Animal loving people naturally want to help when they find an apparently orphaned animal, but special care must be taken to make sure we are doing less harm than good. It is important to remember often the animal is not abandoned at all. Mothers can leave their broods for long periods of time to search for food or avoid attracting predators to the nest. For more information on whether or not an animal is a true orphan and if further action should be taken, view the video:
A week ago a young male intact Virginia Opossum (DIVI) presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic for being attacked by a dog. This patient presented very bright, alert, responsive and very feisty! In order to safely and thoroughly perform a physical exam the Opossum was anesthetized. Upon physical exam a puncture wound was found on the right chest. The wound was flushed and during flushing it was noted the wound was deeper than what the naked eye could see. It was determined that a drain needed to be placed in order to decrease the risk of infection and abscess formation. A drain was placed and the patient was started on an antibiotics and pain medication. Bloodwork was obtained but unremarkable. Radiographs were obtained two days later and it was noted that the Opossum also had 3 broken ribs and bruised lungs (good thing we started those pain meds!).
Despite these injuries the patient remained feisty when awake and eating well! The drain was removed a few days later and appears to be healing well. The medications can be placed into the food and the patient can be minimally handled to reduce stress. Later next week, once the medications are finished, the drain site and bloodwork is rechecked this patient will be off to a wildlife rehabber to regrow the fur on his chest over the winter and then released back into the wild early this spring!
A juvenile snapping turtle was found in a yard and brought into the Wildlife Medical Clinic in August. He had a cut on his neck right where it joined his shell and scrapes all over the top of his shell, along with a couple of shell fractures. The neck wound was very dirty, with maggots living in it, but volunteers thoroughly cleaned it out and sutured it up. Whenever a turtle has a shell fracture, it is at risk for damage to its coelomic membrane, which separates the shell from the body cavity. Radiographs were taken to determine whether the membrane was punctured, but luckily the snapper did not have any injury to his lungs or coelomic membrane.
Snapping turtles prefer to spend their days under water in areas of vegetation, with their nose poking up just above the water surface, as if it were a snorkel. Although they can grow very large and are dangerous when cornered, they would prefer to swim away from trouble. A snapper has a long, flexible neck that can reach all the way to its hind limbs, so the safest way to handle them is just above the tail. Our patient was probably 3-4 years old, only about the size of a hand, and not very threatening. Snapping turtles do not eat very often, and enjoy fish, worms, and greens.
The turtle had a surgery to repair his shell and was placed on antibiotics. After monitoring the wounds for over a month, it was decided that they would heal nicely on their own without further care. The snapper was very excited to be released into a pond at a forest preserve and went into the water without a backward glance!
As a student who has volunteered in the Wildlife Medical Clinic as both a team member and a team leader, I have seen several cases pass through our clinic. One particular patient stands out in my mind, because it was my first case as a team leader. A fledgling barred owl presented to the WMC in early April with an avulsion (traumatic detachment) of both the top and lower eyelid of his left eye. Upon further examination with the University of Illinois ophthalmology service, an abscess was also present in the affected eye. We had discussed removal of the eye, since owls are still releasable if they only have one functional eye. As it turns out, owls rely mainly on their keen sense of hearing to hunt at night instead of vision. We decided to try to save the effected eye rather than remove it in order to give the owl the absolute best prognosis for release. The next day, the ophthalmologists performed surgery to attach the eyelids. Our team immediately started aggressive treatment with topical anti-inflammatory and antibiotic eye drops 4x daily. The owl also received systemic anti-inflammatories and antibiotics, as well as fluid therapy. Another challenge to this patient’s treatment plan was the need to feed him twice daily while reducing our interactions to prevent imprinting. Young birds are considered imprinted when they become comfortable around humans, and willingly approach us for food. This is an undesirable trait for wildlife, because we never want to encourage interaction between humans and animals in the wild, for the safety of all. To avoid imprinting, our team used feeding puppets to feed the patient as well as to administer medications. Two weeks later, we had another consult with ophthalmology – this time they said the abscess had cleared up, and that the patient appeared to have vision in that eye! Our team was excited to see how our diligence and persistence in caring for this animal became a success. The patient was released in June of last summer, making all of our hard work worthwhile.
Check out these videos of the patient during feeding and tracking the camera before release:
One of the ways you can aid the Wildlife Medical Clinic is to donate some of the items used everyday for the treatment and care of the patients. The clinic is run solely by donations and fundraisers, so help from the community is crucial. For a list of items on our wish list, click here. Donations can be dropped off at the Small Animal Clinic during normal business hours. The patients and the students greatly appreciate your contribution.