This summer, heat stressed wildlife have been making their way to RSPCA Shelters across Victoria, particularly birds and possums. Sadly, these animals are not coping with the recent hot temperatures we are experiencing across the state.
Identifying a heat stressed animal
Possums will either climb down or fall out of the trees due to the heat. It will be predominately Ringtail possums, identified by a white tip at the end of the tail. Brushtail possums aren’t affected by the heat as much as they have more fur protection, so if you see a Brushtail possum climbing down, be mindful as it could be injured.
Birds will pant and open their wings away from their body which is a sign of heat exhaustion.
What you can do if you find a heat stressed animal
Do not feed the animal. Cool the animal down to gradually reduce their body temperature back to normal as much as possible. If there is no injury, avoid transporting the animal to a vet as this can increase their stress further. This should be the last resort.
If an animal is convulsing or unconscious it needs to be taken to a vet as soon as possible.
If the animal is conscious and you are able pick up the animal
When picking an animal up, wear gloves or place material over your hands for protection. Pick the animal up from underneath and place it on an old towel or box dampened with water. Be careful to avoid the animal’s claws, mouth or beak as it may feel threatened and could attempt to defend itself.
Take the animal inside where it is normally 10-12 degrees cooler than the outside. The aim is to remove the animal from the heat for at least a few hours to allow their body temperature to reduce. Keep the animal in a cool dimly lit area.
A shallow container (ie. lid of a jar) can be used to place water in and it is preferred the animal laps at the water themselves. If it is too weak to reach the water, use an eye dropper to give small amounts of water in the mouth.
Have you found a heat stressed baby possum?
Baby possums need to stay warm and a sudden change of temperature could be fatal to them.
Do not attempt to cool it down, instead wrap the baby in a dry towel or cloth and place it into a makeshift pouch like a sock. Hydrating the baby is the best way to combat heat stress so try to feed the baby water using an eye dropper.
Take it to a carer or shelter as soon as possible as baby possums need constant feeding and care in order to survive.
Tips to keep the animal cool
Wet a tea towel and place in front of a fan to place on the floor for the animal.
Fill a light spray bottle with room temperature water (not from the fridge) and lightly spray the animal to assist in reducing the body temperature. You can also wet the animal with a damp sponge.
The animal should not be returned outside until it is dark as possums do not have good eyesight and will just curl up in a ball back in the heat if it is not dark enough.
With nurturing, the animal may recover from their stressful experience and may be released back into the local area.
If the animal does not look more alert within an hour, contact Wildlife Victoria directly. Otherwise, place it in a cardboard box or pillow case and immediately take the animal to your nearest vet, a wildlife carer or an RSPCA shelter.
If you are not able to pick up the animal
Place shallow water bowls in their backyard or near the animals (preferably in available shade) and to place sticks and rocks in the bowl so smaller animals can climb out if they get in.