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Orphaned fox pups receive care at WSU

Seven fox pups resting in a cardboard box and straw.
A litter of seven fox pups has found a temporary home at Washington State University after being left orphaned when their mother was struck and killed by a car in eastern Washington.

A litter of seven fox pups has found a temporary home at Washington State University after being left orphaned when their mother was struck and killed by a car in eastern Washington.

“Thankfully they are pretty autopiloted,” said Nickol Finch, an exotics and wildlife veterinarian at WSU’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital leading the care of the young animals. “We had to give them fluids the day they arrived because they were a little dehydrated, and we treated them for parasites, but, fortunately, they were just old enough to eat on their own.”

The pups arrived at WSU, the only licensed wildlife rehabilitation facility in Whitman County, on May 24 after they were discovered by their den near Dusty, Washington, located roughly 40 miles west of Pullman.

The goal, Finch said, is to release the foxes into the wild. She is hopeful they will soon be moved into an outdoor enclosure in an area with good habitat for foxes where they can continue to grow and mature. Before being released, the pups will be tested with live prey like quail or mice to ensure they can hunt for themselves. 

“We need to make sure they have the instincts to catch food because, obviously, I can’t teach them,” Finch said. “We hope their natural instincts kick in enough that they can be successful in feeding themselves and then we will release them.” 

In addition to the fox pups, the Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s exotics department has been busy caring for a variety of orphaned and injured wildlife, including a badger, several raccoons and numerous species of birds.

Finch said it is not uncommon during the spring and early summer for her team to routinely have five or six wild animals brought into the clinic daily. 

Finch said it is not uncommon during the spring and early summer for her team to routinely have five or six wild animals brought into the clinic daily. 

“Wild animals — in the spring, that’s what I do,” Finch said.

She noted the importance of calling a licensed wildlife rehabilitator before intervening with a suspected injured or orphaned animal. Calling ahead allows a wildlife rehabilitator to assess the situation and ensure the animal needs veterinary care or is truly orphaned, and to make sure the facility is equipped to deal with the specific species. It also provides an opportunity to discuss how to safely handle the animal.

Calling ahead, Finch said, is particularly important when dealing with deer fawns and rabbits, which are frequently left alone as their mothers forage.

“A lot of times, deer fawns don’t need to be saved,” Finch said. “The mom will leave the fawn alone for several hours a time. Most of the time the fawns are not in danger and should be left alone. The animal’s true mother is infinitely better equipped to raise that baby than I am. We need to ensure every baby that can stay with its real mom does so.”

Finch said many people also incorrectly assume young birds found on the ground require help. In most cases, the birds should be left alone unless an injury is apparent. 

“This time of the year, baby birds are learning how to fly, and you fall before you fly,” she said. “Baby birds on the ground don’t necessarily need to be saved — they need someone to keep the cat away from them long enough to figure out how to get back up in the tree. Parents will often feed baby birds on the ground, so as long as people can keep predators away, it is much better for them to stay in the wild.”

A full list of licensed wildlife rehabilitators in Washington can be found on the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife’s website. The WSU Veterinary Teaching Hospital’s wildlife department can be reached at 509-335-0711.

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