Sometimes you come across an animal in need—and there’s no worse feeling than not knowing how to help! That’s why we’ve put together this animal emergency guide to help you safely assist any injured, lost, homeless, or suffering animals you may come across.

stray cat

If you ever find an animal in need and aren’t sure what to do,
please call PETA 
for help—any time, day or night—at
757-622-7382 and press 2.

This post is a bit long, but our tips will help you be prepared for the most common animal emergencies. It covers:

In any animal emergency, the most important thing to do is remain calm
and never leave the animal unattended.

Being Prepared

PETA animal rescue car kit

Keep an animal emergency kit in your car. You can purchase a premade PETA rescue kit, or if you prefer to make your own, be sure to include the following items:

  • Cat carrier, cardboard or plastic
  • Nylon leash
  • Towel or blanket
  • Thick gloves
  • Pop-top can of wet cat food and dog treats
  • Gauze bandages to stop bleeding or to use as a muzzle
  • Contact information for the local humane society, a wildlife rescue or rehabilitation center, trusted veterinarians, and 24-hour emergency veterinary services
  • Paper and pen to write down notes and information

How to Approach an Animal

Grey cat in the yard

Animals, whether they’re wild or domestic, are usually fearful of human intervention when they’re hurt or dying.

To avoid being bitten or causing them more distress and injury, follow these four rules when approaching an animal:

  • Move slowly and quietly, and stay as low to the ground as you can.
  • Avoid eye contact, which can be interpreted as a challenge. Keep your head down.
  • Talk very softly to dogs and cats, and be as quiet as possible around wildlife.
  • When you first approach the animal, try to take whatever you may need to use with you so that you won’t have to go back for something and approach the animal a second time.

If you spot a stray animal near a busy road, try to Turn off the vehicle, put your hazard lights on, and get out of the car, closing the door quietly. Take your leash, cat food or treats, towel, and gauze (in case the animal is injured) with you.

If the animal runs, stop and kneel down or walk slowly in the opposite direction. Be patient—it might take awhile for the animal to muster up the courage to come closer to you. Try to herd the animal toward a residential area, ideally into an empty, fenced in yard, where you can close the gate to prevent escape. You’ll also want to let anyone on site know that there’s an animal in the yard and that you’re helping them.


Nonwildlife Emergencies

peta cruelty investigation department emaciated dog seized rescue animal abuse

Animal Abuse

If you witness animal abuse, get out a pen and paper so that you can document details such as a license plate number and vehicle description or physical address. Call your local animal-control agency or the police immediately. If they do not respond quickly, call PETA. []

Try to get evidence (take photos or videos), find witnesses, and provide authorities with a written description of the abuse that you witnessed. You can also go to your local magistrate or police commissioner to file a formal complaint.

Chained Dogs

If you see a chained dog, your best chance of making a difference in the dog’s life is to befriend his or her guardians and help them make positive changes for the animal. Of course, dogs who are being deprived of an adequate shelter or who are injured, ill, or in poor physical condition must be reported to the proper agency right away.

Some jurisdictions have chaining restrictions or bans. Research your local laws and notify authorities if you believe that violations are present.

Stray Animals

If you find a stray dog, cat, or other animal companion, try to coax the animal to you. If he or she won’t come, put out some food to get the animal to come closer or get into the habit of visiting. Borrow a humane box trap from your local animal shelter or purchase one from Tomahawk Live Trap.

If the animal is wearing tags, call the guardian listed on the tags, but insist on taking the animal back yourself so that you can assess his or her living conditions. If the dog looks emaciated or you think they’ve been abused, call the authorities before returning the animal to their guardians.

Don’t be afraid to take the animal to a well-run animal shelter. That’s usually the first place that people look for a lost animal companion. To help animals find their guardians, shelters can scan them for microchips and take photos to post on their websites as well as handling any immediate health issues the animal may be having.

Dead Animals

If an animal appears to be dead and if you’re comfortable doing so, gently touch the edge of their eye to check for an blink reflex. If the animal blinks, he or she is alive. Rush the animal to the nearest veterinarian, emergency animal clinic, or animal shelter. If you go to a veterinarian, be aware that you may be expected to pay for the animal’s care.


Wildlife Emergencies

This deer was hit by a car and badly injured. If you see any injured animals on or near the road, be sure to call animal control and wait near the animal until help arrives.

Injured Animals

If you find an injured animal, please stop to help if it’s safe to do so. If the animal can’t be moved or safely contained, cover him or her with a towel or blanket to help them stay calm until help arrives and call 911 right away.

If the animal can be safely moved, try to place him or her in a covered box or carrier. Make sure that the animal doesn’t get too hot or cold and can breathe easily inside the box. Don’t feed the animal or offer him or her water. Transport them to an animal-control agency, veterinarian, or a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

Remember that when wild animals who are severely injured, it’s not always fair to put them through the trauma of being handled by humans, the pain of surgery, and the long process of recovery in an alien environment, especially when so many of them don’t pull through. Those who don’t fully recover are doomed either to live in a cage in captivity for the rest of their lives or be released with a physical disadvantage as they attempt to fend for themselves again in the wild.

Paying for euthanasia at a veterinary office or heading for the animal shelter is often the best option. If you do this, be sure to stay with the animal so you can ensure that they’re immediately relieved of their suffering.


In certain areas and times of the year, turtles can frequently be found crossing roads, which puts them at risk for injury. If you see a turtle on the road, you’ll want to get out of your car—if it’s safe to do so—and help the animal move in the direction he or she was heading. Turtles know where they’re going, and they’ll turn back into traffic if you don’t send them off in the right direction.


If you spot a turtle who’s injured or has been hit by a car,
please don’t assume that he or she is dead!

Turtles have slow metabolisms and can suffer from massive injuries for days, or even weeks, before dying. Test for a reaction by pinching a back toe, or if possible, by very gently touching the corner of turtle’s eye lid. Injured turtles must be contained and transported to a vet or animal shelter right away.

Baby Wildlife

In the spring, baby animals will be a common sight, but if they aren’t hurt or in immediate danger, they usually don’t need any help.

Don’t step in when it’s best to step aside.

Mom is probably gathering food nearby. Observe from afar to confirm that the mother is in fact caring for her young. Some mammals such as deer and rabbits will attend to their young only at dusk and dawn. If you’re not sure if an animal is orphaned, call your state wildlife agency or a licensed wildlife rehabilitator for help.

Baby Birds

baby bird W 

Fledgling (juvenile) birds on the ground who are learning to fly are often mistaken for orphaned baby birds. To determine if an animal needs assistance, ask yourself these questions:

  • Are there bloody wounds, wet feathers, legs that aren’t bearing weight, drooping wings, or matted or highly ruffled feathers?
  • Is the bird lying on his or her side or back or scooting along the ground on his or her belly?
  • Is the bird’s body or head tilting to one side? Is there blood around the nostrils?
  • Does the bird appear to be cold or is he or she noticeably shivering?
  • Is the bird out in the open with no trees or bushes nearby?
  • Are there other animals, such as dogs or cats, stalking the bird?
  • Is the bird a nestling (a baby bird who’s too young to have feathers or leave the nest)?

If the answer to all of these questions is “No,” then the bird should be left alone.

If the answer to any of the above questions is “Yes,” then you should take action. Stay with the bird and take a photo if you can. Contain the animal in a box and transport them to an animal-control agency, veterinarian, or a local licensed wildlife rehabilitator immediately.

Orphaned Wildlife

If you’re sure that an animal is orphaned place him or her in a covered box or carrier. Make sure that the animal doesn’t get too hot or cold and can breathe easily inside the box. Don’t feed the animal or offer him or her water.

 Do not attempt to care for the animal yourself!

Please call your local animal-control agency or wildlife rehabilitation center and transport the animal for care immediately.

Note: It’s illegal to possess wildlife without a license in most states (and as most birds are federally protected, fines for possessing them are massive) because these animals require expert handling and care. Please contact an animal-control agency or wildlife rehabilitation center and transport the animal for care immediately.

Remember to stay calm, be safe, and call the police, animal control,
or PETA for help. Thanks for caring about and helping animals in need!


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