Unfortunately, wildlife casualties are fairly common. Most veterinary centres are equipped with the ability to provide basic care to most types of wildlife. But fewer are set-up for the long-term housing or management of the many and varied species that we encounter, nor the expertise and facilities for re-release.
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Why does wildlife differ from pets?
Obviously, it’s unpleasant for any animal to be injured or unwell. Every animal has the right to not endure suffering. With wildlife, we also have to consider additional factors. For instance the stress of being handled, the possibility and resources for short or long-term management and housing, and the probability of successful release back into the wild. Veterinarians must carefully weigh up the risks and benefits of any interventions that we perform or medications that we give, to make sure that they are appropriate in each case. This is because generally there are fewer studies done on wildlife species compared to companion animals. This means that the data indicating safe doses, appropriate treatment plans and so on, are more limited.
Who pays for wildlife treatment?
Another important consideration is the availability of funds for dedicated wildlife care. Staffing and running a veterinary centre costs a great deal. Whilst many are able to accommodate for some pro-bono type work, absorbing the cost of wildlife treatment, it can’t always account for the volume of wildlife seen. Often, veterinarians work in conjunction with wildlife charities and animal rescues who can help with covering the cost of veterinary care. Some wildlife rescue centres can also provide the dedicated facilities needed for the animal’s recuperation and recovery. And will be able to engage the animal in a release schedule after it’s treatment, if it’s appropriate.
Multiple factors at play
Even where the funds and specialised veterinary care are available for more intensive treatment to manage the animal’s disease or trauma; this doesn’t always mean that going ahead is the right thing to do. Many of these animals are truly wild or at best feral and incapable of adapting to a life in captivity. Whilst the goal is generally to provide the treatment necessary to be able to rehabilitate and re-release the animal, its future condition isn’t always compatible with a reasonable prognosis for release. In these cases, keeping it in captivity may cause significant and unjustified impairment to the animal’s quality of life. Some of these animals must be euthanised to avoid undue compromise to their welfare. There are a lot of grey areas in the treatment and management of wildlife. Unfortunately, it’s not always clear-cut and, sadly, difficult decisions have to be made.
Is it fair to euthanise wildlife?
All wildlife presented to a veterinary practice is objectively assessed. In each case, the aim is to prevent unwanted suffering and impairment of animal welfare. This may mean immediate euthanasia for some animals that have suffered severe trauma or illness that is incompatible with an appropriate quality of life. However, others are initially provided with appropriate pain-relief and sometimes sedation, in order to further assess the nature of their injury or illness, before making the decision on how best to proceed.
Although it may seem that vets are quick to advise euthanasia for wildlife brought to the practice; the reality is that they are used to seeing many different species of animal with a broad range of illnesses, and can quickly distinguish between those animals for whom attempted treatment is appropriate, and those for whom it’s unlikely to be successful or where it would mean inappropriate suffering and compromise to the animal’s welfare. The latter always comes first.