Heat Stress in Animals

HEAT STRESS – With summer truly upon us & no sign of cooler weather in sight, combined with drought & fires, our wildlife are doing it tough. In the same way as people suffer from the heat, wildlife also suffer from dehydration, heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

While you are out in the bush or even in your backyard, you may see wildlife suffering from prolonged heat.

Signs to look out for:
• May appear lethargic, confused, disoriented, unresponsive, collapsed
• Birds – open beak panting, holding wings out and away from the body
• Possums, gliders – on the ground or low to the ground during daylight hours or on verandahs or other places they would not normally be
• Koalas – on the ground or low in trees, sitting back & exposing the chest and abdomen, salivating, panting, licking front & hind paws & rubbing the wet surfaces over the face
• Flying foxes – flapping wings, moving lower down tree to escape direct sunlight, or found on the ground
• Macropods – visibly salivating, panting, intensely licking their forearms, lying down and not moving away quickly if startled
• Wombats – in unusual places during daylight such as out in the open, under homes or in sheds
• Echidnas – in the open and not actively foraging
• Severely affected animals may suffer convulsions or unconsciousness
• Some animals may also suffer burns on their paws from hot roofs and road surfaces (these will need veterinary attention)

What to do:
Heat exhaustion is not as serious as heat stroke although if left untreated, can rapidly turn into heatstroke which is potentially life-threatening. You want to remove the animal from the heat source so they can cool down unless they’ve already succumbed to heatstroke in which case they need prompt veterinary attention. If the animal is suffering from convulsions, is unconscious, it will need prompt veterinary attention.

If the animal is small, conscious and appears otherwise uninjured, and it is safe to do so:
• Using a towel or cloth, gently but firmly pick it up & place in a well-ventilated box/carrier on a towel out of the sun in a quiet place to cool down & recover
• Do not wrap the animal in damp or wet towels
• Provide a small bowl of water
• If not drinking from the bowl, you can try dripping a bit of water onto the lips or beak but do not squirt or force the animal to drink
• If you are not picking up the animal, you can gently spray the animal with room temperature water (eg, bird on a low branch outside)
• Any cooling should be done gradually
• If the animal appears to recover, you can then return it to where it came from (NB nocturnal animals should only be released after dark at the base of the tree closest to where they were found)
• When you go out in the field, have with you the contact details of a local wildlife rescuer & veterinarian
• Take note of where you picked up/saw any affected animal for later release or rescue

If the animals has not improved within 1-2 hours, then they need veterinary attention. For small animals, take them to a veterinarian in a suitable ventilated carrier with the radio off and out of direct sunlight as soon as you can.

For larger animals:
• Put out a container of water nearby (if safe to do so) (with a stick in it so lizards etc don’t drown)
• You can also try mist spraying them and putting up some shading if it doesn’t scare them & cause them to move
• Never approach a macropod which is lying down. If unsure of its health status, call a wildlife rescue organisation for help.

Flying foxes – if you find a bat (flying fox or other species) entangled in a net or on the ground on a hot day, unless you’re vaccinated, don’t do anything other than place a cool towel or umbrella over the top & call a wildlife rescuer. You can also spray intermittently with a light mist or gentle sprinkler (depending on your water restrictions). More info can be found here https://www.environment.nsw.gov.au/anim…/flying-fox-heat.htm

What you can do to help generally
• Put out shallow bowls of fresh water – in the shade & with a rock or stick in it for small creatures to escape
• Don’t use metal containers
• Don’t use buckets as the sides are too steep & slippery
• Put the bowl/container is a safe place away from disturbance (and hopefully pets)
• Place some shallow bowls for reptiles along the perimeter of your property, particularly along fencelines
• Put up some bird baths
• Gently spray animals (eg, birds) with room temperature water you see that are suffering from the heat
• If you live in an area where larger animals may visit, you may want to put out some larger & deeper bowls (still with a log or something for little things to crawl out on)
• Keep your cats and dogs indoors on hot days (as well as being good for weakened wildlife, also good for the pets to stay out of the heat) as long as it is cooler inside