Anyone who knows me has heard me say "Please don't feed them" over and over. This message can not be repeated often enough.
When you find what you perceive to be wildlife in distress, first it is important to determine if it indeed needs help before you do anything. If they do need your help, food is never the first priority.
Often, the animals are cold meaning they lack the energy to maintain their own body temperature and they are in shock. Usually, dehydration of varying degrees is also an issue.
Neonate Eastern Grey Squirrel in badly dehydrated and emaciated shape as a result of human interference
To give food to any animal compromised in such a way is a death sentence. It takes energy to digest food, energy a lot of compromised wildlife already don't have enough of. Every last bit of energy is being used to maintain critical bodily functions and simply put to force energy away from these critical functions for something as non-critical as digesting food could cause organ failure and death.
To give food to any animal compromised in such a way is a death sentence.
The process we go through here at Hobbitstee when we receive wildlife (who are always compromised) is a very delicate one. The process starts with warming them up. Doing this takes away the energy requirement for the animal to maintain their own body temperature. We do this by using incubators, but also warmed IV fluids. This process takes a minimum of several hours and can take several days. We do not feed them until they are completely warm and re-hydrated. This is not something you can simulate at home. It requires knowledge, specialized equipment and products.
This is a fawn someone tried to raise for two weeks. This fawn was fed way to little of an already not appropriate food source. This fawn was euthanized due to irreversible organ damage as a direct result of improper care.
The question than becomes what do we feed them? At Hobbitstee, we feed our mammal orphans specially formulated milk-replacers custom-made for us and custom-formulated to meet the nutritional requirements (to the best of our ability) of the mammal orphan in question.
I say to the best of our ability because not much research is being done into the nutritional requirement of many of the species of wildlife we care for. This means we are constantly tweaking the formulations to get the best possible results.
These milk-replacers are not commercially available, so it boils down to that puppy nor kitten milk-replacer is appropriate for wildlife mammals -- neither is cows milk, almond milk, human baby formula or anything else that you can purchase at the store.
When it comes to baby birds their nutritional requirements are even more complicated and it is very species specific. Some birds are insectivores and need a large variety of insects to thrive (meal worms nutritionally are no more than filler). Some birds strictly eat seeds, so their offspring needs an appropriate variety of hand feeding formula every half hour. Some birds are fructivores, so berries and such are what they need... Never mind the strict piscivores who can only eat fish.
Bread is not a good food source for any species of wildlife, plain and simple. Don't use it.
A common mistake made is using bread. Bread is not a good food source for any species of wildlife, plain and simple. Don't use it.
You see that all this can become very confusing and the wrong food to the wrong animal at the wrong time can also cause serious gastric upset or death. If the wrong food is given at the wrong time diarrhea is a common result. The animals in our care are already compromised in some way (that is why we have them in the first place) and their bodies can't handle diarrhea on top of their other issues, so death is a common result of feeding the wrong food source at the wrong time.
This is an Eastern Grey Squirrel Baby someone attempted to raise, it did not survive more than half hour after it came into my care. The cause of death dehydration/undernourishment as a result of diarrhea caused by the feeding of an inappropriate food source.
Another question becomes; Do you know how much to feed them? At Hobbitstee, we use scientific calculations to calculate how much of what food source our wildlife need to eat to grow/develop normally or to recover from an injury.
Any website that gives you DIY information on injured/orphaned wildlife is by default wrong. It is illegal for people to have wildlife in their possession, so these websites are encouraging people to break the law. Aside from that there is no one-size-fits-all type of information other than get the animal to a wildlife rehabilitator as soon as you can.
That is how you help injured and orphaned wildlife best. Make the time and take the time to get the animal the appropriate care as soon as you can. We need to make sure the animal in question is truly in need of care. We establish that by asking you questions. Please have patience with us, answer our questions and please do as we ask even if you don't like it. We always have the wildlife's best interest in mind and sometimes that means we have to hurt people's feelings.
Only Authorized Wildlife Custodians are allowed to care for sick/injured/orphaned wildlife. Don't get angry if we ask you to drive to us. We get hundreds of calls a day and we all operate on a non-for profit basis without any type of government funding. We simply don't have the time or funds to drive and pick up each and every animal.
Help us by driving the animal out asap and maybe leave us with a donation towards the animal(s) you are asking us to care for if you can... and please don't feed them.
A version of this post originally appeared on hobbitsteewildliferefuge.wordpress.com.