Amateur Rehab

I have a pillow embroidered with the quote, “Learn from the mistakes of others; you can’t possibly live long enough to make them all youself.”  I keep it next to the poster that says, “Plan ahead.”

We all make mistakes and I think the plethora of (mis)information available on the internet can help or hinder that.  There is rarely only one source of information on any given topic.  Be sure to verify that the source you are using is reliable and that it does not conflict with other sources out there.

Case in point:  We get many animals admitted to Peace River Wildlife Center by well-meaning people who are so proud that they have done a great job with the animals they rescued.  They know this because they researched the proper treatment.  Some of them looked it up on the internet (#NutsCanSayAnything).  Some read it in a tear-stained text book from 1948, which they bought at a yard sale for a dime.  Others asked their neighbor, who once stayed at a Holiday Inn Express.  Or they had a grandfather who used to do this all the time.

Some of these rescuers have done an amazing job.  One lady had an eastern cottontail for a few weeks.  When she finally brought it to us, it was surprisingly healthy.  After a few days with some other bunnies in home care, it was ready to be released.  But this was an outlier.  Most of the time the animals that have been “rescued” and “rehabbed” by untrained people suffer much worse fates.

It should come as no surprise that each animal must be fed the appropriate diet for its species.  But it always does.  Come as a surprise, that is.  People bring us mockingbirds that they fed milk-soaked bread.  Let’s break this down.  When is the last time you saw a bird nursing off a cow?  Or an insect-eating avian baking a loaf of rye?

Even if your research has not lead you wildly astray, feeding anything at the wrong time can be detrimental.  If an animal is cold or dehydrated, it cannot digest food, even if it is the correct thing for that species at that age and stage of development.

Which leads us to the next challenge:  How old is that baby?  Many animals’ diets change drastically as they mature.  Rabbits go from nursing from their mothers (that’s rabbit milk, not cow’s milk) as their stomachs work pretty much like ours, to being hind-gut fermenters, capable of digesting grass—like a goat or a cow.  The period of change from one digestive system to the other is an intricate affair.  So please leave it to the experts to mess that up.  And believe me, we often do.  With all the tools and techniques at our disposal, even trained rehabbers have a hard time raising some infant animals appropriately.  The best place for a baby is with its mom.

Feeding the wrong thing at the wrong time to a juvenile wild animal can have life-threatening results.  Not getting enough nutrition into them can leave them emaciated and dehydrated.  Sometimes the results aren’t immediately obvious.  Metabolic bone disease occurs weeks to months later when a baby does not get the appropriate balance of nutrients during the formative time frame.  Weak bones fracture easily, start to dissolve over time, or don’t form at all.

If you find a wild animal and you aren’t sure what to do next, call your local wildlife center.  In Charlotte County that is PRWC (941-637-3830).  Farther north, call the Wildlife Center of Venice (941-484-9657).  After hours, check (dare I say it?) online for advice, just be sure to use a reliable source.  PRWildlife.org is our new web site and it has a plethora of pertinent information along with detailed instructions on what to do when you find a baby mammal or bird.

Usually if the animal is not hurt, leave it alone.  If it is injured, place it in a warm, quiet, dark place until it can be transported to a wildlife rehabilitation facility.  Offering a little water (or pedialyte or Gatorade) is acceptable, but don’t attempt to feed anything more than that.  PRWC is open seven days a week, 365 days a year, so there is no need to keep the animal longer than a few hours or overnight. 

Everyone turns into an Italian grandmother when we find an animal.  Whether it is an injured adult or a cold baby, we want to feed it.  It’s human nature.  But let’s not get that confused with Mother Nature and cause more harm than good.

by- Robin Jenkins, DVM

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