How can I tell if a koala is sick or injured?

If you live in an area where you frequently see koalas, it makes good practice to keep an eye out for any signs of injury or disease. The sooner a sick koala receives veterinary treatment, the better its prognosis.

The following table provides a guide of the differences between a healthy and sick koala.

Healthy Koala

Sick or Injured Koala


  • Should be dense, grey and uniform

  • Female koalas with back young or recently weaned young may show patchy fur loss and dark grey or brown patches around the shoulder region.


  • Brown, sparse, coarse or tufted in appearance

  • Hair loss

  • Scaly, encrusted skin

  • Any signs of wet fur which might indicate saliva from a dog

Body Condition

  • should be well nourished and slightly pot-bellied

  • pelvic bones and spine should not be discernible

  • body condition can hard to assess distantly

Body Condition

  • hollowness between the ribcage and pelvis

  • pelvic bones and spin easily discernable


  • Bright, alert and responsive to disturbance

  • Ears should become erect when disturbed


  • Unresponsive

  • Able to approach closely


  • Should be clear, bright and free of discharge
    Should have no fur loss around the eyes


  • Crust formed over eyes

  • Inflammation around the eye

  • Pus forming in the eye

Vent and Rump

  • Bottom should be clean, white, dry and free of dirt or dark brown stains

Vent and Rump

  • Wet bottom

  • Dark stained bottom (brown colour)


  • Healthy koalas should be up a tree during the day.

  • If on the ground, they should move away when approached.


  • Sleeping on the ground

  • Sitting at the base of a tree for a period of time

  • Does not move away when approached

Mouth and Nose

  • Should be clean and free of discharges or drooling

Mouth and Nose

  • Discharge

  • Drooling


  • Breathing should be barely discernable


  • Open mouth breathing

  • Panting

  • Laboured or noisy breathing

Koalas, like most wild animals, mask their signs of illness well. If you are in doubt about whether a koala is sick, check up on it a number of times over a day or so. Note however that some koalas will return to the same tree to sleep each day so checking during the night is also important.

Healthy koalas tend to move around within an area from night to night, whereas sick koalas may stay in the same tree for prolonged periods.

Some koalas will look extremely healthy but may be very ill. The onset of some diseases or injuries from accidents such as car hits and dog attacks can be sudden.

Capture and Handling

Koalas have strong razor-sharp claws that are capable of causing severe injuries particularly to the face. They also bite – hard. Although they may appear docile, they are capable of lashing out very quickly when provoked or threatened. Koalas that do not react to handling are usually very sick. They should all be handled with care.

We do not recommend that anyone attempt to capture or handle a koala unless they have been specially trained to so do.