Cat and Dog Attacks

helpwildlife.co.uk is a charity run advice website which is part of the Starlight Trust

We love cats and dogs very much here but it has to be said that, without them, wildlife rescues would have a far quieter life. Cat and dog attacks account for a large percentage of the casualties brought into wildlife rescues but worse are the thousands of birds and animals who are attacked each year who never get the help they need.

It’s all too easy to take the victim from your cat and simply release it again. But you’ve probably just condemned it to a slow death. Cats have a lot of bacteria on their teeth and these pass into the victim’s bloodstream when it’s bitten. Without antibiotic therapy, ideally within 4 hours, the casualty is likely to die from septicaemia. It only takes one tiny scratch, which may not be immediately visible, to cause this. So any bird or animal which is caught by a cat should be rescued, contained and taken to a wildlife rescue for treatment.

Our cat attack advice poster for sharing on social media

Failing to secure appropriate treatment for a cat attack victim may well be a breach of the Animal Welfare Act for which you could face prosecution.

Injuries from dog attacks are generally more obvious although, in the case of hedgehogs, it can be difficult to see them through the spines. Again it is best to assume that there are injuries and seek assistance for any animal which has been attacked by a dog.

Capture

Any small bird needs to be handled with care. Their bones are very delicate and it would be easy to injure them by handling them roughly. It may help to pick the bird up in a towel – it will ease both the physical and mental stress on the bird.

If you need to pick up a large bird such as a crow or gull, it is advisable to do so using gardening gloves or a thick towel. Larger birds have powerful beaks and can peck really quite hard. Be sure to keep the beak well away from your face to avoid eye injuries.

Many birds shed feathers when stressed – if they lose their tail feathers they cannot fly and these can take months to regrow. They are also very susceptible to stress and some birds can even die from the stress of being handled by humans. Always hold the wings against the body to avoid the bird flapping and make it feel more secure. Many birds feel more comfortable if their feet are supported when possible.

Don’t be fooled by the small stature of little rodents. Even a tiny mouse can give you a surprisingly painful bite and a squirrel can cause significant injury. Whilst the ability of rats and mice to carry and spread disease is grossly exaggerated, it is sensible to avoid being bitten by them, so handle with care using gloves or a thick towel. Cover the animal with a towel and try to “shuffle” it gently into a box turned on its side. That way you don’t need to actually pick the animal up. If this isn’t possible or the casualty has injuries which doing this may make worse, use the towel to ensure the animal cannot see your hand before picking it up.

Containment

Most small birds and mammals can be successfully contained in a cardboard or shoe box. For large birds a carry box designed for cats might be better if the bird is still lively and determined. If using a cardboard box make sure the lid is secured to prevent escape and there are sufficient air holes. A towel on the bottom will make the animal more comfortable. Place the box somewhere warm and quiet and keep children and pets away.

Care

Any animal caught by a cat needs urgent help so please contact a wildlife rescue as soon as you have them contained. They will need to be given antibiotics within a few hours of being bitten or they may develop fatal septicaemia. Some wildlife rescues are available 24/7 for this sort of emergency and we try to give some indication of availability on our listings. You could also contact local vets – although they will not have facilities for the long term care of the bird, they may be willing to provide a one off dose of antibiotics. Some may even do so free or at a very reduced price. You can search for a rescue below or by visiting our map page.

While you’re looking for help, it is not generally necessary or advisable to provide food and water. Feeding a shocked, ill, or weakened animal can cause lethal complications. Never attempt to force feed water to a bird as it is very easy to drown them and never offer cow’s milk or alcohol to any wildlife.

It is likely that the animal will be shocked or weakened so supplementary heat can be very helpful here. You can put a hot water bottle wrapped in a towel at one end of the box, either inside, underneath or next to the box, ensuring the animal can get away from the heat if it wants to. If they begin to pant, remove the heat source immediately.

NB: this advice is designed to cover the first couple of hours or overnight. If you are not able to get the animal to a wildlife rescue promptly, please at least speak to someone by phone for further advice about care beyond this period. If you want to care for the casualty yourself rather than taking it to a rescue, please read the information here.