Think you have found an animal in need of help?
Read this, then contact us
First Step - Do No Harm
Sometimes we assume that a baby animal is orphaned when it has been temporarily left by their parents. Cottontail rabbits, deer fawns, and even fox kits are left, often for long periods of time, while their parents forage or hunt for food. To our human eyes, a small baby alone is clearly in need of help, however in these cases, interference by humans only puts the animals through unnecessary stress and great risk to their survival.
There are some giveaways that a baby, or even an adult, is in need of help:
- it is bleeding
- it has flies buzzing around it
- there are clear signs of emaciation/starvation such as obvious ribs showing
- it has fleas
- it is easily approached, or (if it is a baby) it approaches you and tries to climb your legs
In any case, if you find a baby animal by itself and believe it is orphaned, or are unsure if it is orphaned, then please contact us and wait for instructions before you do anything. Our emergency hotline operates year round: 613-416-9641.
Warm, dark, and quiet
The first hours of care that a finder gives an orphaned, sick or injured animal can make all the difference in whether it survives rehabilitation.
Warmth: providing a gentle and constant heat source to a debilitated animal will help reverse or prevent hypothermia, and will allow the rehabilitator to begin treating shock and dehydration sooner. A heating pad under half of the box, a wheat pack you would microwave for your neck (not too hot!), or a water bottle with hot water then wrapped in a towel for the baby to snuggle up to are just a few ideas.
Dark and quiet: placing the animal in a carrier or cardboard box, and leaving the box in a dark, quiet room such as a spare bathroom is the next step. As cute as the baby is, and as 'friendly' as it seems, PLEASE don't pass it around to the kids for them to pat. Minimizing handling and exposure to humans (and especially to domestic pets) while you wait to transfer it to a licensed rehabilitator is vital.
No water, no food
Please DO NOT offer the animal anything to eat or drink until you have spoken with a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and they have advised you it is ok to do so. Although it may seem intuitive to feed a hungry orphan, doing so can endanger it in several ways:
Most orphans are admitted with some degree of dehydration, and some even are emaciation. Rehydrating and reintroducing a debilitated animal to food requires skill, proper equipment and careful monitoring over several days. Wildlife rehabbers have been trained how to carefully administer fluids and nutrition to help it recover.
Each mammal species produces a unique mother's milk; cow's milk is indigestible for most animals besides humans. Additionally, any liquid fed too quickly, in the wrong position, or with the wrong feeding equipment, can easily be aspirated (inhaled into the lungs), which can quickly escalate to pneumonia and even death. Sadly, every year we admit many orphans who have been fed by their finders and who we can not save from aspiration pneumonia. We can rehydrate a baby but we can rarely help it if it has aspirated.
Feeding can seriously affect an animal’s health if it is suffering from trauma or if it's system has started to shut down due to starvation. Providing food can endanger the health by causing bloat intestinal blockages, nutritional deficiencies, or metabolic disease.
It is illegal to keep wildlife in captivity unless you have a wildlife custodian authorization from the Ministry of Natural Resources. Even though you may like the idea of raising baby squirrels or raccoons, there is a lot to know to ensure the animals get the proper nutrition and skills. All animals benefit from being raised with others of their kind. Small mammals generally need to be bottle fed the proper formula about 4 times a day for 3 months. They can easily aspirate their formula if the bottle or syringe feeding isn't done properly. They might carry diseases which can transfer to pets and humans. With rehabilitation care through a qualified wildlife custodian, wild animals will get proper nutrition, vaccinations, medication as needed, veterinary care, socialization with others of their kind and opportunities to learn the skills they need to succeed back in the wild.
Other Wildlife Contacts
Rideau Valley Wildlife Sanctuary is located in North Gower, Ontario. This wildlife rehabilitation centre takes in small mammals and turtles (skunks, raccoons, squirrels, rabbits, porcupines, groundhogs, foxes, bats)
The Ottawa Valley Wild Bird Care Centre is located in the west end of Ottawa, Ontario. This well-established centre provides rehabilitation for wild birds of all types. The website includes great instructions for interim care on the Rescuer Info page.
The Ottawa-Carleton Wildlife Centre offers a wealth of information on preventing and handling human-wildlife conflicts.