Do we have to treat or admit bats?
The supporting guidance for the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons' Code of Professional Conduct states:
3.8 A veterinary surgeon on duty should not unreasonably refuse to provide first aid and pain relief for any animal of a species treated by the practice during normal working hours.
3.9 A veterinary surgeon on duty should not unreasonably refuse to facilitate the provision of first aid and pain relief for all other species until such time as a more appropriate emergency veterinary service accepts responsibility for the animal.
If it's clear that a bat needs immediate first aid, pain relief or euthanasia, then your practice should not unreasonably refuse to provide this.
You don't have to admit the bat for longer-term treatment if you don't feel able to do this, but you should provide the person who brings the bat to you with details of a vet who will be able to treat it (for example, a wildlife or exotics vet in the local area).
However, please bear in mind that you don't need to be a bat specialist to take in a bat. There's lots of support available for vets who have bats brought to them, and the National Bat Helpline may be able to put you in touch with a volunteer on the UK Bat Care Network who can take over the bat's care.
We don't have a licence to treat bats – can we accept them?
Although bats are protected by law, you don't need a licence to treat them. A licence from your Statutory Nature Conservation Organisation is only needed if you're going to keep a bat in captivity long term, which vet surgeries aren't expected to do. You can find more information on bat care and the law in our bat care resources section.
What about rabies? Our staff aren't vaccinated.
While there is a small risk of rabies transmission from bats in the UK, this can be minimised by wearing gloves whenever you handle bats. In the unlikely event that a bat bites or scratches you, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible, whether you have previously been vaccinated or not.
Current public health guidance is that vets and rehabilitators only need to be vaccinated against rabies if they're handling bats on a regular basis. If your practice specialises in wildlife or exotic species, then you may want to consider vaccination for your staff (the practice will need to pay for this). Otherwise, unvaccinated staff can handle the occasional bat as long as they take the precautions described above.
Who "owns" the bat? Do they get to say what we do with it?
The RCVS supporting guidance states:
11.33 Wildlife is, by its nature, wild, and may only be ‘owned’, or taken possession of, in exceptional circumstances. However, confusion can arise in relation to who (if anyone) is required to consent to treatment of a wild animal. A common scenario is where a member of the public finds a disabled or injured animal and takes the animal to a veterinary practice for treatment.
11.34 In this instance, the member of the public may take possession of the animal for the purpose of tending to it until it is fit to be released (subject to section 14 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which prevents the release of invasive species). At the point the animal is handed over for treatment, legitimate possession of the animal passes to the veterinary surgeon/practice. At no point does the member of the public have a right of ownership over the animal and as such, their consent is not required before treatment (or euthanasia if appropriate) is commenced. [...]
11.35 It is therefore a matter for the veterinary surgeon to decide what treatment is in the animal’s best interest and to carry out that treatment. It is not necessary for the member of the public to formally sign over ‘ownership’ to the veterinary surgeon or practice. Although, in this scenario, the member of public does not have a right of ownership over the animal, veterinary surgeons may feel it appropriate to keep the member of public up-to-date with an animal’s progress, especially if the member of the public has expressed a desire to be kept informed. Veterinary surgeons should also be mindful that members of the public who find injured animals may be upset by what they have found.
11.36 If a member of public takes an animal away against veterinary advice and the veterinary surgeon has concerns about its welfare (for example, because euthanasia is necessary), they should consider whether it is necessary to alert the relevant authorities.
Can we put a bat down if necessary?
Yes, you're allowed to euthanise a bat to end its suffering. You don't need special permission.
What if a bat dies in our care?
If possible, please send the bat to the Animal and Plant Health Agency for rabies testing. You can order a pack here.
The Bat Conservation Trust receives no public funding for the advice and support the National Bat Helpline gives to vet surgeries. We rely entirely on donations to keep helping veterinary professionals. If you can, please donate via our bat care JustGiving page at https://www.justgiving.com/campaign/batcarehelp , or email firstname.lastname@example.org to learn about other ways to give.