Nothing. If you find a wild animal that is obviously sick, injured or orphaned, do not feed it anything until you get in contact with a wildlife rehabber. You should be contacting your local licensed rehabber anyway to find out if the animal really does need help, and how exactly, if it needs it, to help. But this post is specifically about food.
Two animals came in that were fed things they never should have been fed. It’s likely one of them didn’t last the night. The first is a baby squirrel, who was being transported by mom when crows attacked. The mama squirrel dropped the baby and ran, and the wonderful person witnessing this was able to fend off the crow attack and save the baby. However. Instead of calling Wildwoods, the well-intentioned person decided to feed the squirrel cow’s milk. Milk from a cow is highly specialized food for cows and can cause severe side effects, even death, in other animals. Cow milk is meant to take a baby cow from almost nothing to several hundred pounds in a very short amount of time. Just imagine what it must be doing to that poor little baby squirrel! Luckily, the staff at Wildwoods was able to start the baby on an appropriate diet and avoid any serious complications.
The second animal was a nestling bluejay. It’s eyes hadn’t even opened yet. The finder of this little guy fed it softened dog kibble before bringing it in to Wildwoods. The kibble has expanded so much, and the skin is pulled so tightly around the belly that you can actually see through it. I’ve never seen a baby bird’s stomach expanded so much; it was terrifying just to look at. Can you imagine being stuffed so full of food you couldn’t digest that your stomach expanded so much you could see your intestines through your skin? That poor bird must be in so much pain. We have been giving it fluids to help aid digestion and it did have a pretty impressive bowel movement while I was there, but it was so lethargic and unresponsive. Most likely it did not make it through the night.
I think as humans we are used to eating whatever we want without such drastic or immediate danger. These kinds of reactions are rare in humans so I think we tend to believe the same is true for animals. Unfortunately this is not the case. These two animals ended up in pain and way worse off than if the finders had not fed them at all.
For this and many other reasons it is so important that before you do anything—touch, pick up, feed, water, clean, move, anything—you call a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and ask them what to do. Then do what they tell you! It may be hard to abstain from giving an animal food or water, it may be hard to walk away from a baby deer when it seems like mom has abandoned it, but wildlife rehabilitators are trained and experienced. Rest assured that what they tell you to do will give the animal the best possible chance of survival. A quick Google search will help you find a nearby wildlife rehabilitation specialist, and for God’s sake, if it’s not a dog don’t feed it dog food.