Care of Grounded and Injured Bats
Text & illustrations © Conor Kelleher
Most people will never encounter a grounded bat as it is a rare occurrence, however, as the number of pet, and feral, cats increase each year, the likelihood of finding an injured bat also grows. It is therefore wise to know the simple steps to take in aiding these helpless creatures should you happen upon one.
The first thing to remember is that bats are flying mammals and they are not normally found on the ground. It is therefore obvious that the animal has a problem. This may be weakness from hunger, injuries sustained from crashing into solid objects or being caught by a cat.
Irish bats are totally harmless. They do not carry disease; they are not vicious; they will not get tangled in your hair or suck your blood! Neither are they blind. These are old wives tales and are totally untrue. All European species eat insects and have perfectly good eyesight. Remember that a grounded bat is far more frightened of you than you are of it!
The first thing to do is to take it out of danger and examine it. If you are worried about picking it up then put on a pair of light gloves. Hold it gently. Bats are very delicate and are easily injured so open each wing slowly to check for broken bones. Often the shoulder is broken so check for blood where the arm bone disappears into the fur. Next examine the back end; the tail and legs and check over the body for any signs of damage or blood. If the bat has an obvious broken bone it should be taken to a vet as soon as possible for professional treatment. This may mean amputation or euthanasia based on the vetís diagnoses.
X-Ray of bat with a fractured forearm
If there is no apparent damage, then the bat may just be weak from hunger or stunned from a crash! Put the animal into a secure container. This could be a shoe box or pet carrier. Provide a folded cloth into which the bat can secrete itself. Bats are extremely small and have the ability to make amazing escapes so make sure that the box is escape proof. Keep the animal in the dark, quiet and warmth. This will provide security and allow the bat to overcome any shock. Also give some water in a shallow container so that there is no danger of the bat drowning. Most bats will accept water from a spoon, or artistís brush, if offered it to their lips.
Leave the bat until dusk and then remove it gently. It will probably feel cold to the touch and look very lethargic but this is normal as it will have reduced its body temperature and become torpid to save energy. Hold it in your closed hand for 10 to 20 minutes and, as it shivers and trembles, it will slowly warm up and become more active. Once it is fully alert, you can test its flying ability in a closed room. Make sure that there are no large objects that it can fall behind and make retrieving it difficult. Raise your hand, with the bat, palm up, over your head, preferably over something soft in case the bat should fall, and gently nudge the batís rear end with a finger to encourage it to fly. Should it fall, it may still be cold or its wings may be tacky due to it being held in your palm. If the latter is the case, then gently open each wing to free it and try again. Should the bat be capable of sustained, strong flight then return it to where it was found and release it in the same manner.
Anatomy of a bat
Should the bat repeatedly fall then it is probably too weak to fly and it needs further attention before it can be released. Return the bat to the box while you prepare some food. In an emergency, bats can be fed a little cat or dog food but some will not take to it as it lacks roughage. If it is summer, then moths can be caught in the garden which the bat will readily take. Failing this, the easiest food source available is mealworms from the local pet shop. These are the larva of the mealworm beetle and are high in protein so that the batís lost weight is quickly replaced. Initially, the bat will refuse the food and it will have to be tempted by decapitating the larva and squeezing its insides on the lips of the bat who then quickly learns to accept the whole mealworm. The tiny pipistrelle will consume up to 20 of these mealworms at a sitting and quickly learns to feed itself, without being handled, when presented with a dish of larvae.
You may have to keep the bat for several nights of feeding to ensure that it is strong enough to fly but the experience will be worth it. Should the bat not survive, and many do not, then it is probably as a result of internal injuries which are not apparent. However, if after several days of captive care, you can return a healthy bat to the wild then the satisfaction of watching it, as it circles round you, before flying off, is a feeling not to be missed.
A final cautionary note: all Irish bats are protected by law and, although it is not illegal, and no licence is required to treat injured bats, it is illegal to wilfully disturb them or to take these animals from the wild.