What To Do When You Encounter a Bat
Millions of bats live in close association with human communities, and few ever create problems for people. They are important predators of night time insects, and help to control many biting insects that feed on people. Bat-associated diseases are rare in Alberta. However, like with all wildlife, there are important procedures and safety considerations you should be aware of to ensure both you and the bat remain safe.
Have you found a bat?
Never touch bats with your bare hands. Like many wild animals, bats will defend themselves by biting if they feel threatened, such as when someone attempts to pick them up. Although these bites may be painless, there is potential to contract rabies from a bat bite. Rabies is a virus that occurs in bat populations throughout Alberta. Although human cases are uncommon, the disease can be fatal to humans or pets, so it is important to follow basic steps for preventing exposure, and for treating exposure if it occurs. When left alone, bats are harmless and provide many benefits for human communities and the ecosystems on which we depend.
Although most bats do not have rabies, those that are in areas where people (or pets) can access them (e.g., on the ground) are more likely to have this disease. Post-exposure shots must be administered as soon as possible after any exposure, or suspected exposure, because once rabies symptoms appear, the virus is almost always fatal. Rabies can also be prevented through vaccinations delivered prior to exposure, but regular testing and booster shots are needed to ensure continued immunity.
The best prevention is to never handle bats with bare hands. Exposure is typically through accidental contact or deliberate handling of bats, not by bats seeking out people to attack. Bats should not be allowed to enter the interior living space of a home, although they can quite often safely use the exterior portions of a building, in locations where human contact is unlikely to be an issue. Pets should always have up-to-date rabies vaccinations.
Have you or your pet been bitten?
If you come into contact with a bat in Alberta, contact the Provincial Rabies Hotline at 1-844-427-6847 (preferred) for instructions on receiving treatment (alternatively, contact Health Link at 811 or 1-866-408-5465). It is important you receive prompt medical attention from a doctor or nurse, even if you are unsure whether you were bitten. Treatment will typically consist of post-exposure prophylaxis , a series of shots that helps your immune system destroy the virus during its early stages. These shots are typically small injections in the muscle of the arm or leg, much like other vaccinations we commonly receive.
Pets may also contract rabies, and should have up-to-date vaccinations. Talk with your veterinarian if you believe there has been a potential rabies exposure by your pet.
Histoplasmosis (a lung disease caused by the inhalation of Histoplasma capsulatum fungal spores that grow on animal feces) has only been reported a few times in Alberta and the risk is assumed to be low in most areas. Nonetheless, there may be a risk of exposure in unique circumstances, and for those engaging in higher risk activities, such as cleaning animal feces. The fungus can live in soil that has high concentrations of bat or bird droppings, but generally only does well in areas with high humidity. People who inhale the spores of the fungus may become sick (it can cause fever, cough, fatigue). Although most people can recover on their own (and may not even be aware they were exposed), more serious health consequences may occur for those with weak or compromised immune systems.
Appropriate respiratory protection, gloves, and coveralls should be worn if disturbing the feces of any wild animal, especially in confined areas such as attics. Wetting an area prior to cleaning (such as with a spray bottle) will help reduce the amount of dust generated during cleaning. If mice also have potential to use the space, then additional precautions may be required to avoid exposure to Hantavirus and other health risks (bats are not known to transmit Hantavirus themselves). See Government of Alberta guidelines for more information on Hantavirus.
Have you found a dead bat?
Do not touch bats, regardless of whether it is alive or dead. Bats may go into a state of ‘torpor’ during the day, and throughout winter hibernation, which involves lowering their body temperature so that they can conserve energy. This makes bats immobile, and they may appear dead. However, they will become active once they rewarm their body, and are still able to defend themselves.
If you are confident the bat is dead, the carcass can be delivered to a local Fish & Wildlife Office. Call the Alberta Environment and Parks information line at 1-877-944-0313 to locate your nearest office, or visit http://aep.alberta.ca/about-us/contact-us/fish-and-wildlife-area-office-contacts.aspx. Bats submitted to a Fish & Wildlife Office may be used as part of the province’s routine wildlife disease monitoring program. If you need additional advice or assistance regarding living or dead bats, contact the Alberta Community Bat Program (email@example.com).
Have you found an injured or distressed bat?
Bats may become injured or stressed for a variety of reasons. Encounters with bats are most often reported during the late summer and fall, when young bats are learning to fly and large numbers of bats are undergoing long-distance movements to their winter habitat. During this period, bats may be found in highly unusual locations, such as the sides of building and under patio umbrellas. In most of these cases, the best option is to leave the bat alone – it may simply be resting until it can take off again the following night. Young bats may fall to the ground, or end up in inappropriate locations. If the bat does not look injured, it may be placed in an elevated location where it can take off into open flight space and where predators (such as magpies and cats) are unlikely going to be an issue. Suitable locations may include a tree with lots of decay and other defects that can provide hiding spaces for bats (e.g., sloughing bark, cavities, holes, cracks, breakage, etc.). Choose a location near a clearing so that the bat doesn’t crash once it attempts to fly. The bat will most likely seek shelter and rest until it is dark; if the bat is still there the following day, you may wish to contact a rehabilitation centre (see below). Be sure to wear thick leather gloves if you are going to move a bat!
Many bats also fall victim to house cats – a predator that North American bats are not well adapted at evading. Often cats will kill the bat, but leave the carcass, making the ultimate cause of the death uncertain.
Bats exhibiting unusual behaviour, such as flying during the day, flopping on the ground, or showing no fear of humans, are more likely to be sick (possibly with rabies) and should be treated with care. Avoid the area where the bat is located and keep pets inside.
If you find an injured bat, contact your local Fish and Wildlife Office for advice and assistance. In some situations, you may be able to deliver it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre. Remember to always use safe procedures when handling bats – always wear thick leather gloves if you are going to handle a bat and gently manipulate with another object (such as a cardboard box). Bats cannot chew through fabric or cardboard, but they are fantastic at finding their way out of loosely closed bags or boxes (note that they can still bite people through fabric bags). If you must contain a bat, always ensure it is tightly closed, even if the bat appears inactive (but ensure it can access air to breath). Note that keeping bats in captivity requires appropriate permits, so the best option is to contact a wildlife rehabilitation centre (see list below for Alberta Rehabilitation Specialists who will take bats).
List of rehabilitation centres in Alberta that are able to care for injured or distressed bats:
Calgary Wildlife Rehabilitation Society
Phone (wildlife hotline):
Wildlife Hotline: (403) 239-2488
Mailing address: 11555-85th Street NW
Calgary, AB T3R 1J3
WILDNorth Northern Alberta Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation (formally Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre of Edmonton)
Phone (wildlife hotline): 780-914-4118
Mailing address: 12515 – 128 Street, Edmonton, AB T5L 1C9
Instructions for how to safely remove a bat
Youtube video from Bat Conservation International showing removal of a bat from a building
For instructions for how to move bats found indoors or outdoors, visit this link.