02 Nov 2018
Why Use Incubators For Wildlife Care
Posted By : Guest Filed Under : Pet Care | Curadle | Squirrels | Wildlife | Incubators | Animal Rescue
Incubators are a vital component in caring for neonatal mammals, hatchling birds and other orphaned wildlife. Most young animals need supplemental heat in order to survive, especially babies that have no fur yet and their eyes are still closed. Incubators are useful in situations where animals are unable to adequately control their own body temperature, such as in neonates (new born animals) and when injured and diseased.

In some cases, incubators can also be used to control the humidity (moisture content) of the animal’s environment, provide animals with increased levels of oxygen and allow nebulization. Where wild animals are sick or injured, incubators can only be of benefit alongside veterinary care. For abandoned baby squirrels for example, an incubator to keep them warm can be the difference between life and death – just one incubator can save the lives of hundreds of animals.

How To Choose An Incubator?

Incubators are slowly becoming available in South Africa for animal hospitals, small animal breeders, animal rescue centres and wildlife rehabilitarors. Many of these incubators are locally manufactured. We highly recommend imported Curadle and Brinsea incubators because they have accurate and adjustable temperature and humidity control with a digital read out. They have a solid construction and is easy to clean, so it does not harbour infectious agents. There should be easy access to the animal and good observation of the patient, ideally with an internal light, should be possible without the need to open the door. A lightweight incubator that is portable is especially useful for neonatal wildlife casualties. Curadle and Brinsea incubators can be ordered online from pethabitat.co.za
The Curadle Pet Brooder 90 ICU incubator includes some excellent features for maximising hygiene. It features a built-in antibiotic/deodorising air filter, a humidification system designed to eliminate germs from the water and a removable bottom tray for exceptionally easy cleaning. One of the main advantages of this incubator is that a nebulizer can be attached to it, which pushes the medicine around the incubator using a specialized fan.

Video demostrating how to use Curadle Incubator

Body Temperature In Animals

Mammals and birds are ‘homeotherms’, they are usually able to maintain a stable body temperature through the metabolic action of their bodies. Reptiles and amphibians are ‘poikilothems’, their body temperature depending upon environmental temperature. Neonatal mammals and birds are much less able to control their body temperature than adult animals and rely instead upon the warmth of their mother (dam) and/or the nest environment. Sick and injured animals may also struggle to maintain body temperature and become ‘hypothermic’ (low body temperature) or ‘hyperthermic’ (high body temperature). Animals with a high temperature due to infection are described as being ‘pyrexic’. A rectal (or cloacal) digital thermometer is probably the cheapest and easiest method of measuring body temperature.

Providing Warmth To Wildlife

There are several ways in which extra warmth can be provided to animals including wildlife species. These include stopping further heat loss by using extra bedding, silver foil or bubble wrap. Hot-water bottles, microwavable heat pads or grain bags can be useful as a temporary source of heat in an emergency, but their use needs to be closely monitored as all these things cool rapidly and potentially draw heat away from the animal. Heat sources may also be easily chewed, scratched and otherwise damaged. Electric heat pads can also be used but pose a risk of overheating (or even burning) the animal, can be easily damaged, and do not work very well with very small animals.

In contrast to other methods an incubator provides a safe, monitored warm environment for the animal and is the best way of helping maintain body temperature. The environmental temperature provided by the incubator should be measured using a maximum/minimum thermometer unless a digital display is provided. The body temperature of the patient should also be measured periodically.

Appropriate Environmental Temperature

All mammalian and avian casualties will benefit from being kept in an environmental temperature within their ‘thermoneutral range’. This is the range of temperatures in which an animal expends no energy to maintain its body temperature. For birds the thermoneutral range depends upon size, with smaller birds requiring higher temperatures. Reptiles and amphibians should be kept within an ‘activity temperature range’ in which it can control its body temperature.
Orphaned squirrels & wild rabbits in Brinsea Incubator

How To Warm An Animal? 

The first stage of treating a cold animal (hypothermia) is to prevent further heat loss, by wrapping the casualty in insulating materials such as blankets, bubble wrap or silver foil. At this time the incubator can be switched on and allowed to warm to the required temperature. Once the incubator is warmed to the correct temperature the animal can be transferred; the amount of bedding should be reduced at this stage to allow warming from the environment in the incubator. It is important, at the same time as warming the patient, to ensure that it remains well hydrated and adequate appropriate food is provided. Excessive warming if the patient is dehydrated or has a low blood glucose level (hypoglycaemia) can be detrimental and possibly life-threatening.

Adult Animals

Hypothermic adult animals should be warmed in an incubator set to their thermoneutral range. The temperature of both the incubator and the animal should be recorded at regular intervals. These animals are likely to be dehydrated and/or ‘shocked’ (hypovolaemic), warming alone will not correct these things and may indeed make them worse. All adult animals must therefore, be provided with adequate fluid therapy at the same time as warming and veterinary care (in person or over the telephone). Injured animals also require pain relief (analgesia) and this can only be prescribed by a veterinary surgeon.

If the animal will drink, then an oral rehydration fluid can be provided in a shallow bowl. If the animal will not, or cannot, drink then fluid must be given in other ways. In birds rehydration fluids can most easily be provided by crop tubing, provided the bird can lift its head and swallow. In mammals intravenous or intraosseous fluids are usually required to rehydrate patients and these must legally only be administered by a veterinary surgeon or veterinary nurse.

Subcutaneous fluids can be given in both mammals and birds, but are often poorly absorbed in hypothermic animals and provide inadequate rehydration in most cases. Fluids for subcutaneous (and intravenous and intraosseous routes) use must be veterinary products, sterile and warmed before use.

Brinsea TLC Incubator

Neonatal Animals

Dependent animals (those that would naturally be in a nest) should be kept in an incubator set at 28-30°C until they are of an age where they can maintain their own body temperature when the heat can be reduced to the thermoneutral range for that species. Very small neonates may require an artificial fabric ‘nest’ to be created in the incubator. Like adult animals, neonates are frequently dehydrated upon arrival and should be fed with an oral electrolyte solution. Neonates also frequently have a low blood glucose level (hypoglycaemia) and should be fed appropriately soon after the initial electrolyte feed. If the neonate is unable to lift its head, and/or swallow, then it will need to be given fluids and glucose by injection – this should be under veterinary direction.

Humidity and Nebulization

Most good quality incubators have a water reservoir to humidify the air entering the incubator. If this does not happen the air in the incubator can become too dry and this can cause the patient to dehydrate, as well as causing damage to the lining of airways. Usually the reservoir is filled with a water soluble disinfectant solution to avoid bacterial build up and the risk of infection. Some incubators have a digital display that allows humidity to be recorded and controlled. Oxygen, when used, should be humidified.

Some incubators have a chamber and pump that allows medication to be delivered into the incubator chamber as a ‘mist’. Antiseptic solutions, drugs to dilate the airways (bronchodilators) and antibiotics can be used in this way. This can be especially useful for respiratory infections in birds and small mammals. All nebulization should be carried out under veterinary direction.

Why Animals Need Oxygen? 

All animals need oxygen for their basic cell function. Air contains 20.95% oxygen and this is more than adequate in healthy animals. There are however, some medical conditions where the animal’s respiratory (airways, lungs, air sacs) or circulatory (heart, vessels, blood) systems are compromised and they may benefit from additional oxygen. Medical conditions where oxygen may be useful include; breathing difficulties, heart problems, shock, sepsis and head trauma. Oxygen must only be used under veterinary direction.

Providing Oxygen To Animals

Oxygen can be provided to animals using a variety of means including; masks, hoods, nasal prongs and oxygen cages. Some of these methods can be stressful for the patient and are inappropriate for wildlife cases. Incubators into which oxygen can be piped can be very useful for wildlife casualties and neonates. These allow the patient to be observed whilst receiving oxygen in a stress-free environment. The temperature in an oxygen cage often rises quickly and becomes excessive, so incubators with temperature monitoring and control can be very useful. The body temperature of the animal should also be measured where possible.

Oxygen flow rates of around 1 litre per minute supplied to an incubator should maintain a 40-45% oxygen concentration in most cases. Remember opening the door of the incubator will cause the oxygen concentration to fall and should be limited to essential monitoring of the animal only. Patients with respiratory (breathing) problems will benefit from being supported on their fronts rather than lying on their sides. If the animal has to lie on one side then it should be carefully turned onto the other side every few hours.


Humidification Of Oxygen

Any supply of oxygen that is going to be used for more than a few hours should be humidified. This prevents drying and dehydration of the lining of the airways, which causes damage and can lead to infection. The humidifier (a sealed reservoir filled with saline) is usually connected close to the oxygen cylinder but may also be part of the incubator.

Dangers Associated With Oxygen Supplementation

At very high levels of oxygen supplementation for over 12 hours oxygen toxicity can occur, although these levels are in practice hard to achieve. Too much oxygen can also reduce carbon dioxide levels in the incubator, so that the stimulus to breath is reduced, although this effect is uncommon in veterinary patients. The greatest danger of oxygen supplementation is perhaps the welfare of the animal where there is inadequate veterinary care.

Veterinary Care And Use Of Oxygen

Healthy animals do not require oxygen supplementation. Oxygen is only required where there is a reduction in the animal’s own ability to utilize oxygen as a result of trauma or disease. Oxygen will only help support the patient, and not treat the underlying clinical problem. It is important to establish a clinical diagnosis early on in order to prevent the animal from suffering unnecessarily and ensure best care. A veterinary diagnosis and treatment is therefore needed as soon as possible. Although oxygen can be provided in wildlife hospitals and homes, it should be remembered that these are critically ill animals and are likely to benefit from professional veterinary monitoring and care and all the facilities of a veterinary hospital. Oxygen must only be provided as part of a treatment package prescribed for that animal by a veterinary surgeon.

Safety Considerations When Using Oxygen

Oxygen is generally quite safe but does need to be treated with great respect because of fire safety. Oxygen itself does not burn, but most other things burn more vigorously when oxygen is present. Certain things make this risk greater, by allowing oxygen levels to build up excessively and/or by igniting easily. Only incubators specifically designed and safety tested for oxygen service should be used with oxygen gas and the manufacturer’s guidelines should also be carefully followed.

Tags : Why Use Incubators For Wildlife Care South Africa , Orphaned Squirrels , Baby Squirrels South Africa , Orphaned Wildlife Care South Africa , Care Of Sick Injured Animals South Africa
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