sheltered but visible so the parents can come back and feed the baby. It’s a myth that a baby bird will be rejected by its parents if you touch it.

 

How to tell if a baby bird is in trouble?

Sometimes, you might want to intervene if a baby bird has been abandoned or is poorly.

Look out for the following signs – if you see them then the bird is in trouble:

  • Obvious wounds or blood anywhere on the body
  • Limping or dragging a wing or leg, or using its wings to move along the ground (they should normally hop)
  • Broken or badly damaged feathers
  • Not moving at all
  • Giving out gasps, wheezes or another breathing difficulty
  • Blood, or mucus discharge coming from its eyes, nose, ears, mouth or bottom
  • Swelling or bruising around the head or tummy
  • If it has been in the mouth of a cat or dog.

 

What to do if a baby bird is in trouble

If you see a baby bird with any of the above signs that it is in trouble or injured, call the RSPCA/SSPCA, local wildlife rehabilitator or a local vet as soon as possible. They’ll be able to give you the best advice.

If you choose to move the bird somewhere safer, make sure you keep it warm in a dark, quiet place until a qualified professional can take care of it.

Don’t try and care for the bird yourself. Even though you mean well, you may harm its chances of survival. It’s best to let someone with training and experience handle it as they will be able to rehabilitate and release the bird when it’s strong and healthy.

Infographic showing what to do if you find a baby bird

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