Determining if Wildlife Needs Help

Determining if Wildlife Needs Help

Spring brings a boom in baby wildlife. Fairfax County Animal Protection Police Officers and the Wildlife Management office receive many calls this time of year from residents who are seeking help for young wildlife that appear to be orphaned or abandoned.

But intervention may be unnecessary and can be detrimental to wildlife. Many baby animals that are brought to wildlife professionals are in no need of help from humans, and in fact the humans in question might have “kidnapped” them. Baby animals left alone are not necessarily orphaned or abandoned; many species of wildlife will hide their young for safety, leaving them alone for extended periods of time. 

Common wildlife frequently found and “rescued” in Fairfax County include squirrels, red foxes, raccoons, rabbits, skunks, opossums, and songbirds. The best care for a baby animal is usually provided by its mother. 

If you come across a baby animal and are wondering whether to intervene, see guidelines below to determine if the animal needs help. If an animal is displaying these signs, contact a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, veterinarian or our Animal Protection Police for further assistance and instruction.

Signs that an animal needs help include:

• The animal shows signs of injury such as bleeding, swelling, or a broken limb.

• The animal is very cold, shivering, thin, or weak.

• The animal is on the ground unable to move or is nonresponsive.

• The animal is featherless or not fully furred.

• The animal shows signs of flies, worms, or maggots.

• The animal was picked up by a cat or dog, even if no injuries are visible.

•There is a dead parent nearby or the baby is separated from the parent and cannot be reunited.

Do not attempt to treat or raise wildlife. Do not handle any baby wild animal and do not attempt to offer food or water unless instructed to do so by a professional. Many young animals require special diets and inappropriate food or feeding technique can lead to sickness or death. Wild animals can also cause injury or carry parasites and disease, even at a young age. Human handling may cause unnecessary stress or result in trauma to the animal and could increase the risk of disease exposure to humans. Never touch a wild mammal barehanded; picking up a young animal without gloves increases the risk for possible rabies exposure. As a safety measure and for the welfare of the animal, contact a professional before intervening. 

A young animal’s best chance for survival is to receive natural care from its parents and remain wild. Before intervening, please learn more about which wildlife species and situations you are most likely to encounter and ways to determine whether an animal needs help at:

If you have questions about whether an animal needs help or to locate a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, you may contact the Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline toll-free at 1-855-571-9003 or visit the licensed wildlife rehabilitator section of this website. This helpline is available Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm. Fairfax County Animal Protection Police can be reached through the Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.