How to Clean Oil off Animals Affected by a Spill

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Oil spills can injure and kill wildlife; the oil renders a an animal's fur or a bird's feathers useless when it comes to insulation from the cold and elements. Fortunately, when an oil spill occurs, volunteers can clean oil off animals, rescuing them from a certain death. Follow these steps to clean oil off an animal affected by an oil spill.

Things You'll Need

  • Large 25-50 gallon Tupperware tub
  • A large trash can
  • Dish soap
  • Toothbrushes
  • Small scrub brushes
  • Clean towels
  • Paper towels
  • Fresh water
  • Tape or a muzzle
  • Sheet
  • Net
  • Pet carriers
  • Access to a heated building
  • Dish washing gloves

Removing Oil from Birds and Mammals

Begin by catching the animal affected by an oil spill. The most seriously affected animals will be on the shore and fairly easy to catch by throwing a sheet or a net over the animal. Most animals affected by an oil spill are already ailing due to exposure to the oil, so they are typically much easier to catch than a healthy animal.

Place a muzzle on mammals like otters if it appears the animal will nip or bite. For birds, a piece of tape can be wrapped around the bill, but use caution to avoid covering the bird's nostrils. This is only necessary with some animals; other animals are surprisingly cooperative.

Put on a pair of dish washing gloves to protect your skin from the oil.

Using paper towels, wipe excess oil from the animal's feathers or fur.

Fill a Tupperware tub with a couple inches of warm water and place the animal inside the water.

Use a mild dish soap and wash the animal's fur or feathers in sections, starting with the tail, legs, rear portion of the torso, upper portion of the back, chest, neck and then head. Use a toothbrush or soft scrub brush (small brushes used to clean hands and nails work well) to scrub the fur/feathers and skin.

As the water gets cool and soapy during the scrubbing process, dump the water into the trash barrel and re-fill with clean, warm water, then continue scrubbing and washing the animal. The water should not be disposed of outdoors back into the environment, so if performing this cleaning on a beach, take the soapy water away for proper disposal.

Once all traces of oil are removed from the animal's feathers/fur and skin, thoroughly rinse all traces of soap from the animal's feathers/fur.

Use a towel to dry off the oil spill victim. This is a good opportunity to check for any areas that may require additional cleaning.

Place the animal inside a pet carrier or cage in a warm, indoor location to allow the animal's feathers or fur to air dry. Offering food and a cage-mounted water bowl can help with the animal's recovery.

If the animal appears sick and unwell by the time he's dry, it's best to postpone release and seek veterinary attention for the animal. If the animal appears bright-eyed, alert and healthy, release the animal in his natural environment. Do not release the animal back into the area affected by the oil spill; release the animal in a nearby location that's unaffected by the oil spill.

Tips & Warnings

  • Use caution when washing the animal's head, particularly around the eyes. Keeping a bottle of "wound wash saline" on hand can be helpful to flush soap from the animal's eyes.
  • If you sustain an animal bite injury, this will require medical attention as animal bites can transmit disease. Infection is also common in bite wounds, so oral antibiotics are often necessary. Always use caution when handling wild animals; minimize direct contact with the animals to reduce fear and stress.

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