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Introduction and General Information

Admission and examination of an individual oiled wildlife casualty may proceed in the same way as for any other individual wildlife casualty. Oil spill events in which large numbers of casualties (generally birds) are contaminated present more of a challenge. (B23.38.w2)

It is recognised that some species, such as geese, ducks and swans, are more hardy and likely to respond well to cleaning and treatment, with high success rates (over 90%) and release in as few as three to four days. Other species are more difficult to treat and more likely to develop captivity-related complications. (D135.5.w5)

Effective initial treatment and stabilisation is important to ensure that oiled animals progress to washing and post-washing rehabilitation in as good a condition as possible. (P14.5.w5)

Appropriate personal protective equipment must be worn by all personnel to provide protection from oil exposure and from injury. (D160.5.w5) For further information see: Human Health and Zoonoses in Oiled Wildlife Response

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Stress Reduction

Stress is well recognised as a factor increasing mortality of oiled and other wildlife casualties and should be minimised. (B23.38.w2, D135.5.w5, D208.5.w5)

Signs of stress:

Signs of stress vary between species and between individuals. Stereotypic behaviour can be a signs of stress, as can withdrawal and very placid behaviour. (D208.5.w5)

  • Stressed birds may become very quiet and appear very calm. (P24.335.w20)
  • Stressed birds may show open mouth breathing (this also occurs in birds which are overheating). (D133.4.w4)
  • In pinnipeds, stress may be indicated by repetitive behaviours such as pacing, open-mouth breathing, excessive vocalisation, pale mucous membranes, rapid respiration, rapid heart rate and/or panting. (D208.5.w5)
  • In Enhydra lutris - Sea otters, stress may be indicated by continuous vocalisation, anorexia, incoordination, pacing, excessive grooming and fur chewing. (D208.5.w5)

Stress reduction/minimisation should be sought in all aspects of oiled casualty care.


  • Handling time should be minimised. (D160.5.w5, D208.5.w5, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w20)
    • All equipment required should be prepared and the plan of action agreed before removing the bird from its box or cage, in order to minimise handling time. (D9, D160.5.w5)
    • Communication between personnel is essential to ensure that activities are coordinated, minimising handling of birds. (D135.5.w5)
  • Birds should always be handled by experienced, competent and confident personnel. (P24.327.w4)
    • Personnel should not be required to handle a bird if they do not feel competent to do so. (D135.5.w5)
  • The safety of both people and the bird must be considered. (D135.5.w5)
    • Special handling instructions should be provided for dangerous and unusual species. (D135.5.w5)
    • Gloves and safety goggles should be used as appropriate. (D135.5.w5)
    • Birds should be caught quickly, avoiding chasing. (P24.327.w4)
  • Birds should never be "petted". This is not reassuring to wild animals, to whom people are dangerous predators. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w20)

Visual, auditory and olfactory stimulation:

  • Loud noises act as a stressor and should be minimised. (D160.5.w5, D208.5.w5)
    • This includes human voices, music, laughter, vehicular noise, barking dogs, clattering equipment etc. (P24.327.w4)
    • Personnel should be reminded to speak softly at all times when around animals. (D160.5.w5, P24.327.w4)
    • Examination/treatment, washing and animal accommodation facilities should be sited away from personnel and catering areas. (P24.327.w4)
  • Unusual sights should be minimised. (B23.38.w2)
    • Many birds may be calmer if their eyes are covered, however this varies between species and between individuals. (P24.335.w20)
  • Unusual smells should be minimised. (B23.38.w2)
  • All work should be carried out quietly and efficiently. (D135.7.w7)
  • Avoid staring directly at wildlife casualties. (D135.5.w5)
  • Move slowly and carefully when in the sight of wildlife casualties; avoid sudden movements. (D135.5.w5, P24.335.w20)

General husbandry considerations:

  • Provide visual barriers for birds (to give privacy from humans and from other birds). (D160.5.w5)
  • Housing, feeding, ventilation and social groupings should mimic the natural situation as much as possible. (B23.38.w2)
  • Subdued lighting may reduce stress, but some light is required during daylight to encourage feeding. (P24.335.w20)
  • Maintain appropriate, moderate temperatures in housing areas and avoid temperature extremes. (P24.335.w12)
  • Ensure appropriate social groupings for mammals and deal with any aggressive interactions. (D208.5.w5)
  • Provide adequate haul-out areas and ensure that these are accessible. (D208.5.w5)


  • If animals remain stressed despite all efforts to provide a low-stress environment, sparing use of diazepam or similar pharmacological agents may be useful. (D208.5.w5)
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During an oil spill event when large numbers of oiled animals may arrive at the rehabilitation centre within a short period of time, it is important to ensure that crates or boxes are arranged in such a way that those which have arrived first are admitted first, thus avoiding excessively long waiting periods. (D133.4.w4)

  • Boxes or crates containing oiled casualties must be placed in a warm, well ventilated area. (D133.4.w4) away from direct sunlight and from excessive noise and human traffic. 
  • If boxes with side ventilation holes are used they must be placed at least one to one and a half inches (2.5-3.75 cm) apart to ensure adequate ventilation, even if vents are also present on the top of the box. (D133.3.w3)
  • Birds should be sheltered from the sight of humans and of other birds which may stress them. (D135.5.w5)
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NOTE: Information on Field Stabilisation is provided in Oiled Wildlife Search and Collection - Field Stabilisation

An area of the facility should be designated for intake and initial stabilisation. (B23.38.w2)

  • Teams of two or three are generally recommended so that one person can handle the wildlife casualty while a second person carries out the examination and initial treatment and, if possible, a third person takes notes. (D133.4.w4, D208.4.w4)
    • More than one handler may be required for large mammals. (D208.4.w4)
  • All equipment required should be made ready before the casualty is removed from its transport container. This minimises the time during which the casualty must undergo the stressful experience of being handled and examined. (D133.4.w4, D135.5.w5)
  • Personnel should wear appropriate personal protective equipment including protective clothing, safety goggles and either latex or nitrile gloves. (D133.4.w4, D135.5.w5)
  • Hazards to personnel include physical hazards from the casualties, chemical hazards from petroleum products and potential zoonotic hazards from casualties. See: Human Health and Zoonoses in Oiled Wildlife Response
  • The Material Safety Data Sheet for the contaminating oil should be reviewed, if available. (D135.4.w4) 
    • This will not be available if the source and identity of the oil is unknown. 


The same principles apply as for handling at the time of capture: firm but gentle, with control over the head and limbs, and care not to restrict ventilation. (V.w5)

  • Towels can be useful when removing birds from a box or cage.
    • To remove a bird from a box, throwing a towel over it as soon as the box is opened allows the head to be grasped without being bitten. (P24.335.w20)
    • To remove a bird from a small cage, covering the hands with a towel provides some protection and also disguises the hands, making them less threatening to the bird. (P24.335.w20)
  • Physical restraint devices (e.g. squeeze cages) and/or chemical restraint may be required for mammals. (D208.4.w4)


  • Each individual oiled animal should be identified to species level, with information on approximate age group (i.e. chick/infant, subadult or adult) and sex (male or female) as far as possible. (D133.4.w4, D159.III.w3, D160.5.w5)
    • Good field guides should be used to assist with this. (D133.4.w4, D208.4.w4)
    • Identification to species is required to allow prioritisation of rare and endangered birds, and those most susceptible to stress (which may require particularly prompt treatment) as well as to allow correct feeding, husbandry etc. and safe handling. (B188, B363.9.9, P62.1.w1)

Provision of temporary identification:

  • Each individual casualty should be provided with a unique identifying band or tag for individual identification. For birds this is usually a leg band. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4, B23.38.w2, D135.5.w5, D160.5.w5, D208.4.w4)
    • Sequentially numbered bands are recommended. (D135.5.w5, D160.5.w5)
    • It is important to make sure that there is no duplication of band numbers during a spill response.
    • Bands must fit correctly. (D133.4.w4) Bands that are too large and loose may fall off. (D133.4.w4) Both bands that are too large and bands that are too small provide a greater risk of injuring the bird. (V.w5)
    • Guides may be used to select the correct size of leg band. (D133.4.w4)
  • Mammals:
    • Each individual should be marked or tagged. (D208.4.w4)
    • Plastic tags used as ear tags in livestock may be used, or hair may be dyed or bleached. (D208.4.w4)
      • Clipping hair patches for identification should only be carried out on species which do not rely on their pelage for insulation. (D208.4.w4)
      • A microchip may be used for identification, inserted subcutaneously in the interscapular region. (D208.4.w4)


  • An individual record should be started for each casualty, including its temporary identification number, species etc., collection data. All findings and treatments should then be noted on this record. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4, D160.5.w5, D208.4.w4)
Further information regarding records and legal evidence is provided in the section below headed Records.
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Initial Examination

The initial examination should be rapid but thorough. (D32.3.w3)

  • A consistent procedure should be set for examinations to avoid any aspect being missed out. (B188, B363.App3.w16)
  • While an individual veterinarian may have his/her own system for examination of wildlife casualties, and may be most comfortable using that system, a standard system for recording findings is important to allow assessment of protocols both during the spill and as part of post-spill monitoring. (B363.App3.w16, V.w5)

Note: The initial examination may be carried out simultaneously with parts of the initial therapy (see section below: Initial Therapy), for example mucous membranes may be cleaned of oil, allowing assessment of their colour (perfusion status) and consistency of mucus, as well as any injuries. The examination will also determine aspects of initial therapy, such as correction of detected hypo- or hyperthermia, stabilisation of fractures, and required volumes of fluids (based on body weight and assessed percentage dehydration). (B363.App3.w16, V.w5)


Description of oiling:

The extent and distribution of oiling should be noted. (D32.3.w3, D133.App6c.w18, D135.5.w5, D160.5.w5)

  • This should include: (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4)
    • Type of oil, if known;
    • Percent oiled;
    • Depth of oiling;
    • Which area of the bird is oiled.
  • If required for legal or other recording purposes, a sample of oiled feathers may be taken, wrapped in aluminium foil and labelled. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4, D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1)(see below - Records)

Weight and body condition:

  • Subjective assessment of body condition based on keel muscle profile and depth of subcutaneous fat should be combined with bodyweight and, if possible, body condition indices (validated by prior research) based on body weight and a linear measurement indicating body size. (B363.App3.w16)
  • Each bird should be weighed and its weight at intake recorded. (D60.7.w7, D135.9.w9, D159.III.w3, D160.5.w5)
    • Weight can indicate body condition if the normal weight range for the species is known. (B188)
    • Individuals which are severely dehydrated may be very underweight, but rapidly gain weight when rehydrated. (D135.7.w7, D160.App5.w13)
    • Note that the weight obtained from oiled birds will be inaccurate as oil will contribute. (P24.327.w4); excess oil may be wiped off before weighing to minimise this inaccuracy. (P24.335.w12)
    • To avoid contamination of clean birds, a set of scales should be designated specifically for weighing oiled birds. (D133.4.w4)
  • General body condition should be noted. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Body condition and weight are good indicators of the general condition of the bird and how long it has been contaminated. (B188)
      • The keel is not easily felt on a bird in good body condition but is prominent on a thin bird. (B188)
      • It is important to be aware of normal species variations (e.g. healthy herons and egrets (Ardeidae - Heron, Bitterns, Egrets (Family)) have a very prominent keel) and seasonal changes such as normal weight loss by the end of migration. (D32.3.w3, D133.App6c.w18, D135.7.w7, D160.App5.w13)

Body Temperature:

  • A digital thermometer is inserted gently into the cloaca and the bird's temperature recorded. (D60.7.w7)
    • Keep the thermometer in place until the thermometer indicates it has taken the reading. (D9)
    • To avoid any possibility of confusion it is important to record whether the temperature was taken in Centigrade (C) or Fahrenheit (F). In the UK, C is generally used while in the USA, F is used. Care must be taken if converting between the two scales. (V.w5)
    • Normal cloacal temperature for birds is about 39-41C (102-105F) (D133.4.w4); 39-41C (102-106F)(B188); 41C (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12); 102-106C (B23.38.w2, D32.3.w3, D135.9.w9);  39-40C. (D135.5.w5)
    • If a bird is hypothermic or hyperthermic it may be necessary to correct this problem prior to continuing intake. (D133.4.w4) See section below on Initial Therapy

Hydration Status:

Oiled birds are likely to be dehydrated at the time of intake. (D133.4.w4)

  • The bird's degree of dehydration is an indicator of its general condition and the length of time it has been oiled. (B188)
    • In a healthy bird, the skin should slide easily over the breast; in a dehydrated bird, due to loss of skin elasticity, it is harder to move the skin. A further indicator is the skin on the feet: in a well hydrated bird pinched skin will quickly flatten out when released while in a dehydrated bird the wrinkle will remain for several seconds. (B188)

The percentage dehydration should be estimated: (D133.4.w4)

  • Less than 5%: Not detectable. (D133.App8.w20)
  • 5-6%: subtle loss of skin elasticity. D133.App8.w20)
  • 7-10%: Skin tenting, loss of brightness around the eyes, dry, ropy mucous membranes and slow upper eye turgor. (D133.App8.w20)
  • 10-12% Skin stays in place if tented, scales of feet have muddy colour, mucous membranes are dry, extremities are cool, heat beat is rapid, bird appears depressed. (D133.App8.w20)
  • 12-15%: Bird appears extremely depressed. In shock and near death. (D133.App8.w20)

Heart & Lungs:

  • The heart rate should be determined if possible, and recorded. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4)
  • Any abnormality in the heart beat, such as a heart murmur (which may be present in severely anaemic birds), should be noted. (D133.4.w4)
  • The respiratory rate should be noted, also any abnormal respiratory sounds and/or difficulty in breathing. (D133.4.w4)
    • Abnormalities of respiratory rate and depth, and sounds detected on auscultation, may indicate pulmonary injury due e.g. inhalation of petroleum fumes, or other respiratory disease. (B363.App3.w16) See: Aspergillosis in Birds (with special reference to Waterfowl)
    • Respiratory rate and depth during the examination may also be used as an indicator of handling stress. (B363.App3.w16)

General Physical Examination:

  • Demeanour: bright, alert and reactive, or quiet but reactive, or depressed/lethargic, or collapsed/comatose, or aggressive. (D32.3.w3, D133.App6c.w18, D160.5.w5)
    • Note: an ill bird which is aware it is being watched will try to hide its disability and may appear relatively well. If possible, casualties should be observed while they do not know they are being watched to gain a better knowledge of their real general status. 
    • In an oiled bird, tremors and convulsions are signs indicative of oil toxicosis. (D135.5.w5)
  • Head: note obstructions of, or discharges from, the eyes, nares and mouth. (D133.4.w4)
    • Head tilt may indicate a central nervous system problem. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4)
    • Rapid pupillary light reflex is expected unless the bird is obtunded; many bird species do not show a consensual response. (B363.App3.w16)
    • Sunken eyes may indicate dehydration (see above). (D133.4.w4)
    • Watery eyes may indicate irritation and oil toxicosis. (D135.5.w5)
    • Check for ocular ulceration; confirm by the fluorescein test if necessary. (B188)
      • Corneal ulceration may result from irritation by oil, physical irritation by sand, or fungal infection. (P4.1990.w1)
  • Wings and legs: note any wing droop or lameness which may indicate musculoskeletal trauma. Carefully palpate long bones for fractures, wounds and swelling, and manipulate joints. (B188, B363.App3.w16, D60.7.w7)
    • The skin on the undersurface of the wing should be examined for signs of contact irritation due to the oil. (B23.38.w2)
    • Capture Myopathy may be seen initially or several days after capture. (B23.38.w2)
  • Body: examine for wounds, keel lesions and the degree of muscle loss over the keel. Palpate the abdomen gently for the presence of obvious masses, fluid accumulation or abnormalities of the vent. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4)
    • Note oil and matted feathers around the vent, which may interfere with defecation and contribute to the development of cloacal impaction. (B23.38.w2)
    • Note inflamed skin indicative of oil toxicosis. (D135.5.w5)
    • Injuries are most likely if birds have been washed ashore in rocky areas in a heavy swell. (D139)
  • Note: 
    • Common traumatic injuries in oiled birds include bite wounds (from predators), shoulder luxation (from incorrect capture and handing methods) and wing injuries (from incorrect capture and transportation). (B23.38.w2)
    • Cleaning and successful treatment of oil-contaminated large wounds and compound fractures may be difficult or impossible. The possibility of euthanasia for animals with such injuries should be considered at an early stage. (B23.38.w2)
    • Any individual showing signs of a possible infectious disease must be isolated. (B23.38.w2, D160.5.w5)
      • When large numbers of casualties are being treated it may be necessary to euthanase a single diseased individual to protect the other animals. (B23.38.w2)
    • Birds showing signs of oil toxicosis should be cleaned as soon as possible, particularly if the oil has been identified and is known to be irritant or toxic. (D135.5.w5)
  • For a full description of physical examination of a bird see: Physical Examination
  • Treatment of wounds is discussed below in the section below: Initial Therapy

Blood Sample:

  • Many protocols suggest blood sampling at the time of admission. However, it must be remembered that this is an additional stressful experience for the bird, requiring extra restraint. Before blood sampling birds at intake it is important to consider whether there are on-site facilities for processing of at least the basic tests and whether the results are going to be available and used for decision making. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12
  • Blood is generally taken from the leg vein (medial metatarsal vein). (B363.App3.w16, D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1) Alternative vessels include the wing vein (brachial vein) or the jugular. (B363.App3.w16, D133.4.w4)
    • Note that in most bird species the RIGHT jugular is much better developed than the left. (B13.9.w25)
    • Following venupuncture it is important to put pressure on the vein to stop the bird bleeding into its subcutaneous tissues. (B13.9.w25, V.w5)
    • Video clips of venupuncture in birds are available: Video Clips: Blood Collection Techniques for Birds
  • Maximum blood volume to be taken is 1.0 ml per 100g body weight of the bird. Preferably no more than 0.6 ml/100g should be taken. (D133.4.w4)
    • Inserting a 25 gauge needle into the vein and allowing the needle hub to half-fill allows filling of three microhaematocrit tubes. These can then be used for the tests indicated above (PCV, total proteins, blood glucose and blood smears). Blood smears should be labeled when they are made (in-house band number, species, date collected). (D133.4.w4)
  • Basic blood tests include packed cell volume (PCV), total solids (total proteins), blood glucose and blood smears. (D60.7.w7, D133.4.w4, D160.5.w5, B23.38.w2, J29.8.w1) Normal values are;
    • PCV 35-55% (average 42% B11.8.w25); PCV about 40-50% (B188)
      • For marine and other aquatic birds, published normal values for PCV are mean 33-66 g/L (ranges 21 -100 g/L); the lower values may be from immature values while the highest values may be from haemoconcentrated birds in the tropics. (B363.App3.w16)
    • Total proteins 3.5-5.5 g/dL (35-55 g/L)(B23.38.w2); total proteins 4.0-5.0 g/dL. (B188)
      • If total proteins are below 20 g/L special fluid therapy such as hetastarch solution may be indicated to avoid the risk of pulmonary oedema caused by rehydration therapy. (B363.App3.w16)
    • Glucose level 150-250. (B23.38.w2); glucose approximately 9-20 mmol/L, with variations in ranges between species. (B11.8.w25); blood sugar 200-500 mg/dL (11-28 mmol/L). (B188)
      • A blood glucose of less than 150 mg/dL (or less than half the normal value for the species) may indicate hypoglycaemia. (B13.28.w29)
      • Neurological signs of hypoglycaemia may be seen if glucose drops below 80 mg/dL (4.5 mmol/L). (D133.4.w4, B363.App3.w16); seizures may occur with a blood glucose below 100 mg/dL. (B13.28.w29)
  • If a bird has a PCV of 15% or less and/or total proteins of less than 1.0 g/dL the prognosis is not good: such birds have a reduced likelihood of surviving rehabilitation or reaching release criteria. Veterinary judgment is required regarding whether such a bird should be euthanased. (D133.4.w4)
  • Further blood tests may include complete blood cell counts and plasma or serum chemistry profile. Additional blood is required if these tests are to be completed. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)
N.B. any individual showing signs indicative of infectious disease should be isolated immediately. See section below on Quarantine & Isolation



  • If possible, the animal should be observed within its transport container for an initial assessment including evaluation of locomotion and central nervous system status. (D208.4.w4)
  • The animal's general behaviour and alertness should be assessed. (D208.4.w4)
  • Behavioural signs indicative of low or high body temperature may also be noted (shivering or panting and agitated behaviour respectively). Severely hyperthermic animals may show lethargy or be unconscious. (B335.4.w4)

Degree of oiling and water repellency of fur:

  • Normal pelage of Enhydra lutris - Sea otters appears brown and striated, with dry underfur even when the animal has been submerged in water. (B335.4.w4)
  • A classification system for degree of oiling of otters is as follows: (B335.4.w4)
    • Heavy. More than 60% of the body covered with oil, saturation of oil to the skin. (B335.4.w4)
    • Moderate: 30 to 60% of the body covered with oil, including areas of saturation to the skin. (B335.4.w4)
    • Light: less than 30% of the body is covered with oil, or there is a light sheen of oil present on the fur. (B335.4.w4)
    • Unoiled: there is no visual or olfactory evidence of oil on the coat. (B335.4.w4)
  • Note: It can be difficult to determine whether an individual marine mammal, having a dark, shiny pelt, is or is not oiled. Field assays may be used to detect petroleum products on the pelt so that individuals which are not oiled can be quickly released or relocated rather than cleaned and rehabilitated. (D208.4.w4)

Weight, size and body condition:

  • The individual should be weighed; standard length and axillary girth measurements should be taken. (D208.4.w4)
  • The general body condition should be noted. (D208.4.w4)
  • Oiled otters may fail to eat and may therefore be underweight and (see below) dehydrated. (B335.4.w4)

Body Temperature:

  • If possible, core body temperature should be determined. Standard thermometers may be used for Enhydra lutris - Sea otters, but pinnipeds require a flexible electronic thermometer with a flexible thermister probe, inserted into the rectum to a depth of 15 cm. (D208.4.w4)
  • If it is not possible to insert an appropriate thermometer, abnormal temperatures can be assessed qualitatively:
    • Hypothermic animals may shiver. The hind flippers of a hypothermic Enhydra lutris - Sea otters will be cold to the touch. (B335.4.w4)
    • Hyperthermic animals may show panting, agitated behaviour and expansion of the flippers, which will feel hot to the touch. With severe hyperthermia, lethargy and unconsciousness may result. (B335.4.w4)
  • Normal body temperature of mammals is generally 101-104F. (D32.3.w3)
    • For Enhydra lutris - Sea otters, normal temperature is 99.5 - 100.6F. (D208.4.w4)
      • A core temperature of greater than 40C/104F indicates hyperthermia. (B335.4.w4)
    • For most pinnipeds, normal temperature is 98-102F. (D208.4.w4)

Hydration status:

  • The percentage dehydration should be estimated; most stranded mammals will be at least slightly dehydrated. (D208.4.w4)
    • Individuals with mild dehydration (less than 5%) may show only decreased tear production and generally subdued behaviour. (D208.4.w4)
    • With 5-10% dehydration, signs are more obvious and include lack of tear production, thick ocular mucus, eyes which are sunken or "crusty", dry mucous membranes, skin tenting/decreased elasticity and general depression/lethargy. (B335.4.w4, D208.4.w4)
  • Oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otters may be dehydrated due to failure to eat: much of their water intake (50-100%) normally comes from food. (B335.4.w4)

General Physical Examination:

  • Signs of shock, if present, include weakness, hyperventilation, pale or mottled gums, cold hind flippers and reduced capillary refill (increased capillary refill time). (B335.4.w4)
  • Signs of hypoglycaemia include:
    • Lethargy, huddling to conserve body heat, shivering, weakness and in some cases unresponsiveness. (D208.5.w5)
    • Hypothermia, pulmonary oedema and central nervous system dysfunction (indicated by depression, muscular weakness, locomotor incoordination and seizures) may be seen, with unconsciousness in severe cases. (B335.5.w5)
  • Check the oral cavity as possible during vocalisation by the animal; in sedated, comatose or very young animals a more thorough oral examination may be possible. (D208.4.w4)
  • Assess respiration. Signs of respiratory distress include diaphragmatic breathing, hyperventilation and congestion. (B335.4.w4)
  • Check the skin for signs of irritation. 
    • Fur of Enhydra lutris - Sea otters may be damaged by excessive grooming, with both excess shedding of fur and breakage of hairs. (B335.4.w4)
    • Enhydra lutris - Sea otters irritated by oil may scratch at the cornea and around the eyes, and may chew on the interdigital webbing of the hind flippers, sometimes sufficiently to cause exposure of the cartilage between the toes. (B335.4.w4)
  • Palpate the neck and thorax for signs of subcutaneous emphysema. (D208.4.w4)
  • Examine the musculoskeletal system for any fractures, wounds or swellings. (D208.4.w4)
  • Gently palpate the abdomen for fluid accumulation, masses or pregnancy. (D208.4.w4)
  • Check the urogenital area for urine, faeces and any abnormal discharges. (D208.4.w4)
  • Details of general physical examination for mammals are provided in: Physical Examination of Mammals

Blood sample:

  • A blood sample should be taken at the end of the physical examination for haematology, biochemistry and banking of excess serum. (D208.4.w4)
    • From phocids, this can be taken from the epidural sinus or from the interdigital veins at the apex of the web between the inner digits of the hind flippers. (D208.4.w4)
    • From otarids, blood can be taken from the caudal gluteal vein, the interdigital vein or, in an anaesthetised animal, the external jugular vein. (D208.4.w4)
    • From otters, blood can be taken from the popliteal (saphenous) vein (about 1 cm posterior to the femoral condyles) or the femoral vein (proximal third), with the otter held in dorsal recumbency in a restraint box or stuff bag or, in an anasethetised animal, the jugular vein. (B335.4.w4, D208.4.w4)
    • In most mammals the cephalic vein of the foreleg or the saphenous vein of the hind leg are accessible. (D32.3.w3)
  • Blood glucose should be read immediately and basic haematological and biochemical parameters should be assessed rapidly on-site; further testing may be done by sending samples to an appropriate veterinary diagnostic laboratory. (B335.4.w4)
    • For most mammals, hypoglycaemia is diagnosed if the blood glucose concentration falls below 80 mg/dL. (D208.5.w5)
    • Normal blood glucose for pinnipeds is 80-180 mg/dL, for adult Enhydra lutris - Sea otters is 67-161 (median 121.5) mg/dL and for sea otter pups is 31-174 (median 87) mg/dL. (D208.5.w5)
  • An indication of internal exposure to oil may be determined from the level of petroleum hydrocarbons in the blood, such as the total paraffinic hydrocarbons (TPH), from a sample taken within 48 hours of exposure to oil. In animals not exposed to oil, the level of these compounds in blood should be less than 1 ppm. In Enhydra lutris - Sea otters oiled by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, there was a correlation between high levels of total paraffinic hydrocarbons and severity of emphysema (all individuals with subcutaneous emphysema had levels of greater than 224 ppm; sea otters without emphysema had a mean level of 65 +/- 57 (SE) ppm), and between high levels of total paraffinic hydrocarbons and failure to survive: the mean level for otters surviving at least 20 days was 112 +/- 92 (SD) ppm. (B335.4.w4) Note: the TPH concentration provides a relative index of toxicosis, but the lethal thresholds indicated by TPH will vary depending on the type of oil, duration of contact with the oil and the oiled species. (B335.4.w4)


  • For sea turtles, it has been suggested that serial blood samples should be taken to help direct therapy. (B413.6.w1, D228.5.w5)
Associated techniques linked from Wildpro

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Initial Therapy

Initial therapy may be given simultaneously with carrying out the initial examination (see section above: Initial Examination), for example mucous membranes may be cleaned of oil, allowing assessment of their colour (perfusion status) and consistency of mucus, as well as any injuries, and treatment of life-threatening conditions should begin before the examination is completed.


Removal of excess oil:

  • Excess oil should be removed from the eyes, nostrils (nares), mouth and vent if this has not been carried out in the field. (B188, D60.7.w7, D133.3.w3, P14.5.w6, D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5, D139, D159.III.w3, D160.5.w5, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Clean gauze swabs and cotton buds are suitable for this purpose. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Eyes should be flushed with warm ophthalmic irrigation fluid such as 0.9% sterile saline. (P14.5.w6, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12, B23.38.w2, D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5, D160.5.w5)
      • Water based antibiotic/anti-inflammatory drops should be applied if the eyes are inflamed. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Excess oil should be wiped from the body, wings and legs. (D135.9.w9)
    • Excess oil may be wiped from feathers using an absorbent cloth such as a clean towel, or absorbent paper, applied in the direction of feather growth. On the head a cotton ball may be used. (B188, P24.327.w4, D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5, D139, P24.335.w12)
  • Oil, droppings, or any other foreign material should be removed from around the vent. (B23.38.w2, D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)

Activated Charcoal/Enteric coating agent:

In order to reduce damage caused to the gastro-intestinal tract by oil, and absorption of toxic oil from the gastro-intestinal tract, admission protocols often include administration of activated charcoal and/or an enteric coating agent, to block toxin absorption and/or adsorb toxins so they pass through the gastro-intestinal tract. (D159.III.w3)

Suggested treatments include:

  • Activated charcoal:
    • Administer by gavage 50 mL per kg body weight of a mixture of activated charcoal (75 mg/mL) in isotonic fluids. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)
      • This gives 3.75 g activated charcoal per kilogram bodyweight. (J29.8.w1)
        • To make the activated charcoal slurry of 75 mg/mL, three bottles of Toxiban (Vat-A-Mix, Lloyd Inc., Shenandoah, Iowa, USA) are mixed with 250 mL of electrolyte solution. (J29.8.w1)
      • This should be warmed (in a container of warm water) before being administered. (D133.4.w4)
      • If a bird regurgitates when first gavaged, check the fluid mixture is at the right temperature and gavage again, slower and using a smaller volume (D133.4.w4)
      • For a full description of gavage in birds see: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques)
    • Activated charcoal at 52 mg/kg after the first dose of fluids. (P24.327.w4, B23.38.w2, P4.1990.w1)
    • In the UK, BCK granules (Fort Dodge Animal Health, containing bismuth subnitrate 3.92%, light kaolin 42.16%, activated charcoal 40.2%, calcium phosphate BP 4.9%, acacia 4.9% and sucrose 3.92% (B266)) may be used, at about 36 g granules per litre of rehydration fluid. (P14.5.w6); 1 teaspoon of BCK granules per 100 mL rehydration fluid. (D60.7.w7)
  • OR enteric coating agents:
    • Enteric coating agents, e.g. bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol) may be given at 2.0 to 5.0 mL/kg, after the first dose of oral fluids, to reduce mucosal irritation and toxin absorption. (B23.38.w2, P24.327.w4, D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
  • CAUTION: Any bird which is unable to hold its head up (maintain head carriage) or which may not be able to swallow should NOT be given oral fluids. (B23.38.w2)

Correction of body temperature: 

Birds which have been oiled have lost their main insulation and are likely to become hypothermic. Hyperthermia may occur in some circumstances, such as oiled birds left in boxes in direct sunlight. 
  • Birds should initially be housed at 80-85F (27-29C). (D135.5.w5)
  • NOTE: 
    • Gradual changes in body temperature may be less stressful than rapid changes. (B23.38.w2)
    • Careful monitoring is required while correcting body temperature. (D135.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
    • The cloacal temperature should be monitored closely while warming or cooling a bird. (D133.4.w4)

To correct hypothermia:

  • Supplementary warmth may be required for any bird with a body temperature below 100F (38C). (D135.5.w5) below 101F (D159.III.w3)
  • Birds may be warmed rapidly using heat sources such as latex gloves filled with warm water, hot water bottles, heat lamps, warm air pet driers or incubators. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1) See also: Chilling - Hypothermia - General Nursing & Surgical
  • Heat lamps are recommended, positioned to provide a temperature gradient, so that birds can move away from the heat to avoid overheating. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12, B23.38.w2, D135.5.w5)
    • Heat lamps should be positioned to be effective, but also with due consideration for safety of both birds and handlers. They should always be mounted securely and placed safely away from all flammable materials. (D135.7.w7)
  • Heat pads and hot water bottles are alternative heat sources. (P24.327.w4) Placed under part of the cage these may be very useful for smaller birds. (B23.38.w2)
  • Hot water bottles at 105-115F (41-46C), wrapped in light towels, may be placed between the wings and the body of hypothermic recumbent birds. Such bottles need to be changed frequently. (D135.5.w5)
  • In the absence of another heat source, placing the oiled bird in its box near a radiator may be sufficient. (D139)
  • Fluids (see Dehydration, below) should be given warm (at or near body temperature) which will aid in increasing core body temperature. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Glucose in administered fluids will provide an energy source for the increased metabolic rate as the bird warms up. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • N.B. careful monitoring of the bird's body temperature is important during warming. (J29.8.w1)
    • Signs of overheating such as panting or open-mouth breathing should be watched for while birds are being warmed. (D135.5.w5)
    • Birds should also be monitored for their ability to move relative to the heat source. (D135.5.w5)
  • Slow warming is less stressful than very rapid warming. (P24.335.w12)
  • N.B. it is essential that adequate ventilation is provided during warming, as volatile oil components will start to evaporate as the bird (and the oil) warms up. (P24.335.w12)
To prevent hyperthermia in dry birds, regular monitoring is important. Open mouth breathing suggests overheating or stress. (D133.4.w4)

To correct hyperthermia:

  • Hyperthermic birds should be placed in a well-ventilated area. (D135.5.w5)
  • Birds with a core body temperature above 106F require cooling. (D159.III.w3)
  • If a bird becomes hyperthermic while being handled, a period of time left quietly in a box may be sufficient. (D133.4.w4)
  • For faster cooling the bird may be misted with water, alcohol pads may be applied to the feet or the bird may be immersed in cool water. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1) 
  • See also: Sunstroke - Heatstroke
  • N.B. careful monitoring of the bird's body temperature is important during cooling. (J29.8.w1)

Respiratory distress or wheezing:

  • Check for any mechanical obstruction and remove this if possible. (D133.4.w4)
    • NOTE: extra care is required when looking down the bill of aggressive birds such as herons, gannets and divers (loons). (D133.4.w4)
  • Place in an oxygen cage if available prior to further examination. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)
  • Full veterinary evaluation will be required if the cause has not been identified and treated. (D133.4.w4)
  • Birds with dyspnoea, tachypnoea, abnormal lung sounds and signs of liquid infiltration or bullae on radiography (i.e. with inhalation pneumonia or emphysema) should be housed in oxygen cages if possible and given good general supportive care including prophylactic antibiotics and antifungal medication. (J29.8.w1)

Dehydration - Fluid Therapy:

If possible, fluid therapy should be given based on the calculated deficit for each bird. In large oiling events a herd health approach may be required, with all incoming birds assumed to be 8% to 10% dehydrated and treated accordingly. (J29.8.w1) Fluid therapy should be given as necessary to treat dehydration; oiled birds may be considered to be 10% dehydrated unless clinical signs indicate otherwise (B23.38.w2, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12). Aim to replace this 10% over 72 hours, plus 5% body weight maintenance, plus losses due to e.g. diarrhoea. (B23.38.w2)

  • For mild dehydration (less than 5%), oral fluid therapy should be adequate. (D133.4.w4)
  • For 5-8% dehydration, oral rehydration can be used (unless the bird is regurgitating). (J29.8.w1)
  • For severe dehydration (greater than 8%) intravenous or intraosseous fluid therapy will probably be required. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)

Fluid therapy is most commonly administered orally by gavage (stomach tubing). Oral fluid therapy is NOT suitable for any individual which is having seizures, is extremely weak, depressed or hypothermic and cannot maintain proper head carriage or may not be able to swallow properly. (D32.3.w3, B23.38.w2, D135.5.w5)

  • Fluids should generally be warmed to body temperature i.e. 101-104F before being administered. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • However, for individuals which are hyperthermic or showing seizures, fluids at room temperature should be used. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
  • Oral fluids are preferable to parenteral fluids; oral fluids not only treat dehydration but also assist in flushing any oil from the gastrointestinal tract. (P24.335.w12)
  • Parenteral fluids are required for individuals which:
    • Are showing seizures. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Are unable to maintain head carriage. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Are extremely depressed or debilitated. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Show clinical signs of shock or kidney failure. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Show clinical signs of dehydration. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Are hypothermic or hyperthermic. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Show signs of exposure to toxic substances. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Regurgitate fluids. (J29.8.w1)

Oral fluid therapy:

  • Suggested suitable oral rehydration fluids (given by gavage (stomach tube) include:
    •  Liquid Lectade (Pfizer) (P14.5.w6), Pedialyte (a human pediatric rehydration solution, Abbott Laboratories) or lactated Ringer's solution (LRS, Hartmann's) and 2.5% dextrose (B23.38.w2); 
    • Oral rehydration solutions such as Lectade can be used, made up to half the strength recommended by the manufacturers. Alternatively a 50:50 mixture of lactated Ringers solution (LRS, Hartmann's) and 2.5% dextrose in 0.45% NaCl can be used. Fluids should be warmed to 39-40C prior to administration. (P24.327.w4)
    • Lectade should be made up to half the strength recommended by the manufacturers. (P24.327.w4)
    • A basic oral rehydration solution can be made up by dissolving one tablespoon of sugar and one teaspoon of salt in one litre of water.(B203)
  • Give 20 to 40 mL/kg bodyweight at least three times in the first 24 hours. (P24.335.w12)
  • While birds may be able to take 50 mL/kg by gavage at one time, it is best to use smaller volumes initially and increase the volume given gradually. (D133.5.w5, J29.7.w1)
  • For further information on gavage see: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques)

Parenteral fluids:

  • If necessary, parenteral fluids may be given (D160.5.w5, P4.1990.w1); (subcutaneously, intravenously or intraosseously), e.g. at 3-5% of body weight intravenously plus approximately 5% body weight subcutaneously. (P4.1990.w1)
  • Note: give parenteral fluids as aseptically as possible, cleaning the skin before introducing a needle, in order to avoid introducing oil, bacteria or other contaminants into the bird. (B23.38.w2, V.w5, V.w73)
  • For correction of 5-8% dehydration, parenteral fluids may be required. These may be given by the subcutaneous, intravenous or intraosseous route. (D133.4.w4)
  • For correction of severe dehydration (greater than 8% dehydration), intravenous or intraosseous fluid therapy will probably be required. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)
    • For correction of severe dehydration, fluids are required at a minimum rate of 50 mL/kg body weight over 24 hours, either by continuous infusion or divided into two or three boluses for slow injection. (D133.4.w4)
    • 15-35 mL/kg three times a day by bolus injection into the medial tarsal or cutaneous ulnar vein. (B23.38.w2)
    • For severely dehydrated hypoproteinaemic birds, intravenous colloid solutions may be required (e.g. Hetastarch, Abbot Laboratories), 10 to 15 mL/kg three times daily. (J29.8.w1)
  • Routes:
    • The medial metatarsal vein on the leg or the brachial vein on the wing can generally be used for intravenous injection. For intraosseous injection a catheter may be placed in the distal ulna or proximal tibiotarsus. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
      • Use of intravenous (medial tarsal vein) or intraosseous (distal ulna or proximal tibiotarsus) catheters should be avoided unless absolutely necessary: the individual generally needs to be isolated from conspecifics and washing delayed until the catheter has been removed and the site of insertion has healed. (B23.38.w2)
    • If neither intravenous nor intraosseous routes are available, fluids may be given subcutaneously in the inguinal region or intrascapular region and avoiding the cervical air sacs. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Limitations of the subcutaneous route:
      • Fluids given subcutaneously are not well absorbed by hypothermic birds due to peripheral vasoconstriction. (D133.4.w4)
      • Fluids should not be given subcutaneously in birds with large subcutaneous air sacs (e.g. pelicans). (J29.8.w1, D133.4.w4)
  • For a full description of intravenous and intraosseous injection in birds see:
  • Caution: 
    • Birds with a total protein level of less than 2.0 g/dL (i.e. hypoproteinaemic) are at risk of developing pulmonary oedema if given fluids. (D133.4.w4)
    • Birds with moderate to severe anaemia are at risk if given fluids. (D133.4.w4)

Therapy for regurgitation:

  • Risk of regurgitation can be minimised by avoiding handling for 20-30 minutes after gavage. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
  • If a bird regurgitates repeatedly:
    • Check for hypothermia or hyperthermia and treat as necessary. (D133.4.w4)
    • Discontinue attempts at oral feeding. (D133.4.w4)
    • Examine for any problem which may be causing regurgitation, such as gastrointestinal obstruction, hypothermia, infection. Any problem found must be treated appropriately. (D133.4.w4)
    • Give subcutaneous fluids: isotonic 2.5% dextrose or lactated Ringers solution (LRS), total 5% of body weight, divided between two sites. (D133.4.w4)
      • Note: pelicans have large areas of subcutaneous air and should not be given subcutaneous fluids as fluids are not well absorbed from the subcutaneous space. (D133.4.w4, J29.8.w1)
      • For a full description of subcutaneous injection in birds see: Subcutaneous Injection of Birds (Techniques)

Lethargy and hypoglycaemia:

  • A bird which is obviously lethargic may be hypothermic, hyperthermic or have a low blood glucose.
    • For correction of body temperature see above (normal cloacal temperature for birds is about 39-41C (102-105F)). (D133.4.w4)
    • Normal blood glucose is in the approximate range 200-365 mg/dL. (D133.4.w4)
    • Birds with a blood glucose below 80 mg/dL are at risk of seizures. (D133.4.w4)
      • Up to 10% dextrose can be given by gavage at 50 mL/kg body weight. (D133.4.w4)(See: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques))
      • Alternatively, for example if the bird is regurgitating, 2.5% dextrose can be given subcutaneously at 5% of body weight. (D133.4.w4)(See: Subcutaneous Injection of Birds (Techniques))
        • Caution: Giving hypertonic fluids may increase dehydration. (D133.4.w4)
      • A bolus of 50% dextrose can be given intravenously, at 2 mL/kg body weight, together with fluids. (B13.28.w29)
    • Lethargy may be seen also in association with central nervous system problems. (D133.4.w4)

Wounds and fractures:

Ocular lesions:

  • Non-steroidal antibiotic ophthalmic drops (solutions) may be used if ocular lesions are present. (D32.3.w3)
    • Corneal ulceration due to physical trauma or chemical irritation may be treated with chloramphenicol eye drops; fungal eye infections may be treated with appropriate antifungal medication such as flucytosine. (P4.1990.w1)
    • Use of ointments should be avoided; these may trap oil hydrocarbons against the cornea. (B363.App3.w16, D32.3.w3)
  • Prophylactic use of ocular ointments, in the absence of clinical signs indicating they are required, is not appropriate. (D160.5.w5)


  • Intravenous fluids are recommended for birds with signs of shock. (D135.5.w5)
  • A single injection of dexamethasone, 2-4 mg/kg, may be given to individuals with signs of shock. This should be given intravenously if possible, otherwise intramuscularly into the pectoral muscles, no more than 1.0 mL per intramuscular injection site. (D135.5.w5)


  • Birds showing seizures should be kept in a comfortable, well-ventilated area. (D135.5.w5)

Antibiotic therapy:

  • In individuals with lacerations, fractures or signs of respiratory disease broad spectrum antibiotics should be given. A suggested choice is enrofloxacin, twice daily for 5-7 days at 10-15 mg/kg, orally if possible, otherwise intramuscularly (but remembering that this drug is highly irritating to muscle), diluted 1:1 with saline for injection to reduce the irritant effect on muscle tissue. (D135.5.w5)
    • [Oral administration of antibiotics may not be appropriate initially while there is concern about damage to the gastro-intestinal tract.]
  • Prophylactic use of antibiotics, in the absence of clinical signs indicating that they are required, is not appropriate. (D160.5.w5)

Antifungal prophylaxis:

  • This may be started in susceptible species. (D160.5.w5)

Anthelmintic therapy:

  • This should not be given on a routine basis as part of initial treatment. However, it may be necessary later in rehabilitation e.g. for birds which are failing to gain weight. Some species are more likely to suffer from excess parasite burdens than are others. (V.w78)

Minor skin injuries:

  • Non-steroidal antibiotic ointments may be used. (D135.5.w5)
  • Note: Petroleum jelly (Vaseline, Cheseborough-Pond's Limited) smeared on the feet may be useful to prevent desiccation and cracking of skin while waterfowl are confined in cages off water prior to washing (P14.5.w6), although careful consideration should be given to the potential advantages and disadvantages before using any petroleum products.

Chemical burns:

  • Areas of skin with chemical burns should be cleaned thoroughly using dilute chlorhexidine solution, followed by application of a water-soluble antibiotic ointment. (J29.8.w1)
  • Petroleum-based ointments may further contaminate feathers and disrupt waterproofing, thus should not be used. (J29.8.w1)
  • Note: serous exudation and loss of feathers disrupt waterproofing. (J29.8.w1)


  • Birds showing overt clinical disease should be isolated and treatment initiated as appropriate. (D160.5.w5)


  • Excess oil may be wiped from fur using an absorbent cloth such as a towel, or absorbent paper, applied in the direction of fur growth. (D32.3.w3)

Correction of body temperature: 

  • Mild hypothermia may be treated by placing the animal in a well ventilated warm room (20C/68F for Enhydra lutris - Sea otters), and drying the fur vigorously using a towel and a pet drier (set to room temperature for sea otters). (B335.4.w4)
  • Hyperthermia in Enhydra lutris - Sea otters may be treated initially by placing chips of ice in the cage with the otter. (B335.4.w4)


  • Note: Blood samples should be obtained before rehydration is started. (D208.4.w4)
  • Assume that all incoming mammals are at least 5% dehydrated. (D208.4.w4)
  • Give isotonic fluids orally or subcutaneously at 10 to 20 mL/kg once. (D208.4.w4)
    • If giving by stomach tube:
      • Preferably use a stomach tube of greater diameter than the trachea; this minimises the risk of the tube entering the trachea rather than the oesophagus. (D208.4.w4)
      • Measure the tube length, from the nose tip to the base of the ribs. (D208.4.w4)
      • Lubricate the end of the tube. (D208.4.w4)
      • Gently introduce the tube, taking care to enter the oesophagus not the trachea. (D208.4.w4)
      • Check the tube is in the stomach: listen for gastric sounds, sniff the tube for the smell of gastric contents, place a hand in front of the end of the tube and feel for air movement as the animal breaths out. (D208.4.w4) Blow air into the tube and listed for bubbling sounds. (B335.5.w5)
      • If in doubt, pull the tube back and replace it again, carefully. (D208.4.w4)
    • Individuals which are weak, or are anaesthetised for examination and treatment, should not be given oral fluids. Fluids such as lactated Ringer's solution may be given subcutaneously at 20 to 40 mL/kg. (D208.4.w4)
    • For Enhydra lutris - Sea otters, normal saline or a 50/50 mixture of normal saline and 5% dextrose solution, at 20 mL/kg/day subcutaneously or intravenously, is suggested. (B335.4.w4)
      • Some sea lions Galapagos sea lions Zalophus wollebaeki (Otariidae - Sea lions (Family)) oiled during the Jessica oil spill in 2001were hydrated by subcutaneous administration of physiological saline plus vitamin B (J313.47.w1)
    • Intravenous fluids may be required for severely depressed individuals. (D208.4.w4)
    • Additional fluids may be required, to meet maintenance needs plus replace calculated fluid deficits. (D208.4.w4)
      • Maintenance requirement is at least 40 mL/kg/day. Deficit can be calculated: mass (kg) x 100 mL /kg x percentage dehydration. (D208.4.w4)
      • If possible, give maintenance plus deficit within the first 24 hours. (D208.4.w4)

Correction of hypoglycaemia:

  • Hypoglycaemia is most likely to be seen in animals with a high metabolic rate (e.g. Enhydra lutris - Sea otters) and/or low energy stores (e.g. sea otters, neonates). (D208.5.w5)
  • Subcutaneous fluids may be given, containing 2.5% dextrose as well as electrolytes, the animal may be given appropriate nutrition by stomach tube, or may be offered food to eat. (D208.5.w5)
  • If an individual develops repeated episodes of hypoglycaemia, it may be necessary to provide fluids containing dextrose by intravenous infusion until the individual becomes able to maintain adequate levels of blood glucose. (D208.5.w5)
  • In oiled Enhydra lutris - Sea otters
    • In conscious animals, correct by providing pieces of ice made from 50% dextrose solution. (B335.5.w5)
    • In lethargic/semiconscious animals, give 10 - 20% dextrose at 10-20 mL/kg intravenously to effect. (B335.5.w5)
    • 50% dextrose can also be given at 1 mL/kg by stomach tube to give an immediate, if temporary, rise in plasma glucose. (B335.5.w5)
    • After initial treatment, a response should be see within 30 minutes. Sea otters should be fed at least hourly until stable, and given food by stomach tube if they will not eat voluntarily. (B335.5.w5)
      • N.B. sea otters require about 75 kcal/kg bodyweight per day for maintenance (more to gain weight). If tube feeding, then stress limits feeding to three times daily, thus 1.0 kg per tubed meal is required, of a high-energy, high protein, high fat diet providing about 1.0 Kcal per gram. (B335.5.w5)
  • Factors which predispose to hypoglycaemia should be corrected: (D208.5.w5)
    • ensure a thermoneutral environment;
    • monitor rectal temperature in animals which are predisposed to hypothermia/hypoglycaemia;
    • ensure that haul-out areas are adequate and easily accessible;
    • check that social groupings are appropriate and not leading to competition with some animals being unable to get adequate food;
    • ensure that diets are appropriate for the species and age, check that the nutrient composition of the diet is adequate and that an adequate amount is being consumed (accurate records are essential);
    • weigh the animal frequently and check that weight is being maintained/gained appropriately;
    • address problems of diarrhoea or vomiting promptly.


  • Information is also provided in: Hypoglycaemia

Activated charcoal/Enteric coating agent: 

  • 6 mL/kg bodyweight of Toxiban slurry, orally, to individuals which are alert and are likely to have ingested oil. (D208.4.w4)
  • Tube feeding with activated charcoal may be carried out under anaesthesia. (B22.33.w9)
  • For animals which are being anaesthetised and are suspected of having ingested oil, consider giving 6 mL/kg bodyweight Toxiban slurry just prior to reversal of the anaesthetic. (D208.4.w4)
    • This involves a risk of gastric reflux and aspiration. It is necessary to balance this risk with the risk of absorption of ingested petroleum. (D208.4.w4)
  • In bats (Chiroptera - Bats (Order)), administration of oral kaolin and pectin gel has been recommended to minimise effects from ingested oil. (B284.9.w9)

Ocular lesions:

  • For pinnipeds with conjunctivitis and/or corneal ulceration, flush the eyes and apply ophthalmic ointment. (B377.13.w13)


  • Diagnose and treat the underlying cause, and give fluids, e.g. lactated Ringer's solution (LRS) at 40-90 mL/kg intravenously. (D208.5.w5)
    • If fluid therapy does not restore circulatory function, consider use of sympathomimetics, e.g. dobutamine. N.B. there is little information on the use of these agents in marine mammals. (D208.5.w5)
    • Short-acting glucocorticoids may be given, however their use in cases of shock is controversial. (D208.5.w5)
  • Initial treatment, as well as addressing underlying causes of the shock, includes fluid administration (20 mL/kg intravenously, normal saline or a 50:50 mixture of normal saline and 5% dextrose). (B335.5.w5) Additionally:
    • For acidotic animals, sodium bicarbonate may be given, 1 mEq/kg intravenously or 50 mg/kg orally. (B335.5.w5)
    • For hypoglycaemic animals, administer 1 mL/kg of 50% dextrose solution orally by stomach tube. (B335.5.w5)
    • Give dexamethasone (1.0 to 2.0 mg/kg per day intramuscularly or methylprednisolone 0.06 mg/kg per day intramuscularly or intravenously. (B335.5.w5)


  • Address the underlying cause (hypoglycaemia, hypothermia, hyperthermia, hepatic encephalopathy, electrolyte imbalances, dehydration, sepsis, petroleum hydrocarbon exposure, adverse reaction to anaesthetics such as fentanyl). (B335.5.w5)
    • For hypoglycaemic seizures, administration of glucose/dextrose (see above: correction of hypoglycaemia) is sufficient. (B335.5.w5)
      • Boluses of 5% to 25% dextrose may be given rectally or intravenously, e.g. 5 - 20 mL/kg of 10-20% dextrose intravenously, slowly, to effect. (D208.5.w5)
      • N.B. It is important to administer other sources of energy as soon as possible, since the bolus of dextrose will cause insulin release and consequently loss of glucose from the circulation, therefore causing hypoglycaemia. (D208.5.w5)  (see above: correction of hypoglycaemia)
  • For repeated/prolonged seizures, give diazepam, 0.2 mg/kg orally or 0.1 mg/kg intramuscularly. (B335.5.w5)
  • For seizures related to hepatoencephalopathy, antibiotics may be given to reduce the guts' ammonia-producing bacteria. (B335.5.w5)


  • Consider whether prophylactic antibiotics should be given. (B377.13.w13, D218)
    • Animals stressed by oiling and handling may be more susceptible to infections, therefore prophylactic administration of long-acting antibiotics may be appropriate. (D218)
    • In Enhydra lutris - Sea otters it is suggested that adults receive enrofloxacin at 2.5 mg/kg orally or intramuscularly twice daily and immature animals amoxycillin at 12 mg/kg twice daily intramuscularly, for treatment or prevention of infection. (B335.4.w4)

Vitamins and Minerals:

  • B-vitamins may be administered. (B377.13.w13, B335.4.w4); these can be given orally as multivitamin tablets [delivered in food]. (B335.4.w4)
  • Vitamin E (400 IU/day) and selenium 0.1 mL/kg as a single dose, intramuscularly or subcutaneously divided between two sites), for Enhydra lutris - Sea otters. (B335.4.w4)

Additional treatments:


  • Remove oil from the eyes and mouth. (P14.4.w4)
  • Oral or subcutaneous fluids may be given as required. (D228.5.w5, P14.4.w4)
    • Intracoelomic fluids may also be given (D228.5.w5): place the turtle on its back and elevate the caudal end of the shell (so the intestinal tract slides cranially), then slowly insert a 20G needle at a 30 degree antero-dorsal angle, into the anterior inguinal region and administer 5% glucose solution (11-17% bodyweight has been used). Follow by oral supplementation. (B413.6.w1)
  • Pepto-Bismol at 1% of body weight has been given to reptiles. (P14.4.w4)
  • Gastric intubation with activated charcoal and/or mineral oil has been carried out for pond turtles (terrapins) following oiling with diesel. (P14.4.w3) 
    • Use of activated charcoal has been suggested also for sea turtles suspected of having consumed petroleum oil, to decrease toxin absorption. (B413.6.w1, D228.5.w5)
  • For sea turtles, oral (by feeding tube) olive oil or Pepto-Bismol have been recommended to coat the lining of the gastro-intestinal tract and reduce irritation, while administration of mayonnaise has been suggested to facilitate clearance of oil or tar from the oesophagus and gastrointestinal tract. (D228.5.w5)
  • Maintenance at a relatively low body temperature may be considered to reduce absorption of light petroleum products through the skin and gut. (P14.4.w4)
  • Diesel oil has been reported to cause severe irritation and cutaneous lesions, including of the shell; immediate washing in dilute detergent (1:49 solution of Dawn) followed by rinsing in clean water may be part of initial treatment, with further more thorough cleaning to follow. (P14.4.w3)
  • Gentamicin ophthalmic ointment was applied to the eyes and gentamicin ophthalmic solution to the nares of chelonia (western pond turtles Clemmys marmorata (Emydidae - Pond turtles (Family))) immediately and then twice daily for about two weeks following oiling with diesel. (P14.4.w3)
  • Injections of B-vitamins (without vitamin A) and vitamin C were given every three days, into the left and right forelimbs alternatively, for supportive care and to act as an appetite stimulant, in western pond turtles Clemmys marmorata (Emydidae - Pond turtles (Family))) every three days following oiling with diesel. (P14.4.w3)
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Prevention of Oil Ingestion

While awaiting cleaning, birds may ingest more oil by preening. It would be preferable to prevent this, if a method could be found which did not further stress or harm the bird. Unfortunately it is practically impossible to prevent birds, in any acceptable way, from preening and thereby ingesting oil. (D135.5.w5)
  • Keeping birds at a high ambient temperature will reduce preening and thus reduce additional ingestion of oil. (B363.App3.w16)
  • Wrapping each bird in a towel or poncho has been recommended to prevent further oil ingestion. (P24.335.w12, J311.9.w1)
    • However, wrapping the bird in a cloth is stressful for the bird and additionally may lead to hyperthermia. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
    • [Note: The potential advantage of using a poncho or towel must be balanced against the potential adverse effects. Keeping birds in a box (dark and quiet) in a warm area is an alternative method which may reduce preening without increasing stress or risking overheating.]
  • The bill should never be taped shut as this interferes with the bird's cooling mechanisms, may lead to aspiration if the bird tries to regurgitate and, particularly in species without external nostrils, but also in other species if the nares become blocked, may cause suffocation. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
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"Quick Wash"

Washing is a stressful experience and normally should not be undertaken until the bird has been stabilised. (B188, B363.App3.w16, B363.Intro.w21, D135.6.w6, D9, J29.8.w1, P24.335.w12, D159.III.w3, D160.5.w5, J312.16.w1)

However, with some oils, such as highly refined highly toxic fuels such as diesel or jet fuel, it may be necessary to use a "quick wash" to remove the majority of the oil and prevent further contamination of the skin etc. (D133.6.w6, D135.5.w5, J29.8.w1) A quick wash may also be required if severe oiling greatly hampers movement. (D185.w5)

  • The "quick wash" should take no more than five minutes, in order to minimise stress. (J29.8.w1); a time of only one to three minutes for the quick wash and rinse has been suggested. (D185.w5)
  • The bird is bathed in several tubs of hot water with 1 to 2% detergent (Dawn/Fairy Liquid, Proctor & Gamble) then rinsed to remove most of the detergent. (J29.8.w1)
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Pre-wash Housing

Indoor holding areas are required to house casualties before they are washed, and after washing before they reach a suitable state for outdoor housing. Additionally, an intensive care area is required. (B363.7.w7)
  • All pens/cages should be labelled; the pen/cage card should indicate the species, leg band number and date of admission of each occupant. (D133.4.w4)
  • If possible, birds of the same species which arrive at about the same time should be housed together. (D133.4.w4)
    • Such birds are likely to be at about the same stage in the cleaning and rehabilitation process and require similar care procedures. (D133.4.w4)
    • Birds requiring similar treatments or feeding (e.g. those requiring more digestible food) should be housed together if possible for efficiency. (D133.5.w5)
    • Gregarious species should be group housed, but not overcrowded (suggested area 1 square metre per bird). (B23.38.w2, P24.335.w12)
    • Birds of aggressive or solitary species need to be housed individually. (D135.5.w5, P24.335.w12)
    • Care should be taken not to place natural predators and prey or competitor species, close to one another. (P24.335.w12)
    • Consideration should be given to housing males and females separately from one another, for example if females show stress and reduced feeding behaviour in mixed groups. (P14.5.w5)
    • Check the requirements of the species before housing. See: Species Identification and Special Considerations
  • Potential hazards include accumulation of petroleum vapours and fire. (D135.5.w5)
  • Note: Housing should be designed to minimise the risk of development of captivity-related disease problems. (J29.8.w1)
    • Warm water pools may be useful for birds with chemical burns. (J312.16.w1)

Stress minimisation considerations

  • Housing should be sited to minimise human traffic past pens and noise from human activities. (P24.327.w4)
  • Visual barriers should be provided to decrease eye contact with humans and provide privacy to minimise stress. (D135.5.w5, D160.5.w5)
  • Sufficient space should be available. (D160.6.w6)
  • Noise should be kept to a minimum: (P24.335.w12, D160.5.w5)
    • Personnel should speak quietly when in animal areas and minimise noise;
    • Animal housing should be sited away from personnel areas;
    • Loud noises including shouting, laughter and noise from vehicles should be avoided near animal holding areas. (P24.335.w12)
  • Care should be taken not to place natural predators and prey, or competitor species, close to one another. (B23.38.w2, P24.335.w12)

Species considerations:

Designs of accommodation for different species should take into account their natural habitat and habits. (D133.5.w5) see: Species Identification and Special Considerations

  • Flocking species may be group housed, but care should be taken to avoid overcrowding or competition for resources such as food. (D135.5.w5, P24.335.w12)
    • Group housing of colonial species may help to reduce stress. (J312.16.w1)
    • Individuals of gregarious species should be kept within sight of one another if they cannot be group housed. (B23.38.w2, P24.335.w12)
    • A floor area of about 1 square metre per bird should be allowed in group housing. (B23.38.w2)
  • Birds of aggressive or solitary species need to be housed individually. (B23.38.w2, D135.5.w5, D185.w3, P14.7.w16P24.335.w12)
    • Rails (Virginia rails and sora rails) were found to be territorial and required individual housing while indoors before washing. (P14.7.w16)
  • Raptors require solid-sided mews housing or veterinary caging. 
  • Rails and shorebirds (waders) may walk out through the bars of standard veterinary cages; solid-sided accommodation is preferable. Ceiling netting should not be too low or the risk of head injuries is increased. (D133.5.w5)
  • Most ducks, geese, gulls etc. can be kept in veterinary cages or solid-sided pens with regular flooring or rubber matting.
  • Pelagic species such as divers (loons), grebes, guillemots and sea ducks rarely spend time on land and are not adapted for land dwelling.
  • Very thin or emaciated birds which are not standing well may be fitted with a padded "donut" to reduce the risk of their developing pressure sores on the keel. (D133.5.w5)

Construction and substrate:

  • Wire caging should be avoided where possible since birds may damage feathers rubbing on the wire and may also damage their bill on the wire. Wire floors should be avoided; they may cause foot lesions (D133.5.w5, D160.6.w6P24.335.w20)
    • If only wires cages are available these need to be lined on the inside to prevent contact of the bird's feathers with the wire. (P24.335.w20)
  • Substrates should be non-slip, not too hard and non-abrasive. (P24.335.w20)
    • Rubber matting or thin sponge matting may be used as a substrate. (P24.335.w20)
    • Substrates which are not absorbent need to be changed frequently to avoid the birds' plumage becoming soiled with droppings. (D214.2.w2)


  • It is important to remember that oiled birds usually have a reduced ability to regulate their body temperature. (D160.5.w5)
  • Note: Birds will preen less and therefore ingest less oil if maintained in a high ambient temperature (25 to 28C). (B363.10.w10, B363.App3.w16)
  • A temperature of 75-85F i.e. 24-30C should be maintained (for temperate climate birds). (D135.5.w5); 25-30C ambient temperature prior to washing. (P24.335.w12) An ambient temperature of approximately 80F should be maintained. (D133.5.w5)
  • An ambient temperature of 25 to 28C is suitable for birds before they are washed. (P24.327.w4); about 27C. (J312.16.w1)
    • If the building or room cannot be maintained at this temperature then a heat lamp or brooder light may be used to provide additional warmth and birds placed under these. (D135.5.w5)
    • The temperature in the immediate vicinity of the birds should be monitored carefully. (D135.5.w5)
    • Birds should be monitored for signs of overheating such as open-mouth breathing or panting, and for their ability to move away from the heat source. (D135.5.w5)
    • Ideally, a temperature gradient is provided. (D160.6.w6, P24.335.w12)
      • This may be provided by a combination of ambient temperature and a radiant heat source. (D160.6.w6)


  • Good ventilation is required to remove petroleum fumes which may be irritating and toxic, as well as odours and pathogens; (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
    • Note that as birds warm up, oil on them will evaporate releasing volatile hydrocarbons. (P24.327.w4)
  • Good ventilation may also reduce the risk of birds developing secondary diseases such as aspergillosis. (D133.5.w5, D160.5.w5)(see: Aspergillosis in Birds (with special reference to Waterfowl)).
    • Ventilation and sanitation should be investigated if multiple cases of aspergillosis occur. (D133.5.w5)
  • Ten to fifteen air changes per hour has been recommended. (D133.5.w5); about 15 changes per hour. (J312.16.w1)
  • Note: While good ventilation is essential, it is also important to maintain accommodation draft free. (P24.335.w12)


Effective cleaning and disinfection of all housing is important to minimise risks of both disease transmission and deterioration of feather quality during rehabilitation. (D133.5.w5)

  • Dirty newspapers, towels etc. on the floors of solid pens should be changed at least twice daily and more often if necessary due to soiling. (D133.5.w5)
  • All surfaces of cages should be sprayed down with disinfectant solution twice daily. (D133.5.w5)
  • Net bottoms should be changed and cleaned at least daily if removable and cleaned with steam cleaners at least once daily if not removable. (D133.5.w5)
  • Newspapers under net bottoms should be changed at least twice daily. (D133.5.w5)
  • Rubber matting needs to be easily cleaned; twice daily hosing may be required (P24.335.w20)

Food and water:

  • Birds which are stable and active may be given access to food and shallow containers of water. (D135.5.w5)
    • Several small containers of water should be provided for groups of birds. (D135.5.w5)
    • Further discussion of feeding and fluid requirements is provided below in the section: Stabilisation. 

For mammals:

  • Consideration of social groupings is very important. (D208.3.w3)
  • Efficient quarantine protocols are important to avoid spreading disease. (D208.3.w3)
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  • Being handled is a stressful experience for wild animals. To minimise handling-associated stress: (P24.335.w12)
    • Only experienced personnel, who are competent and confident, should handle birds. (P24.335.w12
    • Capture must be carried out quickly and expertly, avoiding chasing. (P24.335.w12 )
    • Minimise handling time. (P24.335.w12)
    • Never pet or stroke birds to "comfort" them. (P24.335.w12)
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Following initial care at admission and in the period leading up to washing the aim is to stabilise the hydration status of casualties, provide adequate nutrition, monitor health and provide medical treatment as required.
  • Birds must be stabilised before they are washed. (P24.335.w12)
  • Stabilisation and progress to washing should take place within 8-24 hours if possible. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5)
    • Individuals which cannot be washed by this time should be assessed and further treatment given as required. (D135.5.w5)
  • However, one to three days may be required for stabilisation. (P14.3.w19)
  • Note: stabilisation is an active process involving provision of adequate rehydration, food and medical care, monitoring, and a quiet, warm location for the animal to rest in privacy. (P14.3.w19)

Continuing Rehydration:

Oiled birds will usually be dehydrated at admission. Even if provided with access to water it should not be assumed that birds will rehydrate by normal drinking. Rehydration will normally be achieved by gavaging (tubing) with oral rehydration fluids, however for individuals which are severely dehydrated or very weak parenteral fluids may be required.

  • Fluids should be given by gavage for at least the first 48 hours after arrival. (P24.335.w12)
  • Provision of rehydration fluids aims to replace the fluid deficit and supply the bird's daily fluid needs. (P24.327.w4)
  • When calculating the fluid deficit volume and daily fluid requirements from the bird's weight it must be remembered that for a dehydrated bird the bird's normally hydrated weight is greater than that measured, thus a bird weighing 200g with a fluid deficit of 10% would normally weight 210 g and therefore require 50 mL x 0.22kg = 11 mL for maintenance, plus the fluid deficit. (P24.327.w4)
  • Fluids may be given to replace 50% of the estimated/assumed deficit, plus daily requirements, over the first 24 hours, then 25% of the deficit, plus daily requirements, on each of the second and third days. (B188)
  • For instructions on the mechanics of gavage feeding see: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques)
  • Fluids should be given warm. Lactated Ringers solution (LRS) is an appropriate fluid. (B188)
  • Gavage should not be used in any bird which is unable to hold its head up properly; subcutaneous, intravenous or intraosseous fluids will be required. (B188)
  • Records should be kept for each individual bird of fluids given (times, volumes and type of fluid). (D133.5.w5)
  • For some species such as cormorants (and pelicans) additional fluids may be required. (D133.5.w5)
Birds which are stable and active may be given access to shallow containers of water. Several small containers of water should be provided for groups of birds. (D135.5.w5)


Most oiled birds will have used up much of their body reserves by the time they arrive at a rehabilitation centre, thus will be in need of good nutrition during rehabilitation. 
  • Many birds will not eat voluntarily at least initially and often until they have been cleaned and are on water. Gavage (tube) feeding is likely to be necessary for most birds initially. Exceptions may be oiled waterfowl such as mute swans and mallard coming from locations where they are commonly fed by the public at close range. 
  • Diets chosen must be adjusted depending on the natural history of the birds being cared for, taking into account their feeding habitats as well as their diet type. (P4.1990.w1)
  • Caloric requirements should not just be guessed but calculated from predicted basal metabolic rates and resting energy expenditure. (B23.38.w2)
  • Regular observation, weight determination and common sense should be used to make sure that all birds are receiving sufficient fluids and nutrients. (D133.5.w5)
  • Diet instructions should be posted up near or on pens. (D135.5.w5)
  • When gavage is used initially, as birds gain strength, diets appropriate for the species should be offered; (P24.335.w12) gavage feedings can be reduced gradually as birds start to gain weight and self-feed. (D133.5.w5)
Food storage, food preparation and vitamin supplementation
  • Food must be properly stored in airtight containers, refrigerators, freezers etc. as appropriate to avoid spoilage and contamination, and separate from food for human consumption. (D160.5.w5)
  • The temperature of refrigerators, freezers, thawing tubs and food handling areas should be monitored. (D133.5.w5, D160.5.w5)
  • N.B. Cleanliness is essential in food preparation. (D133.5.w5)
    • Personnel handling foods should wash their hands before starting work, at each rest break and when their work shift finishes. (D133.5.w5)
    • All containers, utensils etc. should be thoroughly washed and disinfected between use: (D133.5.w5)
      • Wash in warm soapy water to remove gross contaminants; (D133.5.w5)
      • Then soak in dilute disinfectant solution (e.g. chlorhexiderm or a quaternary ammonium compound) for at least twenty minutes; (D133.5.w5)
      • Rinse all objects after disinfection before reusing. (D133.5.w5)
  • Food should usually be used on the same day it has been prepared. (D133.5.w5)
    • N.B. Gavage mixes should be used on the day of preparation or refrigerated overnight and used within 24 hours. (D133.5.w5)
      • The time and date of mixing should be noted and written on the container, and any unused slurry discarded after 24 hours. (D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
  • Frozen fish, stored frozen for at least six weeks, may be preferred to fresh fish, since this treatment kills parasites. (B363.9.w9, P24.327.w26)
    • Fish may be stored frozen for up to three months at -18 C or below. (B363.9.w9)
    • Fish should be used within one month if stored in a domestic freezer; if stored commercially at minus 30 C, then white-fleshed fish may be stored for up to six months while red-fleshed fish (e.g. mackerel, mullet) should be stored for no more than four months. (P24.327.w26)
  • Frozen fish should be thawed before use, preferably slowly in a closed container (to minimise loss of moisture) in a refrigerator. (B363.9.w9)
    • Thawing fish at room temperature or in water, leads to loss of water-soluble nutrients. (B363.9.w9)
  • Thawed fish should be kept refrigerated and discarded if not used within one day. (B363.9.w9)
  • Fish diets must be supplemented with vitamins; several commercial tablets designed for this purpose are available. (B363.9.w9, P24.327.w4)
    • Addition of thiamine at 25 to 30 mg/kg fish is recommended, since thiaminases are often present leading to reduced levels of thiamine (vitamin B1) in dead fish. (P24.327.w26)
    • Fish which have not been stored in the correct conditions, particularly oily fish such as mackerel or tuna, may be vitamin E deficient; 100 international units of vitamin E can be added per kilogram of fish if such incorrect storage is suspected. (P24.327.w26)
    • Care should be taken to avoid oversupplementation with vitamins A, D or E, and resultant toxicity. (P24.327.w26)
  • N.B. Food for human consumption must be stored separately from animal foods. (D133.5.w5)

Special nutrient requirements

Birds may have reduced absorption of nutrients due to toxic damage to the gastro-intestinal tract and may have illness or injury in addition to the stress, dehydration and loss of body reserves associated with oiling. It is therefore necessary to provide food which is highly digestible (particularly for very debilitated birds) with a high calorie level and sufficient levels of protein, vitamins and minerals to assist the bird in coping with stress, oil toxins and possible exposure to infectious disease agents, and to build back its body reserves. Diets with simple components are most appropriate initially as this will assist in absorption. (B23.38.w2, J29.8.w1)

  • Feeding efforts should take into account the fact that there may be impaired absorption from the gastro-intestinal tract in oiled birds. (P14.1.w17)
    • Decreased absorption of water, sodium ions, glucose and amino acids has been demonstrated following oil ingestion in ducklings and young herring gulls. (P14.1.w17)
    • A diet containing simple, easily absorbed nutrients (electrolytes, water-soluble vitamins, free amino acids, short peptides, simple sugars and starches) may be beneficial in the early stages of rehabilitation. (P14.1.w17)
  • Iron supplementation should be considered as oiled birds are often anaemic. (P14.1.w17)
  • Requirements for vitamin A and vitamin K may be elevated considerably following ingestion of oil. (P14.1.w17)
  • Diets must be adjusted depending on the nutritional and general health status of the individual casualties:
    • A high calorie, easily digestible food slurry is generally provided. (D160.6.w6)
    • For very debilitated birds very simple dietary components should be given, gradually changing to more complex but still easily digestible liquid diets, and then to more solid food. (P4.1990.w1)
    • Birds with gastrointestinal problems such as enteritis require low fat simple component (elemental) diets. (P4.1990.w1)
    • Stressed, anaemic, hypermetabolic and infected birds need a high protein, high fat diet. (P4.1990.w1)
      • Soybean oil may be added as an extra source of linoleic acid. (P4.1990.w1)
    • Birds with aspiration pneumonia should be given a high fat, low carbohydrate diet. (P4.1990.w1)
Gavage feeding:
  • It is acknowledged that gavage feeding several times daily is a stressor, however it is necessary to provide nutrients in this manner until birds start eating food by themselves and gaining weight. (J29.8.w1)
  • A clean, sterilised tube/catheter should be used for gavage of each bird. (D135.5.w5, D139)
  • Gavaged food should be warmed to body temperature before being fed. (B23.38.w2, P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12) 
  • Birds should be gavaged with oral rehydration fluids initially, with nutrients added gradually over several gavage sessions. (B23.38.w2) 
  • Gavage with isotonic balanced nutrient solutions may be required for severely debilitated birds initially. (D135.7.w7)
  • Frequency and quantities:
    • The frequency of gavage feeding is a compromise between the need to get nutrients into the bird and the stress caused by the procedure. 
    • It is beneficial to give on each occasion as much as the bird can take comfortably, to reduce the frequency of handling and feeding in this manner, but there is a limit (due to limited stomach capacity) to the volume which can be given at one time.
      • If a bird regurgitates the amount given should be reduced. (D133.5.w5)
      • If a bird regurgitates repeatedly veterinary advice should be sought. (D133.5.w5)
    • Different authorities give different suggested volumes and frequencies of gavage. The following should be used as guidance, recognising that there will be differences between species in the amount of stress caused by handling and in the 
    • Suggested frequencies are:
      • Gavage feeding four times daily with high-calorie slurry, alternating with rehydration solutions also given four times daily. (D133.5.w5)
      • Gavage feeding should be carried out every four to six hours. (B23.38.w2)
      • Small volumes should be given three or four times daily. (B363.9.w9)
    • Suggested volumes include:
      • A maximum of 5% of the bird's weight (about 50 mL per kg bodyweight) at one feeding. (B23.38.w2, D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
        • Note: Initially only about half this volume (25 mL/kg) can be given, with the volume increasing gradually as the bird becomes acclimatised to the procedure. (B23.38.w2, D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
      • About 20 mL/kg for birds with a crop and 10 mL/kg for birds without a crop; about 15 - 30 mL/kg bodyweight for most seabirds. (B363.App5.w18, P24.327.w4)
    • See: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques) for further discussion of gavage volumes.
    • For further examples of volumes for different sea bird species see: D133 - Protocols for the Care of Oil-Affected Birds - Appendix 14 - full text provided
  • Recipes:
    • Convalescent diets may be required for birds which are debilitated or showing signs of gastrointestinal disturbance (e.g. diarrhoea, blood in droppings, green urates). (D135.7.w7)
    • For most birds a high-calorie slurry (2.0 kcal/mL approximate) is given. (J29.8.w1)
      • A lower calorie mixture (1.0 kcal/ml) containing less oil is recommended for 24 hours before washing (and after washing) to avoid feather contamination from fed oil in the dropping. (J29.8.w1)
    • Highly digestible human enteral diets such as Ensure (Ross Laboratories, Columbus, Ohio) may be preferable initially for birds with low total proteins (less than 2.0 g/dL). (J29.8.w1)
    For fish eating birds:
    • Food for tube feeding may be made by blending fish and electrolyte solution, with or without a convalescent diet such as Hill's Pet Nutrition A/D. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
      • Fish can be blended with water using a food processor to custard consistency, and strained. (B363.9.w9)
    • Hill's a/d blended in a 50:50 mixture with an oral rehydration solution such as Lectade (Pfizer). (B363.9.w9)
      • For individuals with digestion problems or liver failure Hill's k/d (lower protein) may be preferable. (B363.9.w9)
    • A UK recipe for convalescent seabirds, to be given at 10% body weight per day, is: (B197.15.w15)
    • A USA recipe is: 2 cups Trout Chow, 2 cups Ensure Plus, 1/2 cup water, 3 tbsp. vegetable oil, 1 tablet Centrum vitamin, 100mg thiamine table, 2000 mg oystershell calcium. This is made by grinding dry ingredients in a blender then adding the liquid ingredients and blending for about five minutes until the mixture is smooth. It provides about 2 kcal/mL of mixture. (D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1) 
      • This is not suitable for use in cleaned birds, or for birds in the last 24 hours before washing, because fat coming through into the droppings can contaminate the plumage. (J29.8.w1)
    • Oiled Seabird Diet developed by Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research:
      • Two finely crumbled hard boiled egg yolks, 8 oz Osmolite or Ensure, one jar of beef or chicken pureed baby food, one cup of dry baby cereal (preferably mixed style), half a cup of warm water, 1/16 teaspoon of Nekton S avian vitamins, 2,500 mg vitamin B1 tablet, one tablespoon vegetable oil (not canola oil). Mix in a blender, processing until the mixture is smooth. Remove the vegetable oil from the recipe if using for birds which have been washed. (D135.7.w7)
    For granivorous birds:
    • For ducks, geese etc. a high protein cereal mixed with water to give a custard consistency may be used. (B363.9.w9)
    • Patuxent Diet (for grain-eating birds):
      • Four cups (946 mL) warm water, 2 tablespoons (30mL) Vionate or other vitamin powder, 4 heaped tablespoons (80-100 mL) of soya-based infant formula such as Prosobee or Isomil, 1/3 tube of Nutri-Cal (a concentrated food for debilitated animals, sold in a 120g (4 1/4 oz) tube), 1/4 cup (59 mL) vegetable oil, two cups (274 mL) dry baby cereal, preferably mixed style. Mix in a blender, processing on high speed until smooth. If necessary add a little extra water. Mix well and warm before feeding. Can be frozen in small containers for up to three months. Once defrosted, mix thoroughly before use. (D135.7.w7)
    • Addition of live yoghurt or cultured lactobacillus products may aid digestion and absorption of nutrients. (B23.38.w2)
    • High levels of Vitamin K and Vitamin A should be provided as the requirements for these vitamins may be increased after oil ingestion. (B23.38.w2)
    • For instructions on the mechanics of gavage feeding see: Gavage - Tubing of Birds (Techniques)
Force feeding
  • Assisted feeding (force feeding) may be required. For fish-eating birds appropriate sized fish or slivers of fish should be used. (D139)
    • One person should hold the bird while a second person gives the fish. (D139)
    • If this must be carried out single-handed then wrapping the bird in a towel assists in holding the bird without it struggling, thereby minimising stress. (D139)
    • For a guillemot, 6-8 sprats, each 20-25 cm long, per day is an appropriate amount of food. (D139)
Self feeding
  • Birds which are active, alert and show normal gastrointestinal tract function (droppings are normal, without diarrhoea, presence of blood or green-stained urates) should be provided with food. (D135.7.w7)
  • In daylight hours shallow pans containing water and small, non-oily fish such as white bait or smelt may be provided to encourage birds to start feeding themselves. (D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
    • Pans should be sufficiently small to prevent birds from climbing into them and getting wet and soiled. (D133.5.w5, J29.8.w1)
    • The number of fish offered and eaten per pen should be recorded. (D133.5.w5)
  • For some species such as geese and swans other feed is appropriate. 
  • N.B. Aquatic birds often will not take food provided in bowls or on land, but only if it is provided in water. (P24.327.w26)
  • Encouragement may be needed for the birds to recognised dead fish as food. One method of attracting the attention of birds is to "bounce" individual fish on the net bottoms of pens. (P14.5.w5)
    • Another method is to toss fish into a shallow, dark-coloured tray of water to attract the birds' attention. (B197.15.w15)
    • Individuals of social species may be attracted to eat by seeing other birds eat. (B197.15.w15)
  • Records should be kept for each individual of gavage feed given, other food offered, and food consumed. (D133.5.w5)


  • Each bird should be weighed regularly, preferably daily (J29.8.w1) and at least every two to three days in the period prior to washing. (D133.5.w5)
  • Birds should be weighed at about the same time of day each time if comparisons between weights are to be valid. (D133.5.w5)
    • Note that the percentage change of weight from before to after feeding or gavaging may be a notable proportion of the total weight and changes due to this factor may mask real gains or losses. 
  • Oiled birds should be weighed on a different set of scales to clean birds, to avoid contamination of washed birds. (D133.5.w5)

Monitoring and medical care:

  • Birds should be observed daily, noting attitude, activity, food intake and the quality of droppings produced. (D135.5.w5)
  • Ongoing examination: Bird should be observed for hypothermia or hyperthermia whenever they are handled, also for any wounds, keel, hock or foot lesions etc. (D133.5.w5)
    • See: Bumblefoot; Keel Lesions, Hock Lesions
    • Transitory problems of enteritis, acid-base imbalance and respiratory compromise may occur also. (B23.38.w2)
    • Blood samples may be taken every two to three days to check PCV, total protein and blood glucose. (J29.8.w1)
  • Prophylactic medication against aspergillosis (See: Aspergillosis in Birds) may be given to highly susceptible species (P24.335.w12), in the form of itraconazole (B23.38.w2) (Sporanox) 15mg/kg orally once daily) (D133.5.w5, J312.16.w1), or flucytosine and/or amphotericin B. (B23.38.w2)
    • The time-release capsule beads may be soaked in a mildly acidic liquid (such as flat cola) for several hours, mixed well then administered orally using a 1 mL or 3 mL syringe. N.B. the concentration of the mixed medication, in mg/mL must be recorded. (D133.5.w5)
  • Packed cell volume, total proteins and blood glucose should be monitored regularly. (B20.13.w10)
    • Anaemic birds should be given iron dextran 10 mg/kg intramuscularly; this may be repeated every 5-7 days. (D133.5.w5, B23.38.w2)
    • Criteria: PCV below 30% (D133.5.w5) or below 25% (B23.38.w2) or falling more than 10% between blood samples. (B23.38.w2)
    • Iron dextran should not be given to birds with bacterial infection as the iron may enhance growth of the bacteria. (D133.5.w5)
    • A whole blood transfusion may be considered for an individual with PCV below 20%. (B23.38.w2)
    • B vitamins may also be given to treat anaemia, at 20 mg/kg based on the thiamine concentration, intramuscularly every five to seven days. (J29.8.w1)
  • For birds with a total protein level below 2.0 g/dL, vitamin B-complex should be given intramuscularly at a dose (based on thiamine concentration) of 20 mg/kg, repeated every 5-7 days. (D133.5.w5)
  • Hyperproteinaemia is likely to be due to combinations of dehydration, stress and inflammatory response; no specific medical treatment is suggested. (P4.1990.w1, B23.38.w2)
  • N.B. Use of antibiotics prophylactically should be avoided, but use of probiotics may be considered in some circumstances. (P24.335.w12)
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Quarantine and Isolation

Quarantine is a major tool for reducing the risk of disease transmission.

The potential for rapid spread of pathogens to large number of animals is increased when large numbers of animals are being rehabilitated in one place a one time. (P24.327.w4)

Routine quarantine measures which may be used to minimise the risk of spread of infectious disease include:

  • Maintaining animals in batches through the whole rehabilitation process, with no new animals introduced into an existing group. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • General hygiene and appropriate use of disinfectants. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w1224.327.w4)
  • Minimising human traffic. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Changes of clothing when moving between work areas/pens/buildings. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12)
  • Adequate disinfection of utensils such as brooms, rakes and shovels if these are shared between pens. (P24.327.w4, P24.335.w12


Oiled birds are likely to be immunocompromised due to stress and/or the toxic effects of petroleum products, and are therefore more susceptible to infectious diseases. (D133.5.w5, P24.335.w12)

  • Any bird suspected of carrying a contagious infection (i.e. any bird showing signs compatible with an infectious disease) should be isolated. (D32.3.w3, D135.5.w5, P24.335.w12)
  • If a bird with a suspected or confirmed infectious disease is to be treated it must be maintained in isolation, in an area with ventilation separate from that of the other casualties. (D133.5.w5)
  • Euthanasia should be considered for individuals with infectious disease; (B363.8.w8) these may present a potential health risk to other animals. (D32.3.w3)


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Records and Evidence of Oiling

Records are important for care of the individual animal and also for evaluation of response efforts and research to improve standards of care. (B188, 133.5.w5, D135.5.w5, D160.6.w6, D214.4.w4)
  • Each individual should be tagged and its progress monitored. (D214.4.w4)
  • Complete and accurate records help to ensure that each casualty is given the appropriate care. (D160.5.w5)
  • Accurate and sufficiently detailed records are essential if meaningful information is to be gathered and may be a legal requirement.
    • In the UK, it is generally required that anyone in possession of a wild animal be able to show reasons for such possession. (D27)
    • In the USA, in some oil spill responses it may be necessary to maintain an appropriate chain of custody/evidence for each animal. (D133.4.w4, B23.38.w2)
  • Minimum information to be recorded includes species and date and location of stranding. (D139)
  • Critical information to collect and record for each individual casualty at intake includes: (D133.4.w4)
    • Location of capture
    • Date and time of collection
    • Name of person who collected the casualty
  • Capture information, intake data, the species, age and sex, together with the temporary leg band identification number should be recorded. (J29.8.w1)
    • Information to be recorded from the initial physical examination includes weight, body temperature, percentage dehydration, heart and lung sounds and any detected abnormalities. (D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1)
      • e.g. obvious injuries, disease, problems related to oiling. (D160.5.w5)
    • For legal purposes it may be necessary to record the type of oil, oiled areas of the body, depth of oiling on the feathers and the estimated percentage oiling of the bird. (D159.III.w3, J29.8.w1)
    • Additionally a small sample of oiled feathers may be pulled (contour feathers from above the water line) and stored together with a photograph showing the oiled area of the bird and its identifying leg band. Samples are labelled with the bird's leg band number, species and date of admission, together with the name of the spill. (J29.8.w1)
  • A Log book (or similar) maintained for casualties, in the order of admission to the rehabilitation centre should include: (D133.4.w4)
    • Admission number (unique to that individual casualty);
    • Date of admission;
    • Species;
    • Capture site;
    • Temporary identification (e.g. temporary leg band number for birds);
    • Final disposition (release, euthanasia, long term care);
    • Date of final disposition.

Further information on record keeping for wildlife casualties is available in: Wildlife Casualty Record Keeping (with special reference to UK Wildlife)

  • When possible, when treating an individual oiled casualty or in small spills affecting only a few birds, individual records may be kept detailing the treatment of each bird. (D133.5.w5)
  • When large numbers of oiled casualties are received during an oil spill response pen records may be used to record when feeding/gavage is carried out. 
    • Information from pen records should be transferred to individual bird records, preferably on a daily basis. (D133.5.w5)
  • Results of blood samples may be determined and recorded in batches prior to transfer of information onto individual records. (D133.5.w5)

NOTE: The legal requirements regarding records and evidence of oiling vary between countries. 

In the UK the National Contingency Plan for Marine Pollution from Shipping and Offshore Installations (D134) notes in its section on cost recovery (Appendix O): "It is essential during any counter pollution operation all those involved keep records of what they did and when and why they did it." It further adds that:

  • "the records serve a variety of purposes and as the source material for much information drawn; and
  • since responders can not know the particular purpose that records will serve in advance, record keeping should err on the side of too much rather than too little detail." (D134)

For legal evidence in the USA:

  • In the USA in some oil spill responses it may be necessary to maintain an appropriate chain of custody/evidence for each animal. (D133.4.w4, B23.38.w2)
  • Birds:
    • A sample of oiled feathers may be obtained by cutting or pulling a few small contour feathers, preferably from above the waterline. The sample should be placed in aluminium foil (shiny side inward) and the edges of the foil bent over to seal the contents. This can then be placed into a suitable container (ziploc bag) together with a label providing the date the sample was taken, the bird's species, the number of its identification band, spill name and acquisition number of the individual. This is then placed into a locked freezer for storage. (D133.4.w4, B23.38.w2)
      • Swabs of oil from the legs may be taken and stored in aluminium foil in a similar manner. (B23.38.w2)
    • A photograph should be taken of each bird, showing the whole bird and highlighting the areas of oiling and if possible the leg band number. If the leg band number is not readable then the relevant information (spill name, admission date, bird species, acquisition number, leg band number) should be written on the back of a Polaroid photo at the time it is taken or displayed (e.g. on a board) and photographed with the bird. (D133.4.w4)
      • Photographs showing oiling are used as evidence. (D160.5.w5)
    • Any bird that does not survive should be necropsied. Permission for necropsy may need to be requested from the trustees prior to the necropsy being carried out. Proper chain of evidence is required as necropsy findings may be a part of natural resources damage assessment (NRDA) enquiries in the USA. (B23.38.w2)
  • Mammals: 
    • Oil sample.
      • If visible oiling is present then oil should be scraped from the fur using a wooden spatula, and placed into a glass jar. (D208.4.w4)
      • If oil is not visible, a piece of fibreglass cloth is held in alcohol-cleaned forceps/haemostats, rubbed over an affected area, then placed in a glass container. (D208.4.w4)
      • At no time should nitrile gloves touch the oil sample/sampling cloth. (D208.4.w4)
      • Each sample should be labelled with the spill name, date, species, intake log number, tag colour and number and the location at which the animal was captured. (D208.4.w4)
    • A photograph should be taken showing the whole animal, with the oiled area visible and if possible any tag number visible also. This should be stored labelled with the spill name, date, species, intake log number, tag colour and number and the location at which the animal was captured. (D208.4.w4)
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Authors & Referees

Authors Dr Debra Bourne MA VetMB PhD MRCVS (V.w5)
Referee Dr Virginia Pierce (V.w73)

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