- Examine the infant (see: Wildlife
Casualty Assessment: Physical examination) for evidence of injury or
- Record body weight and determine the age of the infant if possible.
- Provide warmth. This may be by means of an incubator, towel-covered heat pad,
towel-wrapped hot water bottle (within the infant's container), electrically heated plant
propagator or heat lamp over the container.
- Give warm fluids as required. Appropriate routes may be oral or parenteral.
- Treat as required for any problems present.
- Stimulate urination/defecation ("toileting"). In most species the mother
stimulates urination and defecation by licking the urogenital area of the infant. For
hand-reared animals it is generally necessary to stimulate urination/defecation by gently
wiping the anogenital area with a moistened cloth, piece of cotton wool or cotton bud,
depending on the size of the animal.
- Provide the first bottle feed. The first feed given should be of warm oral rehydration
fluids (see below).
Choice of milk type, quantity and frequency of
- Stimulation of urination/defecation is required for most species of mammals,
particularly in animals less than about 2-4 weeks old.
- Massage the ano-genital area: gently but rapidly brush a damp cotton wool, paper towel
or cotton wool bud (depending on the size of the animal) over the ano-genital area.
- Keep the animal dry; and ensure that the bedding is dry between feeds to reduce the risk
of urine scalding.
- Treat urine scalding or excoriation with white petroleum jelly and/or an antibiotic or
anti-inflammatory preparations as required.
- Stimulation of urination/defecation commonly acts as an encouragement for feeding.
- Offer a feeding position which closely mimics that normally adopted by the infant
suckling from its dam. This varies with species, for example:
- fox and badger cubs may feed lying on their abdomen with their head raised
- deer tend to standing with the head tipped slightly upwards.
- For very small animals, feeding may be encouraged by placing a single drop of milk on
the lips, preferably with the animal held upright and with care taken that it does not
sniff the milk in through its nostrils.
- For larger animals - insert teat in mouth directed towards the roof of the mouth, and
massage the throat gently to encourage swallowing.
- This is required more with some species than others.
- May be stimulated by gentle massage.
- For most species an appropriate container may be provided initially by
a pet-carrying basket, suitable-size cardboard box or a plastic aquarium.
- Care must be taken when using plastic containers to provide additional
absorbent material in the bottom of the container to absorb condensation and urine.
- The sides of the container should be sufficiently high to prevent the
occupant falling out.
- A wire lid may be needed to prevent juveniles of some species from
climbing or jumping out of the container.
- The container used should be sufficiently large to allow the occupant to move into a
- A non-slip substrate should be provided on the floor: both in the nest
box and when the animal is being fed.
- Bedding materials (e.g. vetbed, tissues, old blankets) should be soft, comfortable and
either disposable or easily washed. They should keep the animal dry and be changed as
frequently as necessary to prevent soiling.
- Newspaper or similar may be used under the bedding as an extra layer to
- A cuddly toy or a piece of warm blanket to snuggle up to/under may be
- This is particularly important for juveniles which cannot be reared in a
group for whatever reason and which may derive some comfort bonding from the cuddly toy
acting as an inanimate companion.
Warmth and ventilation:
- Young mammals have poor ability to maintain body temperature and are prone to
hypothermia, hyperthermia and burns, particularly when hairless.
- Heat may be provided with an overhead heat source, e.g. a heat lamp
(preferred), flexible desk lamp with red bulb. (In an emergency an ordinary incandescent
bulb has been suggested, but this should be avoided if possible as it keeps the infant in
constant bright light.)
- Care must be taken if using a heat mat that the animal cannot get over
heated or burned, particularly for animals with limited mobility.
- Hot water bottles must be wrapped to avoid burning and must be monitored
and changed before cooling.
- Placing the container next to a radiator may also be used, and for
smaller species, placing in an airing cupboard.
- The temperature in the box should be monitored with a thermometer,
this and the behaviour of the animal should be used to indicate whether more or less heat
- Ideally a temperature gradient should be provided, and sufficient room
within the container for the animal to move to the zone providing its preferred
- Suggested temperatures include:
- Initial 32°C, then 28°C, later 23°C for small mammals.(P3.1987.w5)
- Initial 95°F for hairless babies, 90°F for
infants which are haired but blind (eyes still permanently closed), with a decrease of 5°F per week once the eyes have opened.(B194)
- Keep out of draughts but ensure ventilation is adequate.
- Leave the animal to rest between feeds.
- Provide a dark, quiet, undisturbed place.
- This is a critical period in rearing.
- The addition of adult foodstuffs should be gradual.
- Age for weaning is variable depending on the species.
- May be based on natural weaning age, if known (see species natural history).
- Sometimes it may be advantageous to wean earlier than the natural weaning age,
particularly if the milk replacer does not closely match maternal milk composition.
- A selection of species-appropriate foods should be available for the juvenile to try.
- The frequency of milk feeds should be reduced as solid food intake increases.
- It is important to monitor the weanling's weight closely to ensure the animal is
still gaining weight.
- It is important to ensure that fresh water is always available.
- N.B. some individuals may resist weaning. Each weaning protocol must be
adapted to suit the individual animal.
- In addition to the normal daily records that should be maintained for all
hospitalised animals, specific data should be recorded when hand-rearing animals. (See:
Wildlife Casualty Record Keeping)
- Accurate records provide a vital objective indication of the progress of
the individual animal, and can also act as a guide for the rearing of other individuals in
- Individuals in a litter must be individually identifiable in order to
allow the progress of each infant to be monitored. Temporary identification may be made
possible using small colour marks applied to the fur. An appropriate non-toxic material
such as coloured correction fluid (e.g. Tippex) or nail varnish may be used for this
The following data should be included in records of each
- Weigh daily, at same time each day in order to monitor weight gain
- Scales must be of an accuracy appropriate to the body weight of the
- It may be useful to weight the animal before and after feeding to
determine the actual weight of food taken.
- If the infant's weight is not increasing or weight loss is occurring,
consider the quantity of food being consumed, whether the animal is suffering from
diarrhoea, or if there is an infection present.
- Feeding: keep individual records of:
- All fluids given
- Milk replacer used.
- Any dilution.
- Addition of e.g. vitamins, minerals.
- Quantity of milk taken.
- Number of feeds per day (note time at each feed).
- Produced spontaneously?
- Produced in response to toileting?
- Changes in colour/consistency of faeces.
- Age first solid foods taken.
- Preferred initial food items.
- Age of weaning.
- Hypothermia / Hyperthermia
- Chilling (hypothermia) or overheating (hyperthermia) poses a particular
risk for very young individuals which are unable to regulate their body temperature
- Hypothermia predisposes to disinclination to feed; this prevents the
animal taking in energy which it needs to maintain its body temperature which can lead to
a vicious cycle of deterioration in condition.
- Hypothermia also interferes with the digestion of food.
- Hypogammaglobulinaemia (low levels of antibodies)
- Inhalation (aspiration) pneumonia:
- This frequently follows inhalation (aspiration) of milk.
- There is an increased risk during first feeds, before a routine of
feeding from the bottle has been established.
- The risk is reduced if an oral rehydration (electrolyte) solution (e.g.
Lectade, Pfizer Limited) or 10% glucose solution is fed initially rather than milk.
- There may be a particular risk of developing inhalation pneumonia if the
"orphan" which is being hand-fed has already suckled from its mother before
presentation. This may be due to a greater resistance of the infant to accepting the
artificial teat in place of its mother's udder (to which it has already become
- The alternative of stomach-tubing rather than bottle feeding may be
considered to reduce the risk of aspiration, particularly for the first few feeds. Tube
placement must be checked to ensure that fluids are administered into the digestive system
and not the trachea.
- Constipation/urine retention.
- This may occur if toileting is not carried out to stimulate
urination/defecation, particularly in very young infants.
- Infectious/parasitic diarrhoea.
- Viral, bacterial and coccidial infections leading to diarrhoea are common
problems in hand reared animals.
- Some infants take in excessive quantities of air while feeding and need
winding in a similar manner to human infants.
- Incorrect imprinting (mis-imprinting).
- Imprinting is a normal part of development.
- Animals which are hand-reared may wrongly imprint on humans rather than
their own species.
- This may lead to serious behavioural difficulties and an inability of the
animal to interact normally with members of its own species.
- Incorrectly imprinted (mis-imprinted) individuals are often unsuitable
- Suckling on littermates.
- The ears, tail and penis are common targets of this misdirected behaviour
and may become traumatised and infected.
Hand-rearing of cetaceans is extremely difficult and requires facilities not presently
available in the UK (J15.20.w1).
As a result further information has not been included in the "UK Wildlife: First Aid
and Care" module.
More information on
specific subject areas is available at the bottom of this page in:
DETAILED INDIVIDUAL / SPECIES-SPECIFIC TECHNIQUES