It’s Not Dead Until It’s Warm and Dead: Saving Unresponsive Animals

With the kind of chill we’ve had this winter, we wanted to share an important tip about saving animals. This is one of the first things rehabilitators learn when it comes to wildlife first aid!

It’s very possible that you might find a “dead” animal one day in very cold weather. This may include a turtle that got stuck above-ground in freezing temperatures, a baby raccoon that fell from a tree and became chilly without its mother’s warmth, or even a stray puppy found unresponsive in the snow. Many animals will appear dead when they’re in the most serious stages of hypothermia, but it’s often possible to save them.

If you don’t see obvious signs of decomposition— and if you can do so SAFELY— please take a chance on saving a life by bringing the unresponsive animal inside. Provide the critter with an external heat source like a heating pad, hot water bottle, hand warmer, heat lamp, or even your car’s seat warmer. The heat source should be warm enough to be efficient, but not so hot that it’s physically uncomfortable to hold it against your own skin. (A thin blanket between the heat source and the animal should be sufficient.)

Depending on the species and the severity of its hypothermia, the animal may regain consciousness within a few minutes to a few hours. (Be sure the animal is safely contained, such as in a crate or cage, if it’s something that may be dangerous when it wakes up.)

If you do see signs of life, please contact a wildlife rehabilitator for further help with a wild animal, or a veterinarian or your local animal control for a stray domestic animal.

If there are no signs of life after more than an hour, it’s safe to assume that the critter has moved on to the Rainbow Bridge. It can be disposed of by placing it outdoors in a wooded area, away from roads, where it can help to nourish other life, or you may choose to bury it or bring it to a vet for cremation.

We know it sounds crazy to pick up “dead” animals and bring them inside in hopes that they may recover, but many lives can be saved with this simple act of kindness.

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