Emergency Road Kits For Wildlife Rehabilitators
Many rehabilitators who do capture and transport cover a large geographic area, and there can often be a significant time gap between picking up an animal and getting it to a veterinarian or a wildlife care center for emergency care. An emergency road kit facilitates capture, transport, and field-treatment of the most pressing conditions (i.e., shock, concussion, bleeding, fractures, and eye injuries).
This article presupposes that the rehabilitator or volunteer doing the transport is at least trained in the basic skills and has sufficient experience with local species to be able to estimate weights in order to calculate dosages. Further, it is assumed that the rehabilitator has an on-going professional relationship with a licensed veterinarian who is the source of the medical supplies listed and who would develop the policies that direct the rehabilitator in medical emergencies.
Providing On-Scene First Aid
It is not the intention of this article to address capture and restraint techniques; however, the equipment listed has proven to be helpful. Nets, with varying lengths of poles, can be purchased. A small-meshed net, or a pillowcase attached in place of a mesh net, is preferable for birds in order to minimize feather damage.
Simply treating shock (warmth, fluids, B vitamins, and in a few severe cases, cortico-steroids) at the capture site, rather than 45 minutes to an hour later at a facility, can mean the difference between life and death in a critical case. The use of steroids in cases of head trauma is controversial. Used by the author only for severe shock, steroids take approximately 15 minutes to reach effective blood levels (and this time frame varies with the type of steroid, its formulation, and route of administration), and administering them to a trauma patient at the pick-up site can limit swelling and resultant damage, and dilate peripheral blood vessels, helping to limit cell death from the loss of circulating oxygen and removal of cellular waste products. However, it is critical that fluids be given concurrently with steroids in order to help maintain reasonable blood pressure as the vasodilation that occurs with steroid use, as well as with the warmth provided to the animal in transport, can lead to a dangerous drop in blood pressure without fluids to help expand circulating blood volume. The use of meloxicam, a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug, for swelling and inflammation has been replacing the use of steroids at many centers, and has the added benefit of reducing pain. The concurrent use of an NSAID and a cortico-steroid is not advised.
Immediate immobilization of fractures can keep a closed break from becoming open and help prevent sharp bone ends from further disrupting muscle tissue, tendons, or blood vessels. A quick flushing and cleaning of an open fracture or wound, followed by an ointment dressing, can help keep exposed bone, tendons, or tissue from drying out. Flushing debris from an eye can help limit corneal damage and pain of having foreign matter in an eye.
Capture and Restraint Equipment:
1 pr welders gloves
1 pr lightweight leather gloves
1 salmon net or equivalent
1 herring or other small-mesh net (even a pillow case) for birds
1 large towel or blanket
1 small towel
Nested cardboard boxes/pet-carriers of various sizes, with newspapers or
toweling for the bottom, and towels to cover
1 hot-water bottle (or an empty plastic container with a leak proof lid)
2" and 4" self-adhering wrap such as Vet Wrap™
2" x 2" gauze pads
3" x 3" non-stick pads such as Telfa™ pads
Fluids (e.g., Lactated Ringers solution or other isotonic equivalent)
Gavage tubes (sizes 8, 12, 14, 16)
Dexemethasone Sodium Phosphate (for use in severe shock cases only)
Meloxicam (for swelling, inflammation, and analgesia)
Injectible Vitamin B-complex (some needs to be refrigerated, so choose a dilution that does not)
Sterile saline (for flushing debris from eyes or wounds)
Chlorhexidine solution (for a cleaning of wounds to remove debris before wrapping)
Non-steroidal antibiotic eye ointment
Water-soluble antibiotic ointment (such as Carrasyn gel - non-oily to prevent feather contamination)
1 cc syringes with 25 gauge by 5/8" needles for medications (0.3, 0.5, 1cc insulin syringes with 26 or 27 gauge needles for small birds)
12, 20, and 35 cc syringes for giving fluids
Quick-Stop™ (hematinic to staunch bleeding - though simple pressure should be tried first)
Sterile needles in various sizes
Average weights chart
Record Keeping Supplies:
Intake forms for finders to fill out
Educational/organization literature to leave with finders
Medical forms on which to record any field treatments (especially important because you will be estimating weight)
Packaging Your Kit
A small plastic fishing tackle, art, or tool box is lightweight and can hold all the medical supplies, gloves, hot water bottle, record forms, and literature. If not picking up an animal from a finder's house (where hot water should be available for heating fluids and filling the water bottle), fill the hot-water bottle before you leave and place it over or next to the fluids to keep them warm.
Small quantities of Dexemethazone Sodium Phosphate, injectible Meloxicam, and Vitamin B-complex can be injected into empty sterile 10 ml saline or sterile water bottles. A sterile needle can then be used to withdraw the appropriate amount, based on your estimate of the animal's weight. Carrying only a small amount of fluids and medications limits the investment, necessary space and weight of the supply box, and decreases your loss if you leave the kit in the car on a very hot or cold day.
A small jar with cotton balls soaking in .05% Nolvasan™ (Chlorhexadine) solution, as well as small plastic bags with dry cotton balls, cotton-tipped applicators, a roll of Vet-wrap™, gauze pads, Quick-Stop™, small jar or bottle of Nolvasan™, Furacin™, or Betadyne™ ointment, and syringes can all fit in a remarkably small space. All of these items, plus a variety of syringes, needles and tubes, will fit into the top of a tackle box.
It is not suggested that you try to perform extensive care procedures on the roadside. If you are alone and do not have the experience to perform treatments by yourself, simply wrapping the bird in a towel (covering its head as well) can keep it quiet and protect a fracture site. Those who live where the summers are hot need to remember that the ambient temperature must be considered. If it's already 90° F, you don't want to create hyperthermia by adding a heat source. If you do add heat, wrap the hot water bottle or sealed plastic container in a light towel and wedge it so it cannot roll onto the animal.
Remember, when picking up raccoons, use a carrying cage that is dedicated only to raccoons because of the risk of passing Baylis ascaris procyonor (the roundworm of the raccoon) to other species of animals.
For a small investment in equipment and some well-spent time organizing it, wildlife rehabilitators can put together an emergency road kit that will enhance efforts to save wildlife. This brief article, while only touching on topics such as capture, restraint, and emergency care, provides a blueprint from which the wildlife rehabilitator can assemble and adapt such a kit for their specific situation.
Download printable Emergency Road Kits document.