What to do if you find a sick wild animal
If you come across a sick wild animal, it can be hard to know what to do. Wild animals are wild, so they won’t respond well to being approached by humans.
Before you call our animal helpline, you should:
- Keep your distance as getting close could stress the animal out.
- Consider your own safety and don’t put yourself at risk to get to a wild animal.
How to tell if a wild animal is unwell
A healthy wild adult animal will typically flee when a human approaches them. If a wild animal lets you approach, it is likely they need help. However, young animals are often reliant on their parents so being able to get close to them is not necessarily a cause for concern.
Common signs of illness include:
- Lethargy or moving slowly.
- Discharge around the eyes, nose, mouth or ears.
- Abnormal behaviour such as twitching the head, walking round in circles.
- Open-mouthed, laboured breathing or gasping.
Body condition may also indicate that a wild animal is poorly. If an animal looks emaciated or very underweight, it could be due to illness.
People often see grounded birds with puffed up feathers and think they’re just trying to stay warm or that they’re overweight. However, these birds will almost certainly need our help. Call our helpline on 03000 999 999
Not sure if the animal is unwell?
If there are no obvious signs of injury or illness and the animal is otherwise safe, it’s best to monitor from a distance. If you can revisit the location regularly over a 24-hour period. To avoid causing further stress, stay as far away as possible whilst still being able to see the animal, or watch from a window if the animal is in your garden. If their condition worsens, call our helpline on 03000 999 999.
What you can do to help a sick animal
Stay as far away from the animal as possible to avoid causing further stress.
We ask that certain smaller species should be contained using a box before we will attend. These animals include:
- Birds except swans, geese, heron, gannets and birds of prey
- Rodents and other small mammals (shrews, voles, mice, rats and moles)
For more information about containing animals, click here.
Call our helpline on 03000 999 999 for advice. If you need to touch the animal to move it to safety, wear gloves and wash your hands thoroughly afterwards.
Sick wild animals need specialist help from trained experts. Well-meaning people sometimes try to nurse sick animals back to health or hand-rear young animals.
This makes it almost impossible to release them back into the wild successfully. Without professionals giving the right care, the animal’s condition could get much worse, or the animal can die.
If you find a sick animal, call our helpline on 03000 999 999 to get them the care they need.
How we will help
When our highly-skilled officers arrive, they will assess the animal and make a decision based on quality of life.
If the animal is assessed and our officers find no signs of illness, they may be left where they are.
Animals that are found to be sick but are likely to recover from their illness will be taken to our National Wildlife Rescue Centre where they will receive the treatment and rehabilitation they need to be able to thrive in the wild again.
If the animal’s condition is very poor, the decision may be taken to humanely euthanise them to end their suffering. Some wild animals may have to be put to sleep because they have incurable illnesses or diseases such as myxomatosis in rabbits or canker in pigeons. Any birds showing symptoms of avian flu will be put to sleep too.
Sadly, it isn’t always possible to save every animal. When they are suffering, we may take the decision to humanely euthanise them. This is a decision always taken with the best interests of the individual animal at heart, and is ultimately a kindness which would have prevented them from suffering in the wild.
Unfortunately, if non-native, invasive species such as grey squirrels, mink and Canada geese come into our care, we cannot release them and by law, they must be put to sleep. The UK Government enforces legislation that determines that non-native, invasive species must be humanely euthanised and we do need to operate within the law.