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Feeding Wildlife Babies

Sick Baby Squirrel

Why is it that when we find a baby squirrel, bunny, bird or even a puppy or kitten the FIRST thing that we want to do is FEED it?  Chalk it up to motherly instincts, or just a need to do something-anything to help this poor little thing – Whatever the cause, it can be absolutely deadly to wildlife babies for the public to feed them.  Everyone knows someone who once raised a baby squirrel, or raccoon, or bird.  We know it happens, and we’re okay with that to some extent.  We just wish that we could impress upon the public that your neighbor, uncle, old friend who successfully raised that baby – They got LUCKY.  Some babies, depending on age, size, temperment, and health will survive regardless of how wrongly it is fed and raised.  This is NOT the case 99% of the time.

We are not trying to deprive you of the joy of raising a baby and releasing it back to the wild.  We are trying to spare you from the heartache of watching said baby die in your arms despite you trying to do everything right.  More often than not, finders will feed babies the wrong things, baby will do well for a short period of time, then crash.  This is when the finder calls us.  Baby is struggling to breathe, has diarrhea, is dehydrated and won’t stay warm, and then we’re called in to the rescue.  Too often, this leaves us rehabbers in an impossible position.  We want to do everything we can to save the baby, but sometimes there is nothing that we can do to reverse the damage that has been done.  This is extremely frustrating for us.

Squirrel Fed Kitten Formula

Try to see it from our perspective – You found a baby.  It was adorable and so tiny.  You brought it inside, fed it who-knows-what, and kept it for days, weeks, months.  Now baby is sick, and you don’t know why.  You call the rehabber, who gladly takes the baby in.  We go home and spend $10-$100 on critical care to save this baby.  We put them in incubators.  We run IV lines.  We administer antibiotics.  We get up every two hours to provide care to try to keep baby alive.  Then, we watch baby die from care that you provided incorrectly, even though we were just a phone call away.  We do understand that a crying baby is difficult to not feed, and we cannot fault you for trying.  We know that you mean well.  If only good intentions were enough to keep these little babies alive….

If you have found a wildlife baby and are considering feeding it and/or raising it yourself, please consider the following:

  • It is against the law to raise wildlife without the proper permit from your state’s wildlife authority or the United States Dept. of Fish and Game.  If local authorities find out that you have this baby, you will be fined and the baby will be euthanized.  All it takes is one neighbor mentioning this baby to the wrong person, your children mentioning this baby at school, or one person seeing this baby for you to get reported and baby to be confiscated from you and killed.
  • Wildlife (even babies!) carry parasites and disease. For instance, many mammals carry Giardia, a parasitic disease that will make you, your kids, and your pets VERY ill.  Treatment for Giardia is simple once diagnosed but usually requires for you to submit stool samples to your doctors, and then it is reported to your local health department, your child’s school, etc.  It is terribly embarrassing for everyone involved, and diagnosis will expose the fact that you have the baby.  This is only ONE example!  There are many other parasites and diseases that you are exposing yourself and your pets to when you decide to keep a wild animal or bird.

Hookworms in Foot – Not Fun

  • Wildlife should be kept WILD!  Squirrels, raccoons, skunks, and everything else in the wild wants to be wild.  They’re cute right now, as babies, but eventually (like everything!) they will hit puberty and you will no longer be able to offer all of the things that he/she is looking for – a mate!  This is when they get a bit grumpy, snapping and biting you even though you saved their life.  At some point wild instincts will start to kick in and this will not be a good idea anymore.  The worst part is, usually right about the time you figure out that this baby needs to go back to the wild, the animal has become so friendly and ‘imprinted’ to like people, that it is unreleaseable back to the wild.  This is especially true with coyotes and raccoons.  A friendly coyote or raccoon might seem cute to you – but to someone else who isn’t expecting a coyote to walk up to them, it is terrifying.  Friendly wildlife = dead wildlife.  Someone will think they are sick and will kill them!
  • You do NOT have the proper foods or formulas to raise orphaned wildlife.  There is not a ‘squirrel aisle’ at your local Wal-Mart or grocery store.  You cannot purchase wildlife formulas at any pet store.  A squirrel, raccoon, bunny, or bird is NOT a puppy, kitten, or parakeet and should NOT be fed like one. Wild animals have specific dietary requirements and long term feeding with the wrong diet can result in atrocious diseases, deformities, and illnesses.

Bunnies will be fed via a tube down their throats at this age

  • You do NOT have the proper equipment to raise orphaned wildlife.  For example, rehabbers use gastrointestinal tubes to feed some members of wildlife like bunnies and opossums.  Do you have a 10cc luer lock syringe and a 3.5french neonate GI tube to put down baby’s throat and feed it?  Probably not.  We use very specific tools to feed babies safely and effectively so that they do not aspirate fluids into their lungs and get pneumonia or quite literally DROWN on what is being fed to them.  Most importantly, you must know exactly HOW MUCH to feed and this can only be done after determining how much babies weigh in grams, then knowing the percentage of body weight that they should be fed and how often.  Most people do not have a gram scale laying around the house.  Telling us how many inches long baby is will not be the same as knowing its exact weight in grams.  Rehabbers have the medications and equipment necessary to treat wildlife in the best possible ways.

Vet running IV fluids for fox kits

  • You do NOT have the training necessary to raise this baby.  It’s harsh, but it’s true.  No matter how many websites you have visited tonight, no matter how many different formula recipes you have found online, and no matter how many puppies or kittens you have raised in the past – this is NOT the same.  You did not know that baby birds cannot be given water from a dropper without inhaling it into their lungs and dying.  You did not know that baby opossums cannot suck on a bottle and must be tube fed.  You did not know that baby squirrel noses have to be sucked out with a bulb syringe because they blow formula out of their noses in their rush to suck it down.  There are SO many other facts like this that you cannot possibly know.  A rehabber is not trained in 2 hours of reading internet sites related to wildlife.  You might know enough to get by, but you also might be doing this animal a insurmountable disservice.

Red Fox being anesthetitized for exam

If none of the above convinces you, and you are still determined to feed baby something – please call the Wildlife Hotline or a licensed rehabber in your area before doing so.  We are not robots.  We feel for you and we feel for baby too.  We are kind.  We care.  We will do our best to advise you on what you CAN do/feed/give, if anything.  On a case by case basis, we can advise you of how best to handle the baby that you have found.  Even if you are determined to raise this baby yourself, you can still get advice on how to do so correctly.  We are pleading with you – please, please get advice from a rehabber before doing anything else.  We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days per week @ 1-855-WILD-HELP to help.