||This page has been prepared for the "UK
Wildlife: First Aid and Care" Wildpro module, and is designed for the
needs of the following species: Halichoerus
grypus - Grey seal, Phoca
vitulina - Common seal.
These species are within the family Phocidae.
Many seal pups are "rescued" for hand-rearing
unnecessarily. Members of the public should be educated not to approach or disturb seal
pups found ashore but to observe the pup from a distance unless it is in immediate
life-threatening danger. Note should be taken of the seal pup's appearance (body size,
body condition and coat colour), evidence of illness/ disease and whether its mother
is visible in the sea. Members of the public and dogs should be kept away from the
immediate area to avoid disturbance and to allow the mother to return if still in the
area. Expert organisations should be contacted with these details for advice as to whether
the seal pup is in need of care. (P19.1.w6,
General mammal information:
- On arrival any young mammal should be weighed and given supplementary
fluids by an appropriate route to counteract dehydration.
- The age should be determined if possible. (See
individual species information page, sections "Appearance -
Neonate" and "Life Stages - Reproductive stages").
- The first feed given should be an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution
(e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited), with a gradual changeover to a milk substitute over
- See: Hand
Rearing of Orphaned Wildlife for further general information. for
further general information. for further general information.
Seal specific information:
- On arrival:
- Estimate age based on state of umbilicus, dentition and coat (V.w21);
pups with a fresh, fleshy umbilicus are less than 2 days old; a dry umbilicus may be
present to 7 days old.(B185.30.w30)
- Check the body temperature rectally using an unbreakable waterproof digital thermometer.
Normal temperature is 36-37°C.
- Emaciated pups may be hypothermic on presentation;
- Pups in moderate to good body condition more commonly present with hyperthermia
following transport which may be life-threatening and require immediate action to cool
- Ensure adequate ventilation and leave the pup alone except for frequent checks to ensure
that body temperature is normalising.
- Hypothermic animals may be covered with a blanket or a heat lamp used with care; high
body temperature spikes easily occur as pups are unable to regulate their body temperature
well in captivity.
- Hyperthermic pups should be cooled with cold water run over the flippers. (Vw26)
- Fluid therapy is required for most pups on arrival.
- Fluids are usually given orally via stomach tube (rehydration/electrolyte solution such
as Lectade (Pfizer Limited).
- In severely dehydrated/debilitated immobile pups fluids may be given
intravenously into the extradural intravertebral vein (supraspinal
vein) (subcutaneous or intraperitoneal routes are not used routinely).
- Well hydrated seal pups have a visible area of "tear staining" running down
from the corner of their eyes.(V.w26)
- A gradual introduction to milk replacement formula is advisable to reduce the risk of
- First tube feed 20ml/kg body weight rehydration (electrolyte) solution with 5% glucose (B22.33.w5);
it is sometimes suggested that the first three feeds should be of electrolytes only at
- Second tube feed, 20ml/kg body weight half rehydration (electrolyte) solution and
half formula (see below).(B22.33.w5);
fourth and fifth feeds 50:50 mix of rehydration (electrolyte) and formula. (B185.30.w30)
- Feeding on 100% formula by sixth feed.(B185.30.w30)
- Total volume over first 24 hours 80ml/kg.(B22.33.w5)
- Tube feed 60-120ml per pup rehydration fluid on arrival, gradually increasing volume to
350ml per feed per pup. (P26.2000.w1)
- It is recommended that health screening should be performed on admission:
- Rectal swab for bacteriology (particularly checking for Salmonella spp.)
- Faeces for parasitological examination.
- Blood from the extradural intravertebral vein (supraspinal
vein) for haematology, biochemistry and serology. N.B. Seal blood clots rapidly and
the sample must be placed immediately in tubes containing EDTA for haematology and heparin for biochemistry. (D14)
- Some centres routinely treat for parasites using ivermectin at the time of presentation
others test and treat for helminths only if this is shown to be required.
- Maintenance on broad-spectrum antibiotics such as cephalexin (Ceporex, Schering-Plough
Animal Health) for the first three days (V.w21)
or 10 days to two weeks has been suggested.(P19.1.w6,
General Care (including warmth and hygiene):
General mammal information:
- Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.(V.w5)
Seal specific information:
- Keep isolated for a quarantine period of two weeks to avoid cross-infection between pups
- Isolation cubicles should have separate air space and separate drainage. (P26.2000.w1)
- During this time separate protective clothing must be worn for the care of each pup in
- A separate set of feeding utensils must be used for each pup in quarantine.
- Foot baths must be used when entering and leaving any quarantine pen.
- A health check should be performed and the results obtained before the pup is released
- Initially house in individual cubicles, tiled, with a rubber mat and with a heat lamp
available over the mat (about 1m up) if required (V.w21);
- 2m x 2m x 0.6m high cubicles have been used.(J23.28.w3)
- Need hosing down daily to remove faeces etc., and a towel or the heat lamp helps to dry
the pup after this.(V.w21)
- Keep without access to water for swimming for first two weeks; bathe daily in luke-warm
mildly disinfected water and towel down.(P19.1.w6,
- Heating with a heat lamp is often unnecessary except for emaciated pups. (Vw26)
- The body temperature of pups should be checked periodically during the day using a
digital (plastic, unbreakable and waterproof) thermometer.(Vw26)
- House at about 20°C/68°F; higher temperatures are neither required nor
- For emaciated pups moderate heat may be provided indirectly e.g. by heat lamp but
not directly over the pup due to risk of hyperthermia.(B22.33.w5)
- A small spray of normal saline or an ocular lubricant may be advisable to keep the
corneas moist in seals without constant access to water.
- Any tube of preparation must be used for a single individual to prevent
cross-contamination of pathogens between eyes because eye infections are common.
- Seal pups should be mixed with other individuals following quarantine when the results
from disease screening are available, the individuals no longer require intensive
treatment and they are older and stronger.(V.w21,
- Intermediate pools 3m by 3m, half "wellington-deep" water and half dry land
may be used for two pups or a few pups. May be used for seals which are feeding well and
in good clinical condition.(J61.1.w1,
- This allows socialisation and the opportunity to learn to "self-feed" on fish
in the water.
- Movement to larger pools occurs only when the pup is sufficiently large and strong to
cope with a larger and deeper pool and, if the pool is outside, low ambient temperatures
in winter (this requires development of a sufficient blubber layer). (P26.2000.w1)
- Minimise handling at this stage. (P19.3.w4,
- Outdoor pools should have easily accessible "haul out" areas.(P19.1.w6)
- Do not mix with adults until swimming and feeding well.(J23.28.w3)
vitulina - Common seal pups are able to swim from the day of birth.(B22.33.w5)
- At less than 15kg body weight, allow short swims in specially built shallow indoor
- Towel-down pup and return to dry enclosure after each short swim initially.(P19.1.w6,
- At more than 18kg body weight, gradually introduce to deeper outside pools. (P19.3.w4)
grypus - Grey seal milk composition: Solids 67.7%, energy 5.66 kcal/ml, Fat
79% of dry matter, Protein 17% of dry matter, carbohydrate 4% of dry matter, ash 1% of dry
grypus - Grey seal: milk composition average solids 63.8%, Fat 50%, Protein
12.0%, Lactose 0.7%, Ash 0.8%.(J35.146.w1)
Suggested milk replacers:
- A variety of diets are used for feeding orphaned seal pups, most being based on fish
such as herring, some being based on a milk formula. Some centres successfully rear pups
by feeding with whole herring from the time of presentation, even for very young pups.
- No milk replacer; start feeding initially with whole fish.(V.w21)
- Herring: skinned, boned, head and tail removed, liquidised in a food
processor, mixed with rehydration (electrolyte) fluid (e.g. Ion Aid, Syntex Agribusiness
or Lectade, Pfizer Limited) and vitamin/mineral supplements (e.g. Aquavits (International
Zoo Veterinary Group)). (J61.1.w1,
- California Marine Mammal Center pinniped formula: Herring 0.68kg.
Remove heads, tails and fins. Cut into small pieces, add 200ml water, grind to smooth
paste in food processor, then grind through a rice strainer. Take 0.45kg of this paste in
a blender and add: 300ml Pedialyte or 5% glucose in lactated Ringer's solution, 1ml
multivitamins, 2g salt, 200mg vitamin B1 (thiamine), 400IU vitamin E, 280mg calcium
gluconate, 500mg vitamin C, 10ml safflower oil, 10ml lecithin. Blend until even
consistency and pour into clean container. Add 400ml whipping cream pre-treated with
lactase enzyme for 24 hours and rock to mix contents. Warm before feeding and discard
after 24 hours.(B22.33.w5)
- Up to 5ml of 50% glucose solution may be added per 100ml Marine Mammal Centre pinniped
formula for emaciated or hypoglycaemic pups.(B22.33.w5)
- Useful to add 5ml of 50% dextrose to each feed for first week. (B185.30.w30)
- Multimilk (Borden, Pet Ag Division) powder made up in equal parts with water and with
2ml safflower oil added per 100ml of formula allows weight maintenance in Phoca
vitulina - Common seal pups.(B22.33.w5)
- Multimilk (Borden, Pet Ag Division) may also be used alone or for better growth rates
with added salmon oil.(P26.2000.w1)
vitulina - Common seal pups: Multimilk (Borden, Pet Ag Division) made up
1:3.5 with water (weight ratio).(B184.w19)
vitulina - Common seal pups: Multimilk (Borden, Pet Ag Division):
readily-digestible oil mix: water ratio 1:0.5:3 (weight basis), to give about 22% fat,
gave better weight gain.(B184.w19)
vitulina - Common seal pups: 10 parts whole fish, 7 parts water, 2 parts
vegetable oil, 1 part cod-liver oil. Plus suitable, thiamine-containing vitamin
vitulina - Common seal pups: herring blended with heavy cream (equal
quantities of the two ingredients). Plus suitable, thiamine-containing vitamin
vitulina - Common seal pups: 2 parts unsweetened condensed milk, 1 part
herring, 1 part water. Plus suitable, thiamine-containing vitamin preparation.(B10.47.w25)
- Suggested additives for milk replacers and fish:
- Thiamine 25-35mg per kg of fish fed, due to the presence of thiaminase in fish.
- Sodium chloride 3g per kg fish fed if keeping seals in fresh rather than salt water.
- Vitamin E at 100 iu per kg fish fed as this may be deficient in frozen fatty fish.
- Iron as ferrous sulphate at 200mg per animal per day to avoid the development
- Fisheater tablets, e.g. Aquavits (Special Diet Services), 1/2 tablet for up to 500g of
fish, 1 tablet for over 500g fish, given at each feed.
- Stomach tube (12mm diameter) and 60ml catheter-tip syringes (large tapering nozzle).(P19.1.w6,
- Draw line on tube to indicate distance to be inserted. (B185.30.w30)
- Tube must be soft/flexible and have a blunt end to avoid damage on repeated tubing.(Vw26)
- Tube must be sufficiently robust to ensure that the seal is not easily able to
bite through the tube, and malleable.(Vw26)
- e.g. flexible rubber stallion catheter or human colon tube.(B185.30.w30)
- Stomach tube diameter about 1cm (external).(J15.20.w1);
12mm diameter. (J23.28.w3)
Seal specific information:
- Initially tube feed 5-6 times daily. (B22.33.w5)
- Once on fish, give 3-4 feeds daily.(B22.33.w5)
- Pups under 18lbs.body weight, feed every 4 hours (six feeds per day); pups over 20lbs.
body weight, only 5 feeds per day.(B185.30.w30)
- Initially (for first few days after admission) every four hours day and night (i.e. six
feeds per day), gradually reducing to four times a day, and to three times daily once
whole fish are being taken.(J61.1.w1,
vitulina - Common seal pups: Initially four or five feeds per
day. (B10.47.w25, J23.28.w3)
- N.B. rigid thumb guards should not be used to help open a seal's mouth as
these may cause damage to the seal's teeth.
- Tube feeding of seals should only be performed by experienced personnel.
- Tube feed straight into stomach (P19.1.w6);
insert tube at least 30cm. (J23.28.w3)
- Initially tube with rehydration solution (e.g. Lectade Plus, Pfizer Limited), 100-200ml
per common seal, 150-250ml per grey seal, repeat every 3-4 hours.(J15.20.w1)
- First 24 hours, tube with rehydration solution (e.g. Lectade, Pfizer Limited),
every four hours.(J61.1.w1)
- If dehydrated or diarrhoea: tube for up to three days with mixture of Multimilk and
rehydration solution; otherwise, move straight to feeding with whole fish (herring).(V.w21)
- Details of tubing technique:
- Carefully kneel astride the pup, holding its body between the handlers calves; it is
important to avoid placing any weight on the seal's body and to avoid damage to the
- Initially restrain the head by placing both hands at the base of the skull, remembering
that pups are strong and are capable of turning their heads rapidly and inflicting serious
- Carefully slide the left hand forward to grasp and control the pup's head around its
chin, taking care not to rub the seals eyes with the hand during this process as corneal
abrasion may result, particularly after repeated tubing.
- The lubricated stomach tube should be premarked to indicate the distance from the tip of
the snout to the base of the neck at the thoracic inlet, between the fore flippers.
- The tube is placed in the right side of the mouth at the commissure of the lips and is
quickly introduced as the pup opens its mouth to swallow; this technique requires
considerable practice and confidence.
- The procedure should be stopped if the pup coughs excessively or the tube will not pass
- Once the tube is introduced to the required depth its placement in the oesophagus and not
the trachea is confirmed by listening for coughing (indicates tracheal placement), gut
sounds (indicates correct placement) or respiratory sounds (indicates tracheal placement).
For additional confirmation of correct placement, a catheter-tip syringe may be placed on
the tube and the plunger drawn back to create gentle negative pressure and reflux of
stomach contents into the tube.
- If there is any doubt as to the tube's placement the tube should be removed and the
- It may be advisable, particularly for inexperienced personnel, to introduce a small
volume (e.g. 5-10ml) of water or rehydration fluids at the beginning of the feed to verify
correct tube placement: coughing in response to the fluid indicates tracheal
- Once certain of correct tube placement the feed may be given.
- If excessive pressure is required to depress the plunger on the syringe, check that the
nozzle is not blocked and withdraw the tube a short distance (few centimetres) and try
again. If the problem persists, remove the tube and try again later.
- Kink the tube while changing syringes to avoid excessive quantities of air entering the
- While the tube is being withdrawn the end of the tube must be kinked or blocked with
a syringe in order to avoid feed dripping from the tube into the seal's throat and
- A funnel may be used instead of catheter-tip syringes to deliver liquid food into the
- The same precautions are required to ensure correct tube placement and avoid any food
entering the trachea.
- A second person may be helpful to pour the feed into the funnel.
Force-feeding with fish:
- Kneel astride seal pup, holding with legs; overalls are usually worn. (P19.1.w6,
- Method 1: Run one hand up back, along neck, over head and grip jaw on
either side with thumb and forefinger. With other hand (holding whole fish) stimulate seal
to open mouth, by touching e.g. sides of mouth, chin, between nostrils (effective stimulus
varies between seals).(V.w21)
- When seal opens mouth, push fish in sufficiently far to engage swallowing reflex (fish
size ideally slightly longer than the length of the head of the seal, so fingers can
remain outside mouth).(V.w21)
- Method 2: Left hand holds lower jaw, right hand (holding fish sliver)
presses up on upper jaw and delivers fish.(P19.1.w6).
- After a few days, may open mouth for fish slivers, which can then be increased in size,
eventually to whole fish.(P19.1.w6)
General mammal information:
- Energy intake (kilocalories per day) = 200-250 x weight (kg) 0.83. (P19.1.w5,
Seal specific information:
- Suggested quantities include:
- Initially 80ml formula per kg body weight per day, divided into 5-6 feeds. Increase over
about 5 days to 100ml/kg body weight per day divided. (B22.33.w5)
- Initially 70ml formula per feed for small pups (10-13lbs body weight); 80-90ml per feed
for 14-17lbs body weight pups, 100ml per feed for 18-20lbs body weight pups; for pups
heavier than 20lbs., start at 110ml per feed. Increase amount fed per pup by 10ml per feed
every 3-4 days. N.B may be little weight gain until feed passes 110ml formula per feed.
- Maximum 350ml fish soup or Multimilk (Borden, Pet Ag Division) per feed for both
vitulina - Common seal: day 1-8, mean 1350ml/day formula (Multimilk), day
9-15 mean 850ml formula (Multimilk, Borden, Pet Ag Division) plus mean 815g/day herring,
day 16-21 herring only mean 2500g/day, day 22-28 herring mean 3000g/day.(B184.w19)
vitulina - Common seal pups: 8% of body weight per day for
first few days, then 10-12% body weight per day.(B10.47.w25)
- Feeding three times daily, about 6-12 fish (herring) each feed, depending on the size of
the seal, produces good weight gain. (V.w21)
- Leave few fish in pen at night to encourage self-feeding.(V.w21)
- Once on diet of fish, should be fed 15%-20% body weight per day. (B22.33.w5)
- Seal specific information:
- Winding by gently rubbing the back with a towel may be required if the
pup is being tube-fed. (J23.28.w3)
General mammal information:
Seal specific information:
- It may be necessary to reach a compromise between frequent weighing for monitoring of
the pup's progress and the practicalities and stress involved with repeated handling for
weighing. This will vary depending on hospital design and equipment.(Vw26)
- Weigh daily for the first four weeks.(J23.28.w3)
- Once permanently in pools, may be weighed weekly.
- Must be weighed regularly to check that weight gain is steady.(P19.3.w4)
- Failure of weight gain, or weight loss, is an indication of problems.(P19.3.w4)
Good quality fish should be used for weaning and supplementation with fish-eater
tablets containing thiamine is required particularly when frozen fish are fed. (P19.3.w4)
The suggested time for weaning and food presentation for weaning varies
- May be started on fish when first presented, even if very young.(V.w21)
- Start on pieces of fish at 1 to 2 weeks old.(B22.33.w5)
- Force-feed on slivers of herring (cut diagonally from fish, about 5cm x 2cm) initially,
then increase size of fish pieces gradually. Wean onto fish over 1-2 weeks.(B22.33.w5)
- Feeding with small fish may be easier in practice than feeding slivers of fish because
they keep their form better.(V.w26)
- Force feed with whole fish as soon as possible; usually quickly learn to hand feed. (J61.1.w1)
- Fresh fish should be left in the pup's pen always. Progression in feeding from
force-feeding through hand feeding to hand feeding in the water and then throwing the fish
into the water. The time required at each stage will vary depending on the progress of the
individual seal and quantities fed will vary between individual seals. (P26.2000.w1)
- Lectade may be injected into whole fish to increase fluid intake. (P26.2000.w1)
- Supplement tablets may be given by inserting them into the gills of the fish. (P26.2000.w1)
vitulina - Common seal pups: start weaning onto whole fish after three weeks,
weaned by four weeks.(B10.47.w25)
vitulina - Common seal pups should eat whole fish on their own by 1 month
- At one week old, if reached 120ml formula per feed, may start weaning
- For premature pups, start introducing fish (herring) after two weeks.(B185.30.w30)
- If more than 20lbs body weight on admission may be started directly on fish (gavage
three times with fluids initially).(B185.30.w30)
- Start fish at 0.25 lbs. fish four times daily. After 2 days increase two of these feeds
to 0.5lbs.. After a further two days give all four feeds at 0.5lbs. fish per feed. Gradual
increase until consumption reaches 20% body weight in fish per day.(B185.30.w30)
- Pup will usually start to eat voluntarily after 5-6 days of force feeding with fish. (B185.30.w30)
- Will eat about 1kg of good quality fish (e.g. freshly thawed herring) three times daily,
reaching 4kg total or more per day prior to release.(P19.3.w4)
- Once in "intermediate pools" give opportunity to learn to eat fish from the
water: may take some time.(J61.1.w1)
- Move to larger, deeper pools outside when sufficiently large and strong: if in winter,
require sufficient blubber layer to cope with low temperatures.(J61.1.w1)
- Minimise human contact from this time; may be kept in larger groups.(J61.1.w1)
- When moulted out, give access to the pool and immediately throw a fish in; most seals
will grab the fish and swallow it, and more can then be thrown in one after another.(V.w21)
- Occasionally a seal will take a long time to learn to take fish in the pool (even to
e.g. 5 months). Seals of this age and good weight may be "starved" a little to
encourage self feeding.(V.w21)
- Eating e.g. 5kg fish (herring) per seal (Halichoerus
grypus - Grey seal) per day prior to release.(V.w21)
- Release criteria:
- Release at minimum body weight Phoca
vitulina - Common seal 30-35kg, Halichoerus
grypus - Grey seal 40-45kg.(J61.1.w1,
- Release only when reached at least 25kg body weight (Phoca
vitulina - Common seal).(J23.28.w3,
grypus - Grey seal: Fit for release when more than 30kg body weight, in good
health and has been feeding well without hand feeding for one month.(V.w21)
- Decision on time for release requires behavioural observation as well as the seal having
reached a set minimum weight.(J61.1.w1)
- Should be able to catch fish to feed themselves when released. (P19.1.w6,
- See: Release of Casualty Seals