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Behind the Scenes: Understanding Euthanasia

North American Porcupine
North American Porcupine under anesthesia for radiographs to be taken

Common questions the public ask when they bring an animal to Calgary Wildlife are “Do you perform euthanasia procedures?” or “Why is euthanasia an option?”. This is a heavy topic to discuss but it is an important one especially when dealing with wildlife rehabilitation. 

Roughly 1/3 of patients admitted to wildlife rehabilitation centres globally make it to release time. Some die naturally in care and some are euthanized due to the severity of their injury or illness, leaving the animal no chance of recovery. The survival rate also varies dramatically from species to species. This statistic is difficult for wildlife rehabilitation centres to handle and weighs heavily on the community.


Assessing whether or not an animal will be able to be successfully released post-rehabilitation is not an easy job and there are many factors to consider. Unlike domestic pets or humans, wildlife does not fare well being released with disabilities. 

While it is true that some mammals can do well on three legs, a loss of flight or a loss of sight is detrimental to the survival of a bird or mammal. Quality of life is just as important a factor to consider as well. Wildlife rehabilitation centers at times keep long-term education residents who have disabilities of some sort, but it is important that they are not in pain and are still able to lead fulfilling lives while in captivity. The reality is that the number of patients who come into wildlife rehab centres that are suitable for long-term captivity is low. 


Factors that the Calgary Wildlife team considers when it comes to deciding whether a patient can be rehabilitated or not are skeletal injuries, soft-tissue injuries, and illnesses. Within these factors, the team assesses the likelihood, based on research, that the animal will be able to go back to normal behaviours to be able to survive in the wild again. For example, some fractures, such as those that occur in the medial aspect of the shaft are commonly able to be rehabilitated.

American Badger X-Ray
American Badger recovering from tibia and fibula fracture

Whereas fractures that occur near the joint are not found to heal well so that the limb is still usable.

American Crow X-Ray
American Crow euthanized due to radius fracture at the elbow

In this case, euthanasia would be the treatment since the animal won’t be able to perform natural behaviours to survive with a broken, unmendable limb. Other severe injuries such as a skull fracture, exposed bones or organs, and complete muscle tears will also warrant euthanasia.

Canada Goose
Canada Goose: highly vulnerable to the Avian Flu outbreak

Euthanasia is a treatment for ailments with little to no recovery possibility to ease pain and suffering. Without euthanasia, these animals would likely die slowly and painfully in the wild as these severe injuries and illnesses prevent them from being able to feed themselves or get away from predators. At Calgary Wildlife, the decision to euthanize a patient is made as a team, prioritizing the animal's welfare. We do not take these cases lightly and follow the most up-to-date and researched treatment options to prevent unnecessary suffering.

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