Veterinarians play critical role in wildlife rehabilitation

The Department of Fish and Wildlife is charged with overseeing the welfare of native animals as people work to rehabilitate critters that are sick, injured, or too young to care for themselves. But, they can’t do this wildlife rehabilitation work alone.

Each wildlife rehabilitation facility must have a principle veterinarian to oversee their practice. These principle veterinarians serve a vital role in wildlife rehabilitation. They ensure that animals receive proper medical care while rehabilitating. Principle veterinarians can do a variety of jobs for wildlife such as dispensing medication, providing x-rays, performing surgeries, giving advice, and administering humane euthanasia when necessary.

Red-tailed hawk at wildlife rehabilitation facility.

Being a principle veterinarian is rewarding, but far from easy. It requires patience, understanding, and is often without pay. Our state particularly struggles with finding veterinarians willing to serve in this role in eastern Washington, where wildlife rehabilitators and principle veterinarians are few and far between. Veterinarians who are interested being partnered with a rehabilitation center can contact the Department to learn more at

Even outside of a formal rehabilitation system, Washington laws allow private veterinarians to accept and treat wildlife from the public. Veterinarians who choose to help treat wild animals can do so even without a wildlife rehabilitation permit. They can provide initial first aid, emergency care, and stabilize the animal for transport. Ultimately, arrangements would be needed for transfer to a permitted wildlife rehabilitation center, something often provided by rehabilitation volunteers.

During the spring and summer baby season, some of our wildlife rehabilitators can get overwhelmed with infant wildlife. Animal mothers often leave their offspring unattended and hidden to forage for food. Well-intended members of the public who believe these animals are orphaned may act prematurely to deliver the baby to a rehabilitation center. Most often, the animals are not actually orphaned.

Baby fawn in the grass, waiting for its mom. Photo credit: Laura Rogers | Two baby fox kits, in the springtime. Photo Credit: Wild Northwest Beauty Photography

Fortunately, if rehabilitators, veterinarians, or the public return babies to the area where they were found within 48 hours, the animal can often be successfully reunited with its mother. As babies are born this spring, keep in mind that the vast majority do not need to be rescued and help us spread the word. Minimizing these occurrences allow rehabilitation centers to focus on the injured and sick animals that truly need their care.

Anyone who finds an injured or sick animal can find a list of wildlife rehabilitators permitted by the Department on our website. Please call first, to ensure that the center can assist you.

And, ask the center if there are ways that you can help them in their efforts. Though their expertise makes them the best candidate to care for an animal, you may be able to provide time or resources that can help them to succeed.

The Department places high value on the efforts of the state’s 32 rehabilitation centers and veterinarians as they work to return animals to the wild. Not only do they attempt to succeed with individual animals, but their permit procedures also serve to protect the well-being of wild populations — something critically important to WDFW and all Washington residents.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is dedicated to preserving, protecting and perpetuating the state’s fish and wildlife resources.