UK veterinary practices may be dealing with up to 170,000 cases of wildlife casualties per year while facing significant restrictions in terms of cost, knowledge and facilities, a new study suggests.

Garden birds were among the most commonly dealt with wildlife in veterinary practices.
Garden birds were among the most commonly dealt with wildlife in veterinary practices.

Researchers at the University of Plymouth analysed questionnaire responses received from almost 170 practices to establish the time veterinary nurses and surgeons spent treating wild animals.

The study, conducted by undergraduate student Emily Barnes and Mark Farnworth, both from the university’s School of Biological Sciences, found 85% of respondents said they had treated wildlife in the past year and most (71%) agreed veterinary practices should have a role to play in wild animal welfare.

Wildlife caseload underestimated

However, while previous research estimated veterinary practices dealt with between 30,000 and 70,000 cases of wildlife injuries each year, this study suggested that with an average of around 30 cases per practice, the current figure could be as high as 170,000.

The most common creatures brought in were garden birds (31.9%) and hedgehogs (23.9%), while the most frequent suspected causes were injuries from predators (55.1%) and collisions (47.1%).

And the majority of respondents (84%) said they were either often or sometimes willing to perform treatment beyond first aid/stabilisation before transferring the patient to a wildlife organisation.

Frequently cited restrictions

However, knowledge and skills were the most frequently cited restrictions in treating wildlife, along with lack of facilities and equipment, while cost and time were also strongly cited, with most (85.6%) agreeing the public expected veterinary practices to treat injured wildlife for free.

Writing in the paper, the authors said: “Based on the responses given, the majority of veterinary practices recognise and accept their responsibility to treat wildlife casualties, but face a larger caseload than previously estimated, and identified knowledge, facilities, cost and time as significant restrictions.

“Additional financial support and dissemination of information on wildlife rehabilitation and outcomes within the veterinary community may be beneficial, but future research could assess how concerns identified affect practice capability, treatment offered and animal welfare.”

The full study – Perceptions of responsibility and capability for treating wildlife casualties in UK veterinary practices by E Barnes and MJ Farnworth – is published as a short communication in Veterinary Record, doi:10.1136/vr.104052

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