Category Archives: Advice

What to do if you find a baby wild animal

Many wild animals are born during the spring and summer months. In your own back garden, you may come across baby rabbits, squirrels, deer, and other young wildlife as they make they make their way into the world.

For many people, the pleasure of seeing these young creatures is mixed with a sense of protectiveness—of wanting to help them survive. But spotting a baby animal by himself doesn’t necessarily mean he’s an orphan. Many wildlife parents leave their young alone during the day, sometimes for long periods. The mother is usually nearby and quite conscious of her young. Also, keep in mind that despite their small size, many young animals are actually independent enough to fend for themselves.

  • a wild animal presented to you by a cat or dog
  • bleeding
  • an apparent or obvious broken limb
  • shivering
  • evidence of a dead parent nearby

Wild animals can suffer greatly through being handled and this should be avoided unless absolutely necessary.


Injured or Sick?

If the baby has any one of the following signs, he or she is probably sick or injured and in need of assistance:

  • bleeding or wounded
  • seen in a cat’s or dog’s mouth, or if there is a likelihood that the animal was picked up by a cat or dog
  • wet and/or shivering
  • hit by a car, lawnmower, boat, or other vehicle
  • limping
  • a drooping wing (But if both wings appear to be “drooping” by the same amount, it could be normal—it depends on the species)

Some young animals appear injured when they’re not. If the animal has none of the above signs, he may be healthy.

Is the Animal Really an Orphan?

The Louth SPCA often receives phone calls about orphan animals that aren’t really orphaned at all. Many young animals may appear to be orphaned, but actually may be doing just fine on their own. Determining whether or not an animal is an orphan depends on the animal’s age and species, and how you may perceive their natural behaviors. Here’s more information on the young of species you may encounter, to help you decide whether or not they need to be rescued.

Baby Foxes

Often fox kits will appear unsupervised for long periods of time while their parents are out hunting for food. Observe the kits from a distance; if they seem energetic and healthy, just leave them alone. Only contact a wildlife rehabilitator if the kits appear sickly or weak, or if you have reason to believe both parents are dead.

Baby Rabbits

If you find a nest of baby rabbits and the nest is intact and the babies uninjured, leave them alone. Mother rabbits only visit their young 2-3 times a day to avoid attracting predators.

If the rabbit nest has been disturbed, or if you think the babies are orphaned, recover the nest with surrounding natural materials such as grass and leaves.

  • Put an “X” of sticks or yarn over the nest to assess if the mother is returning to nurse her young.
  • If the “X” is moved but the nest is still covered by the next day, the mother has returned to nurse the babies.
  • If the “X” remains undisturbed for 24 hours, contact a wildlife rehabilitator near you.

Keep all pets out of the area, as they will surely find and kill the young rabbits. Also, try not to touch the babies, as mother rabbits are very sensitive to foreign smells and may abandon their young. A rabbit who is four inches long with open eyes and erect ears is independent from his mother and able to fend for himself.


Baby Squirrels

If tree work was recently done and the nest or baby fell down as a result, give the mother squirrel a chance to reclaim her young.

If the baby is uninjured, leave him where he is, then leave the area and keep people and pets away. Monitor from a safe distance.

If the baby is not retrieved by sundown, contact a local wildlife rehabilitator. If it’s chilly outside, or the baby isn’t fully furred, place him in a shallow box with something warm underneath (like a heating pad on a low setting or a hot water bottle) so he doesn’t get cold and compromised while waiting for his mother to return. Do not cover the squirrel with leaves or blankets, as the mother may not be able to find him.

Note: A squirrel who is nearly full sized, has a full and fluffy tail and is able to run, jump, and climb is independent.

Baby Deer

If you come across a young deer, remember they are also very resilient in the wild but very difficult to rehabilitate once removed from their natural habitat – they often die from stress. People often mistakenly assume that a baby deer, called a fawn, is orphaned if found alone. Rest assured that the mother deer, the doe, is probably nearby. The doe will only visit and nurse her fawn a few times a day to avoid attracting predators. Roe deer give birth in May and June and fallow deer mostly have their young in June. Fawns can walk within an hour of being born. Unless you know the mother is dead, leave the fawn alone.

Mother deer are wary of human smells; if you have already handled the fawn, take a towel, rub it in the grass, and then wipe down the fawn to remove all human scent. Then return the fawn to the place where you found him.

If the fawn is lying on his side, or wandering and crying incessantly, he may be orphaned. If this is the case, call a wildlife rehabilitator in your area. But remember: a fawn found alone and quiet is okay.

If a wild animal exhibits any of the above signs, you should immediately call one of the following local resources for assistance. You will find listings for most of these in your telephone directory, or try an online search.

  • Local animal shelter
  • Animal control agency

Capture and Transport

Once you’ve contacted the right person, describe the animal and his physical condition as accurately as possible. Any wild animal can be dangerous, so take safety precautions, even with small babies. Unless directed otherwise, here’s how you can make an animal more comfortable for transport or while you’re waiting for help to arrive:

  • Prepare a cardboard box big enough to hold the baby. A shoe box works well for most song birds and small baby mammals, but some animals might need a larger box.
  • Line the box with an old t-shirt or soft cloth and poke holes in the sides before you put the animal in the box.
  • Wear gardening gloves if you are handling a small bird and leather gloves if you are handling a larger bird or a mammal.
  • For most animals, it is best to use a towel to cover the animal and then gently scoop her into the box and close the lid securely. But if the animal is a baby mammal larger than a small rodent (squirrel), it is best not handle her at all. Instead, use the box itself to scoop her up.
  • Do not give the animal food or water. He could choke, develop digestive problems, or drown. Many injured animals are in shock, and eating or drinking can make it worse. It is far more important to keep the baby warm and safe than to feed him immediately. If the rehabilitator is unable to arrive soon, he or she will instruct you on what else to do, if anything.
  • Place the container in a warm, dark, quiet place—away from pets, children, and noise—until you can transport the animal.
  • Transport the animal as soon as possible. While in the car, keep the carrier out of the sun and away from direct air conditioning or heat. Keep the car radio off and talking to a minimum.

How to Care for Exotic Pets

Having a pet is a wonderful thing. Pets are great for children, teaching them responsibility, and they are fantastic company to those who may live alone. However, if you have exotic pets, there are some things you need to know about taking care of your pet. An exotic bird or reptile takes a different kind of care than a regular household dog or cat. Take a look at some ideas to keep in mind when caring for your exotic pets.

  1. Choose a proper vet. Since your pet is not an everyday, run of the mill kind of pet, you can’t choose just any old vet. You need to find a veterinarian who knows about your animal. Make sure your vet is willing to care for your exotic pet, as many vets may not take animals they are not familiar with.
  2. Start small. If you are just beginning with exotic pets, you wouldn’t want to choose a Burmese python. Start out with something smaller, like a guinea pig. This will help you get used to the different types and temperaments of the animals.
  3. Pay attention to their diets. For your exotic pet, you can’t just run to the grocery store and pick up a bag of food. In most cases, you’re going to have to do some careful planning to properly feed your pet. Do some research on the type of food your pet will eat.
  4. Create a safe environment. Likely, your exotic pet is living in an environment that is unfamiliar to them. Make sure the cage or room where you keep your pet is secure and safe from anything that may harm your pet. Also make sure your pet can’t escape the environment.

Exotic pets are fun and can really bring a lot of happiness in your life. Keep a few simple tips in mind for caring for the pets and you’ll have joy for many years to come. This website is a great resource for exotic pet owners.

Pets and Christmas Food

A lot of the lovely food you feast on over the Christmas period can be very harmful to our faithful companions. Watch out for the following favourites that are most definitely NOT for your furry friend!

Chocolate

All kinds of chocolate and cocoa-based products – including chocolate tree decorations and chocolate advent calendars – should be kept away from pets because chocolate contains a stimulant called theobromine. Theobromine is toxic to dogs and cats: it can lead to a racing heartbeat, dehydration, digestive upsets, seizures and in severe cases DEATH. The darker the chocolate, the more harmful it is. Make sure any presents you leave under the tree do not contain chocolate if you have a dog.

If you feel you really want your pooch to join in the Christmas fun, there is such a thing as chocolate suitable for dogs, which contains zero theobromine. It’s this or nothing for Fido.

Christmas Cake

Never share fruit cake, mince pies or Christmas pudding with your pet, no matter how much they beg, because raisins and currants are highly toxic to cats and dogs, even when cooked. Dried fruit poisoning can cause diarrhoea and vomiting and, in very serious cases, could lead to kidney failure!

Fizzy Drinks

Apart from being full of sugar or artificial sweetener – both of which are very bad for your pet – many fizzy drinks also contain caffeine, which has a similar effect to the theobromine in chocolate. Rapid breathing, restlessness and a racing heartbeat are the potential symptoms of serious caffeine poisoning.

Nuts and Crisps

Salty snacks are a festive staple, but they’re bad for your pet in many ways. Peanuts and crisps contain too much salt and fat, and macadamia nuts are highly toxic: they can cause sickness, a high temperature, tremors and heart palpitations. The effects of macadamia nut poisoning can happen very quickly, so keep all nuts well out of reach.

Sugar-free sweets and Chewing Gum

These days, the sweetener xylitol is often used to replace sugar in sweets, cakes and chewing gum. Too much xylitol has a laxative effect on humans, but the consequences for your pet are much more serious. An excess of Xylitol can spark a sudden surge of the hormone insulin which, in turn, can cause seizures, vomiting, lack of co-ordination and potential liver damage.

Cheese

Keep festive cheeseboards away from hungry pets because dogs and cats can often struggle to digest the lactose in dairy products. Too much cheese can give your pet a tummy upset.


If you think your pet has eaten something potentially poisonous during the festive season, always contact your vet immediately.

So what CAN your pet eat at Christmas… aside from his own food, that is?

Christmas Turkey

The pièce de résistance of every Christmas dinner, your furry friend can enjoy small quantities of your turkey as long as all pieces are boneless, skinless and free from gravy or other marinades which can upset your pet’s stomach.

Potatoes

A super tasty side dish, again only feed your pet potatoes in small quantities – as they are starchy – and ensure they are plain with nothing else added, such as butter and salt.

Winter Vegetables

Carrots, parsnips, green beans, courgettes, brussels sprouts, broccoli, peas, spinach and cauliflower not only make yummy Christmas dinner trimmings but all great for your pet. Make sure you rinse off any excess butter or oil before giving to your furry friend and always feed in small quantities.

Keeping pets safe at Hallowe’en

Unfortunately Hallowe’en and the days and weeks preceding it can be a very distressing time for animals. The Louth SPCA would like to remind owners to be especially vigilant about their pets at this time of year. Many dogs and cats are either harmed or run away in fright over the next week, quite often ending up dead on the busy and dark roads!

Here are some tips for keeping your pets safe.

  • Make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise earlier in the day. Once it starts getting dark, fireworks become more frequent.
  • Keep your dogs INSIDE during fireworks, preferably with human companionship. Bringing your dogs out during fireworks is never a good idea. Do NOT leave your dog in the back yard this week at all!
  • Provide a safe place inside for your dogs to retreat. When scared of sounds they can’t orient, dogs often prefer small enclosed areas. If your dog is comfortable in a crate, that is a good option. If you dog or cat likes scurrying in behind the sofa, put a blanket in there for them.
  • If possible, keep the windows and curtains closed. Covering the crate with a blanker or lowering the blinds can also be helpful. Removing visual stimulation can also help calm dogs.
  • Make sure all your dogs are wearing ID tags with a properly fitting collar. If you your dog is not microchipped, they really should be! In fact, it’s now the law in Ireland.
  • Give your dog something fun and distracting to do – like a frozen Kong filled with his favorite treats, or a big chewy pig’s ear that will keep him busy for a good while.
  • If you MUST go out, leave the TV or radio on louder than usual to muffle the sound of fireworks outside.

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As well as keeping them safe from fireworks, remember there are other hazards at this time of year for pets. Here are some do’s and dont’s:

  • DON’T leave animals in a room with lit candles or pumpkins. Dogs can have lethal tails, wagging all over the place. Make sure that lighted candles are kept where they cannot be knocked over by a wagging tail or by a curious cat. Not only could your pet start a fire, but they could severely burn themselves in the process.
  • DON’T dress animals up in costumes as many pets find this uncomfortable and stressful. It’s cute, be it’s also dangerous!
  • DON’T take pets trick-or-treating. Dogs can become very distressed and confused by all the noise and activity with strange smells, costumes and loud bangs from fireworks.
  • DON’T let animals near bonfires, candles or other dangerous items.
  • DO make sure that rabbits and other caged animals are safely secured in a garage or outbuilding, away from the sight and sound of fireworks. As an alternative, the cage can be covered with thick fabric to muffle the sound, making sure there is sufficient ventilation. Horses should be securely stabled or moved to a different location during fireworks displays in the area.
  • DO keep pets away from Halloween decorations and tell children not to share any sweets and chocolate with their pets. Chocolate is very bad for pets.
  • DO take a pet suspected of ingesting a harmful item or substance immediately to a veterinarian.
  • DON’T ignore animals in need. Report animal abuse and neglect immediately to An Gardai Siochana or contact the Louth SPCA at 042 9335045 (even if no answer, please leave a message. It WILL be checked).

Drought Impacts on Wildlife

Prolonged drought conditions can have impacts on wildlife. These impacts range from relatively minor – such as decreased fat reserves – to impacts resulting in a significant loss of wildlife.

While some of these impacts from drought can be closely monitored and tracked, other impacts are difficult to monitor or evaluate.

Currently, Louth SPCA staff are closely watching the impacts the current drought conditions may have on the county’s wildlife populations. A summary of the potential impacts on wildlife is provided below.

Disease outbreaks

Drought conditions can affect wildlife populations in many ways, from changing homeland ranges in an effort to find water to creating conditions that can impact health. High temperatures and low rainfall can contribute to outbreaks of Clostridium botulinum or avian botulism, which is a bacterium that typically resides dormant in the soil. Under the right conditions, this bacteria can replicate and produce toxins. These toxins are typically concentrated in maggots and other invertebrates that feed on decaying matter that is a good source of protein for the botulism bacteria. Birds like waterfowl then ingest the toxins through feeding on these organisms or drinking infected water. Species that are most impacted by a botulism outbreak are associated with wetland communities including ducks such as mallards, wood ducks, and teal and waterbirds such as yellow legs, pelicans or great blue herons.

Habitat

As drought conditions increase, the impacts on plants can be readily observed, since plants simply reduce the number of stems they produce while others shrivel and die back. This reduction in plant growth results in less available hiding cover, which could increase predation rates for wildlife as well as produce fewer flowers for insects and, as a result, less available food. Species that could be impacted by this decreased habitat quality would be ground nesting birds such as turkeys and pheasants as well as ground dwelling mammals such as ground squirrels.

Nesting birds

The timing of this year’s drought conditions is not likely to have a significant adverse impact on nesting wildlife, since most birds have fledged the nest and are no longer confined to a specific nesting site. The potential exists, however, that high temperatures and low moisture levels can result in bird losses.

Reduced food sources

Extremely dry conditions also reduce the available water sources that many insects are dependent upon for a portion of their life cycle. Although reduced insect levels can be a positive for people getting outside in the evenings, lower insect levels for bats can mean less food and as a result, lower fat reserves for migration and hibernation. In addition to potential mortality that reduced food sources may cause, wildlife in drought conditions may also need to travel greater distances to find available food. This extra effort also subjects them to increased predation rates themselves and an increased likelihood of accidents.

In addition to reduced insects for food, the production of other food sources – such as berries and mast, which include acorns or hickory nuts – could also be reduced. Similar to a reduction in insects, a reduction in the available berries and mast can impact wildlife by requiring additional travel to find adequate food sources, causing both mortality from increased predation or accidents as well as indirect mortality from reduced fat reserves needed for hibernation. These impacts can ultimately result in reduced number of young next year.

Another potential impact that residents in the drought areas may experience is an increase in the number of wildlife visiting yards and outbuildings searching for food and water sources. As food sources decrease in the wild, some wildlife species such as the fox may search out easier food sources such as pet food dishes, cattle troughs or gardens that are regularly watered.

Concentrating wildlife

As drought conditions increase, many wildlife will seek alternative habitat locations where habitat conditions are more favourable for them to raise young, seek shelter and provide a water source. Some species that would concentrate in these drought conditions would include a wide array of wildlife that would frequent the remaining watering holes to wetland dependent species such as waterfowl and amphibians, specifically frogs and toads.

How can litter be dangerous to wildlife?

Well, let us tell you….. everyday objects that seem perfectly safe, can sadly become hazardous when found accidentally by animals. By disposing our rubbish safely instead of littering we are making choices that could save many lives. Plus, protecting animals from harmful rubbish is easy – we can choose to dispose of our rubbish responsibly by recycling, reusing or simply putting it in the bin!

Balloons

While a nice touch at a party, many animals can actually try to eat balloons and then choke or become impacted by disregarded decorations. You can help protect animals by cutting up balloons before putting them safely into your bin. It’s really that simple! Oh, and balloon releases are also very threatening to wildlife, always deflate and bin once the party’s over.

Sadly even balloons marked as degradable may take a number of weeks to degrade yet it only takes a second for an animal to swallow a balloon.

Chinese lanterns

Chinese lanterns, also known as sky lanterns, can also seriously injure animals through ingestion, entanglement and entrapment.

Containers and cans

Animals looking for food can get trapped in cans or injured by sharp edges. To help prevent harm to animals, clean and empty containers after use and pinch cans shut or cut containers in half before recycling whenever possible.

Elastic bands

Elastic bands, although seemingly harmless can in fact wrap around small animals and the beaks of birds. If swallowed they can also cause choking. By reusing bands where possible or cutting them open before putting in a bin, you can really help prevent harm to animals.

Fishing tackle

Fishing litter is responsible for the injury of thousands of wild animals every year with animals getting entangled in line and hooks which can pierce skin or be swallowed.

By fishing responsibly, you can avoid accidental harm to the local wildlife and environment.

Glass

Broken glass can also cause serious injury and animals can sometimes get trapped in jars. Be sure to clean and recycle glass to help prevent injuries and avoid unnecessary harm.

Plastic bags

Animals can climb inside plastic bags and suffocate, or attempt to eat them and choke. Simply tying a knot in the top of plastic bags before recycling can help prevent deaths.

Plastic can holders

Animals can also get entangled in plastic can holders, and suffer deep wounds or even choke. Help prevent suffering by always cutting the loops before recycling.

How to Keep Your Dog (And Other Pets) Cool

As we all know, one of the most life-threatening mistakes people can make is to leave a dog in a vehicle during hot weather. Dogs can’t perspire, as humans do, to cool themselves off via evaporation, so they have to pant to cool themselves. If the air that they are taking in is too hot (as it is in a parked car in hot weather), then panting has little cooling effect and the dog quickly overheats.

Many people think their dog will be OK if they leave the windows open, but even with the windows wide open, the car can quickly become hot enough to cause heatstroke, brain damage, and even death. Your pet may pay dearly for even a few minutes spent in a sweltering car.  Please leave your pets at home during hot weather.

Heat stroke in dogs

Signs of heat stroke include heavy panting that does not resolve as the pet rests, increasing distress, a tongue color that is dark red to almost purple, weakness or collapse, hyper-salivation, vomiting and labored breathing. If you suspect a dog or cat is suffering from heat stroke, move him to a cooler environment immediately and apply cool water to the abdomen, ears and foot pads. Don’t pour ice water over the whole animal, submerge him in a tub of cold water or cover him in a cold, wet blanket. Once he is stable, get him to a vet as quickly as possible, even if he seems to be cooling down and his temperature seems normal. Things may be happening on the inside that are not obvious from the outside.

Walking a dog in hot weather

If you walk your dog on lead, keep in mind that asphalt can get very hot during the summer. In fact, it can get hot enough to burn a dog’s pads, causing him pain for days. You might want to do only short walks early in the morning or later in the evening, when the temperatures are lower. Before taking your dog for a walk, check the ground for hotness with one of your own hands or bare feet. If you can’t keep your hand (or foot) on the ground for more than three seconds, it’s probably too hot to walk your furry friend. Dogs who are older or overweight, have a thick coat or have a pushed-in nose (such as bulldogs, Boston terriers and pugs) are especially at risk of overheating. On walks, bring water for both you and your pet, or a collapsible bowl if there’s a water source on your route.

Provide water for a dog at all times

Providing water for your dog is always important, but it’s especially critical during hot weather. If your dog is inside during the day, make sure you supply fresh, cool water that remains in a shaded spot throughout the day, since sun coming through a window can heat a bowl of water. Most dogs won’t drink hot water no matter how thirsty they are.

If your dog stays outside during the day, make sure his water bowl isn’t in a place where he will tip it over. Water bowls can be tipped over by dogs trying to make a cool spot to lie down. If necessary, buy a tip-proof water bowl. Also, make sure he has a shady place where he can get relief from the sun. Kiddie pools are a nice way to give dogs their own clean puddle in which to play.

Cats

Cats, of course, also need plenty of cool water during hot weather. White cats can become sunburned if they lay in the sun too long. Even if they’re indoor cats, they can get sunburned through a sunny window.

Rabbits

Rabbits can also be adversely affected by extremes of temperature. To control the temperature of their environment and to keep them safe from predators, rabbits should be kept inside. The temperature inside their houses should not drop below 15 or go above 23 degrees. Heat stroke can occur in a rabbit at 26 degrees.


A little empathy goes a long way in protecting our pets from extreme weather. Basically, if it’s too hot for us to stay comfortable in the car, in the yard or on a walk, it’s even HOTTER for our furry friends. Use your common sense, and don’t kill your pet with stupidity!

Caring for Chinchillas

Chinchillas are clean, quiet, odourless and attractive rodents that have been bred and farmed for their soft dense fur. Historically, chinchillas lived in an area that included parts of Bolivia, Peru, Argentina, and Chile, but today, colonies in the wild are known only in Chile.

They are quite shy and are more appropriate as pets for adults and older children. Typically chinchillas can live for 10-20 years.


Owning and caring for a chinchilla can be very rewarding, but it is also a big responsibility. Chinchillas have only been kept as pets for a relatively short time and experts are still learning about how best to care for them.

There is no one “perfect” way to care for chinchillas but certain essential needs must be met. It is up to you how you look after your chinchilla, but you must take reasonable steps to ensure that you meet all their needs.

Here’s what you need to know before considering one as a pet.

Chinchillas are highly social

  • Chinchillas are highly social and in the wild live in colonies of more than 100 individuals.

Chinchillas need a high fibre diet

  • Chinchillas’ teeth grow constantly. They need to eat lots of hay, which is abrasive, to help wear their teeth down.

Chinchillas have an unusual digestive system

  • Food is passed through the gut and special droppings, called caecotrophs, are produced. Chinchillas eat these caecotrophs, allowing the food to be reingested.

Chinchillas sleep in the daytime

  • Chinchillas are most active in the evening and at night.

See also our previous fact sheet on these little guys.