May 4, 2013

Baby Mammals: First Aid

The information offered in this post is for emergency situations, where such life-saving efforts are necessary.

When WES is contacted about a potentially abandoned infant, our Call-Takers ask the "finder" a series of questions to determine the species and its condition.

First, we'll ask if it appears injured. Next, we'll try to figure out how long it's been without its mom, so we can better advise the caller on what to do.

Like human infants, baby mammals will cry when they are hungry or in distress. Crying, though, can draw the attention of a predator. Adult animals instinctively know to keep quiet - 
they know it would give away their location. For example, unlike this entrapped baby raccoon, HERE, calling out for help, an adult raccoon in the same predicament would remain silent.

An uninjured infant found crying, then, can indicate it's been separated from its mother, long enough to be cold and hungry. It's not uncommon to find orphaned mammals out in the open, using their last bit of strength to search for their mother.

A baby's body posture and mobility is also a good indicator of its condition. If a baby mammal is found outside its nest, quiet, and curled up in a fetal position, it's probably suffering from hypothermia and requires warmth, immediately.

Supplemental heat can be provided using basic household items. As a rule, confined animals
must be given enough room to get away from the heat source as needed. 

Heating Pad. A cloth-covered heating pad is an excellent way to provide warmth at a controlled temperature. Set on High, to start - just to get the pad heated up, the unit should be turned down until the surface is warm to the touch, not hot.

If the pad is set underneath a cardboard box or container, though, it might need to be set higher for the heat to transfer through the material.

Typically, heating pads are placed under or around a portion of a container. See photo.

Hot Water Bottle. A glass or plastic bottle filled with hot water and, importantly, wrapped with a lightweight towel, can provide warmth, but only temporarily. After about 30 minutes the water will cool and start to draw warmth away from the animal.

Microwaved Dry Rice. Dry rice - no water added, can be heated in a microwave until it's hot to the touch. The rice can then be poured into a fabric sack - like a sock or pillow case, or another type of container. Heated rice can give off heat for up to an hour, and, once cooled, it won't draw heat away from the baby.

Hot Wash Cloth. A hot washcloth placed in a heavy duty plastic bag and covered with a lightweight towel will provide warmth for about 25 minutes. Like the dry rice, the cloth in the bag can be shaped to fit under or around an animal, as needed.

Hot Stones. In primitive situations, dense stones can be heated and wrapped with towels to provide warmth for up to an hour.

Providing warmth is a critical step in saving the life of baby animal. Hydration must also be considered. 

The skin of a dehydrated mammal will 'tent' when pinched - the skin will be slow to flatten. While dehydration can be a life-threatening condition in young ones, administering fluids is not for the inexperienced - it's very, very easy to make a fatal mistake.

As a general rule, an animal should be warm before it's given fluids, and the animal must be well-hydrated before given solid food or formula.

When babies are admitted into a wildlife hospital for treatment, their first couple of feedings are usually a rehydrating solution, followed by a slow introduction of formula.

Oral fluids are typically administered through a small syringe or pipette, where the amount can be slowly and smoothly delivered. Lactated ringers, Normisol or Pedialyte are preferred, but in an emergency situation a basic oral rehydration solution can be made by dissolving 1 Tsp of sugar and a 1/4 Tsp of salt in a cup of warm filtered water.

Another thing rescuers must consider is, if the infant is so young that the eyelids haven't opened, the baby will need to be stimulated to urinate and defecate. A cotton ball or soft tissue, dampened with warm water, can be used to mimic the tongue of the mother. She would gently lick the genital area until her baby relieves itself.

In some cases, however, baby mammals just need to be left alone. Deer and rabbits tend to leave their young for hours at a time. Fawns that are found lying, curled up, head down (like the one pictured) - is a good sign. On the contrary, a newborn fawn that is ambling around, crying continuously, may need help.

Anyone who finds a wild animal in distress should try to contact a local wildlife specialist or wildlife hospital for direction and immediate transfer.

These and other tips on rescuing wildlife can be found in the recently published book, Wildlife Emergency Response, A Guide For First Responders by Rebecca Dmytryk, available HERE.

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