Summer at the WMC: Red-Tailed Hawk

This account is by Katelyn Bagg, a rising third year veterinary student and one of the clinic’s full-time summer interns.

Working in a wildlife clinic on a daily basis is an adventure, as you never know what you will be presented with. We take everything from a litter of baby bunnies to an emergency hit-by-car raccoon, so we always have to be prepared. The summer is a busy season. It is always bustling in the clinic and there are constant opportunities to try new things and to learn.

Katelyn ensuring a new patient with neurologic and motor symptoms is able to chew and swallow its food normally.

 

Interns are in the clinic almost every day, giving us the opportunity to follow cases from intake to the resolution of symptoms. It is one of the most rewarding feelings to get to release a patient you have worked with, which is exactly what I got to do for a juvenile red tailed hawk that came in this June.

The young hawk presented on June 5th with no obvious musculoskeletal abnormalities, but was very thin and dehydrated. Blood was drawn for diagnostic purposes, and showed that the patient had an active inflammatory process. He was offered food, but was not eating on his own. Due to the fact that he was so thin, we decided to tube feed him a liquid carnivore diet to make sure he could get the nutritional support that he needed. When volunteers tried to pass a feeding tube down his esophagus, they noticed that there was a mass in the back of the throat that made the tube difficult to pass and probably prevented the hawk from being able to swallow on his own.

There are a few things that can cause masses and plaques in the oral cavities of birds, and with a swab of the area, we were able to narrow it down. Our hawk had trichomoniasis, an infection caused by a small protozoan parasite. We started him on Metronidazole to help kill the parasites. The mass dislodged and was removed several days later, but our patient was still not eating on his own. On June 21st, he was anesthetized for an endoscopy, which allowed us to get a good look at what was going on in his esophagus. There were open sores that were infected with different bacterial species, so the area was then treated like a wound. We gave him an anti-inflammatory medication, an antibiotic, a pain medication, and a medication to protect the ulcerated tissue from further damage.

Our hawk gained weight and started to become more lively. He would vocalize when bored or hungry, so volunteers had to come up with creative ways to keep him entertained. His mice were hidden in various items like kongs or hand made newspaper hides so that he would have to forage for food as a form of environmental enrichment.

The juvenile hawk interacting with a clinic volunteer; beneath its perch, the cardboard box filled with shredded newspaper was an enrichment “hide box” for food items.

Finally, on July 10th, our patient was ready to go back into the wild. He was eating on his own and gaining weight, and his throat looked great with no new evidence of infection and no return of his plaques. It was a warm, sunny evening, and with a little coaxing, our hawk flew away across a field and landed in a nearby clearing.

The inquisitive young hawk took its time adjusting prior to flying away.

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The Case of the Common Grackle

Guest post by second year veterinary student, Megan Stuart.

On a hot summer’s day in late May, a Common Grackle was found on a driveway in Springfield, Illinois and brought to the Wildlife Clinic as a healthy fledgling. Common Grackles are large blackbirds that have adapted well to city and surburban habitats, and are resourceful omnivores: in agricultural fields they’ll follow plows to pick out insects and mice, near marshes they will pick leeches off of turtles and wade into water to catch small fish, raid smaller birds’ nests to eat eggs and live birds, and can even use a special beak adaptation to saw into acorns and eat the insides! Adult Common Grackle males have brightly iridescent feathers of blue, purple, and bronze, but young Common Grackles do not show any sign of sexual dimorphism (distinct difference in size or appearance between the sexes of an animal in addition to difference between the sexual organs themselves), so volunteers are unsure of this fledgling’s sex.

The small fledgling received nestling care as often as possible for the first few days in the clinic to supports his growing body and nutritional needs – in some cases, volunteers will check on these young ones nearly 10 times per day! Once he had grown some more, he received little balls of food 5 times a day, and was promoted to mealworms once he showed signs of eating on his own. Since he was caged alone, the fledgling was given a mirror to encourage self-recognition, which he sat by all day and was even spotted playing with his reflection!

Towards the end of the Grackle’s stay, a fledgling American Robin came into the Wildlife Medical Clinic, and was placed in the cage so the grackle could have a feathered companion. Soon after, he was consistently eating mealworms on his own, and so the fledgling was transferred to a local, licensed wildlife rehabilitator to grow a little more before being released. All of the volunteers enjoyed working with adorable fledgling, who never turned down the opportunity to eat! He went from 48.8 grams to 89 grams while in the Wildlife Medical Clinic at the University of Illinois.

An example of a Common Grackle fledgling.

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Don’t trash our home: Recycle!

Guest post by Niki Gianni, a second year veterinary student and Illinois native. Besides the WMC, Niki has also volunteered with the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association to bring veterinary care to Arizona’s rural communities in need, and traveled to South America to volunteer with “Wildtracks Belize” by providing around-the-clock care for orphaned and sick manatees.

It’s their home, too! How can we reduce harmful effects on the environment in our backyard?

Recycling is just one way to protect natural resources and keep our Earth beautiful for future generations.

  • Each year, Americans generate about 254 million TONS of trash, but only about 35% is recycled.
  • Only about 5% of food waste is composted.
  • Recycling a single aluminum soda can conserve the equivalent of 26 barrels of oil (153 million Btu energy units).
  • About 42% of greenhouse gases come from the harvesting of materials/food or their production and transport. Therefore, by recycling, we are collectively reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Source for statistics: https://www.epa.gov/recycle

Ok, so we know recycling is important, but what are some resources for us living in Champaign-Urbana (C-U)? Since C-U Department of Public Works initiated its “Feed the Beast” recycling program (more here) in December 2010, more than 2 million pounds of recyclable items have been diverted from landfills! Let’s keep up the good work!

  1. If you live in the C-U area and would like to request curbside recycling pick-up at your residence, school, or workplace, please check out this page.
  2. What kind of items can be recycled in C-U? View a larger version here!
  3. While single use-type plastic bags (“grocery bags”) are not recyclable in regular blue bins, you can return clean plastic bags for recycling at County Market, Wal-Mart, Schnucks, and Meijier stores.
  4. Battery recycling: http://feedthething.org/2017/03/battery-recycling-program/
  5. To reduce stress on landfills, if you have furniture, clothing, or other household goods still in usable condition, please contact one of the following:
    1. Goodwill: 912 W. Anthony Dr. Champaign, IL (217) 359-8729
    2. Habitat for Humanity ReStore: 119 E. University Ave. Champaign, IL  (217) 355-6460
    3. Salvation Army:

On Saturday, May 20, 2017, there will be a large electronics-recycling event. Televisions, DVD players, microwaves, computer parts, and other items will be accepted. Be sure to register in advance here: http://ecycle.simplybook.me/sheduler/manage/event/1/unit/1

 

Other resources:

Illinois Recycling Association: http://www.illinoisrecycles.org/

Recycling at UIUC: http://www.fs.illinois.edu/services/waste-management-and-recycling

Earth 911 (general info on sustainability): http://earth911.com/

Composting 101 by UIUC: https://web.extension.illinois.edu/homecompost/intro.cfm

DIY worm composting for an apartment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=clC9yAJ6WBM

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Meet the Managers!

The Wildlife Medical Clinic has two veterinary students as clinic managers (in addition to the 116 student volunteers). These vet students oversee the clinic daily, stay on campus over vacations and breaks to take care of the animals, and provide support for anything the teams of volunteers need.

Meet them now!

Ainsley Boyle, VM2: Ainsley is a second year veterinary student and has been a manager for about 1 year now. She began volunteering while an undergraduate student in Animal Sciences at the University of Illinois main campus.

  1. What is your favorite aspect of volunteering at the WMC?
    1. My favorite aspects of my role in the clinic are being able to teach and help the student volunteers, working with such a wide variety of different species that the average person does not have the opportunity to work with, and applying what I’m learning in class to real life.
  2. What are your duties as Student Manager?
    1. I provide guidance on cases throughout the year, help volunteers with their cases or clinical skills if needed, keep the clinic stocked with all the essentials needed to treat our patients, organize and assign teams at the beginning of the year, schedule weekly rounds guest speakers, and act as a liaison between clinicians and staff to students in the clinic.
  3. What are your future career goals?
    1. Ultimately, being able to treat any animal that walks in front of me. Currently thinking of going into a mixed animal practice, but it changes all the time!
  4. What are your goals for the WMC as Student Manager?
    1. The clinic has given me so much and has shaped me as an individual, which will eventually affect the doctor I become. I want to be able to give back to the clinic and give others the same experience that I have had.

Kara Hiebert, VM1: Kara is a first year veterinary student and is our newest manager! She began volunteering as a first year vet student and was chosen as manager when Jess Huntington moved on to clinics (we still love you, too, Jess!).

  1. What’s your favorite aspect of working at the WMC?
    1. My favorite aspect of volunteering at the WMC is all of the hands-on experience that we wouldn’t otherwise get until our clinical year. This experience includes anything from placing intravenous catheters, to monitoring anesthesia, to creating a treatment plan for various patients. Of course, releasing our patients after working hard to rehabilitate them is a close second.
  2. What are your duties as Student Manager?
    1. Our duties as student managers can vary throughout the year. During the school year, patient care is primarily the responsibility of the teams, but we still oversee treatment decisions and give advice when needed. We are also responsible for cleaning the clinic, maintaining clinic inventory, organizing patient transfers, and organizing rounds speakers and team leader training. During the summer and other academic breaks, the student managers take over patient care in addition to our other duties. Thankfully, during the summer a few student interns and many wonderful volunteers help us out.
  3. What are your future career goals?
    1. I would love to work as a wildlife or zoo veterinarian in the future. Ideally, I’d like to work part of the time in a wildlife rehabilitation setting and part of the time in a zoo or aquarium setting, so finding a job at a zoo or aquarium with a rehabilitation program would be the best of both worlds. Additionally, I have a soft spot for marine mammals, so any opportunity to work with them in a rehabilitation setting would be a dream job for me. Of course, employment in these fields can be difficult to find, so even if I do not get my dream job, I’ll be happy as long as I am using my veterinary career to contribute to wildlife conservation.
  4.  What are your goals for the WMC as Student Manager?
    1. My goals as a student manager of the WMC are primarily to become the best veterinarian I can be and leave a positive impact on the clinic when I leave. I hope to sharpen my clinical skills (placing IV catheters, drawing blood, etc.) as well as my critical thinking skills (determining a diagnosis, making treatment decisions, etc.). Additionally, I hope to use this position to teach others about the WMC and local Illinois wildlife, so people continue to support and value the work we do here.

 

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Reflections from a Fourth Year

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Price Dickson is graduating the College of Veterinary Medicine this May and reflects back on her time as a volunteer and Team Leader in the Wildlife Medical Clinic:

Price (left) teaches one of her team members about triage. The barred owl is under anesthesia for an orthopedic exam.

I was a team leader in the Wildlife Medical Clinic for both my second and third year of vet school, and it was probably the best thing I did during my time at the college. From being able to manage real cases to scrubbing into surgeries, I had a lot of experiences there that made me a better doctor than I would have otherwise been. That being said, it also made me a better person. Here are the top 5 things I learned in the Wildlife Clinic!

5. Have patience. One of my first patients as a team leader wasn’t doing very well, and we had to have the conversation about euthanizing. “We’ll see how he’s doing tomorrow”, we said. We had the same conversation the next day, and made the same decision. Finally, on the third day, he began improving! He was eventually sent off to a wildlife rehabilitator. Drugs and fluids aren’t magic, and sometimes you need to give them time to work. This is true of a lot of things in life; sometimes, after you try to fix the problem you must give your solution a little time to make things right.

4. Hard work pays off… or doesn’t. Sometimes you can put hours of blood, sweat, and tears into a patient’s care and they make it through. That’s a great feeling. But sometimes, they die despite everything. In those situations, it’s important to remember that sometimes you can do everything right and still have a bad outcome, and it’s not your fault.

3. Teamwork is key. Imagine this scenario: You walk into the wildlife clinic and there are at least twenty baby squirrels and over ten tiny raccoons who need to be fed. You and your partner are the only ones on orphan feeding shift. What do you do? Fortunately for me, I had an amazing team backing me up. One spring when that very scenario occurred our call for help got nearly our entire team to come to our rescue, and the babies got fed! When everyone pulls together, what could have been an hours’ long job that would have negatively impacted our patients (babies can get very low blood sugar if they wait too long to eat) was done in time for everyone to get to class.

2. Being a leader can be the most rewarding job you have. When I tried out for team leader, we had to describe what being a leader meant to us. Being a leader can be teaching, mentoring, organizing, or just someone for people to vent to. And at the end of it I had an amazing team who worked well together and thanked me for it! Sure, it was a lot of work planning team meetings, organizing treatments, and teaching everyone, but in the end it was such a great feeling to see everyone progress.

1. Remember to love what you’re doing. Veterinary medicine is a stressful job. Modern life is stressful. But in the wildlife clinic, even though I was managing animals who were in pain and hated our treatments, I got to help animals recover. I will never forget the moment we opened the carrier and released our opossum back into the wild, nor the moment our duck shook his tail and swam off onto the lake. Sometimes having responsibilities in the Wildlife Medical Clinic was overwhelming, and sometimes I had to do some very unpleasant things (have you ever worn cormorant poop?). Still, in the middle of it all, it’s important to remember that you’re doing what you love. Even if you don’t love accessorizing with cormorant poop.

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Nokomis: Remembering a Local Legend

by Zach Kline, VM2015

Last Saturday the Wildlife Medical Clinic held a ceremonial “release” for the ashes of the Resident birds who had passed away in recent years. I was upset when obligations regarding my clinical rotation prevented me from returning in time for the ceremony, so I wanted to make sure I paid my respects to one of those birds who made a big impact in my life while I was working for the WMC.

An incredible animal who was truly one in a million, Nokomis’s tame personality and inability to interact normally with other Great-Horned owls made him the perfect ambassador for his species and wild birds as a whole. Gentle, calm, and curious, Nokomis handily endured educational talks in front of large groups of people for almost thirteen years with the WMC. Over that time he (along with the other resident birds) touched the lives of thousands of adults and children in Central Illinois and was certainly considered the face of the Wildlife Medical Clinic.

I spent hundreds of hours working alone during late nights, holidays, breaks, and summers during my time as WMC manager. Occasionally those days could get rather lonely or frustrating, and Nokomis’s presence was always enough to cheer me up! As evidenced by the following photos, the two of us were bent on walking the path to stardom by means of various photo shoots, newscasts, and Public Relations talks. Though he was still a wild animal who was probably just tolerating my presence, every opportunity I got to have him on glove was beyond cool. I will certainly miss our time together.

During long days between patient treatments, I would have the “big boys” out to wander about the treatment room. Nokomis and Odin spent many collective hours exploring every nook and cranny the clinic had to offer.

Here, Nokomis is seen atop his very favorite perch.

I always likened Nokomis’s behavior to that of a very curious cat. Seen in front of him is a bin full of owl pellets that the clinic would sell to elementary schools. The tupperware on top was placed to dissuade that doofy owl from his habit of eating and/or knocking the pellets off of the refrigerator.

 

An intimidating visage, but a genuinely benign bird. Typically, Great-Horned Owl behavior is characterized by extreme threat displays and unbridled aggression. As a human, I feel fortunate that the only angry part of THIS owl is his face.

Photo shoot for the Veterinary Medicine Website. Nokomis spent 90% of this shoot being distracted by things going on behind him, so I’m surprised we got ANY of him facing the camera.

Nokomis was greatly admired by veterinary students throughout the school, as news of his passing clearly affected WMC members and non-members alike. While still upsetting to think about, I hope that these photos convey the respect I feel for this animal for all that his presence has done for the WMC and Wildlife Conservation in General.

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WMC Aids Bald Eagle in Recovery

By Melissa Giese (class of 2017)
A large bird was found injured on the side of a gravel road in Effingham, Illinois. The bird was not moving much, and didn’t seem to use its wings or legs. Upon a closer look, this bird turned out to be a bald eagle, our country’s national bird.
  
Initially the bird was found to be dehydrated, had diarrhea, and could not hold himself up. When a wild animal is handled they should be aggressive and try to get away since that is their natural instinct. The eagle did not seem to have the strength to fight during treatments which was very concerning. The eagle was given fluids daily in order to combat the dehydration. Since he would not eat on his own, the team had to force feed food to be sure he was getting appropriate calories each day. It was difficult to tell what was causing these signs but it was suspected that he might have West Nile Virus.
According to the CDC, the West Nile Virus cannot be directly treated and there are no vaccines to prevent infection. Recovery can take several weeks or months and some of the neurological issues can be permanent.
Luckily there is no evidence that people can be infected from affected birds, but raptors can get sick from eating diseased birds. Patients affected must recover on their own, but can be provided supportive treatment such as fluids and pain relievers to help them in their healing process. This was the protocol used by the Wildlife Medical Clinic for this eagle as well.
With just a few days of treatment the eagle began to stand on his own. He became more feisty with the team, showing he was regaining strength. In order to see if the eagle had West Nile Virus, as well as to assess the other organs, a biopsy was completed. The results of these tests were not indicative of anything specific. The liver showed mild inflammation which means that there was an infection going on. The samples were submitted to check for West Nile Virus to confirm that the treatment plan the team was implementing was appropriate. After a few days of processing, it was found that the eagle did in fact have West Nile Virus.
After 12 days of supportive treatment the eagle began eating food on his own. He was gaining strength daily and began exhibiting wild bald eagle behavior such as barking and fluffing his feathers to appear more threatening. Though it was very difficult to treat him due to his increasing aggression, the team was very happy to see him feeling better. Handling was kept to a minimum in order to keep the eagle as stress free as possible.

A little over three weeks into the treatment the eagle was ready to leave the Wildlife Medical Clinic. He was sent to a rehabilitation facility where he was tested for flight capability and hunting capability before finally, being released back into the wild.


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Shell Shocked: Turtle Shell Repair

by Allie Urbanik (vm17)

One day an eastern box turtle was presented to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being hit by a car. On examination, the most evident and pressing issue was a large carapacial fracture. The fracture involved multiple parts of the caudal carapace, and it was not evident on examination whether lung fields were exposed. Due to the potentially complicated nature of this fracture, radiographs were taken. The radiographs showed possible lung consolidation, suggesting lung exposure or infection. Our next step after taking radiographs was to fix the most glaring problem: the shell fracture.

A shell fracture can be repaired one of several ways. A very common approach is to drill small screws into the shell on either side of the fracture and then wrap wire around the screws, tightening the shell down almost like opposing tissue during suturing. Another approach, and the one taken with our patient, was to epoxy the shell. Layers of epoxy material can be applied to the shell over the cracks as a sealant of sorts. Over time, the bone of the shell will heal. The trauma of the car accident combined with the shell repair necessitated that our patient received medication to control pain and fluids.

After our turtle shell repair, we turned our attention to the fact that our patient had refused to eat since arriving. The stress of handling and captivity, not to mention the trauma of being hit by a car, can cause our patients to lose their appetites. Additionally, inflammation and infection can also cause patients to lose their appetite. Of course, nutrition is vital to the healing process, so getting our little guy fed is of the utmost importance. At this moment we are at a cross roads of sorts. We have just recently been successful at force feeding our patient mealworms and fruits, but it may be necessary to place an esophagostomy tube if our patient stops eating or seems too stressed by the handling. Additionally, at this time of the year, turtles would be preparing themselves for winter hibernation.

With our patient’s shell fracture, releasing her now so that she could overwinter is not an option. As such, she will be a long-term patient in the clinic. Hopefully, we have crossed our most difficult challenges with this patient. We expect a full recovery of the affected shell. The prognosis is excellent. I am constantly astounded by the tenacity and healing ability of our patients. I have no doubts that our little turtle will make a full recovery, and I look forward to releasing her in the spring.

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What is a SOAP?

by Malky Weil (VM Class of 2016)

Hello wildlife enthusiasts! Have you ever wondered how we record our treatments for our patients? We maintain a complete medical record, just like at your doctor’s office and use a method called SOAP. Here is how it works:

S/O: Subjective and Objective observations. This is where we talk about a patient’s mentation. We can call them BAR-bright, alert, responsive (if they are moving around in their cage), QAR-quiet, alert, responsive (if we find them resting but still responding to us), or non-responsive (which would be a bad sign with a patient). We also note if there were feces and urine in the cage and with birds of prey if there were casts. A cast is the non-digestible hair and bones of mice or other prey that are regurgitated while the rest of it is digested. As gross as it may seem, it’s important to note when an animal has normal excretory and bowel movements, because if those movements are absent, it can be a sign of gastrointestinal or urinary system abnormalities. We will note if there is food left over from the previous treatment, if the water appears touched, if the patient shredded all of the newspaper in the cage, and any other observation before we have our hands on the patient. Some observations are objective, such as whether or not there are feces in the cage, and others are subjective, such as what the mentation of the patient is.

The next parts of the SOAP are based on a problem list we keep for our patients. I will give an example for a bird with a broken wing as the problem. If there is more than one problem, we label it A1, A2, P1, P2, and so on.

A: Assessment. This is where we talk about our physical assessment of the problem. For the broken wing patient, we may be observing if the bird is holding its wing upright or drooping it or how the wing bandage looks. This is where we would describe how the physical therapy on the muscles is progressing. For example- “We did passive range of motion on the right wing and the muscles are inflamed, stiff, but the extension is better than it was yesterday.” We also talk about the medicine we gave for the specific problem here. With a broken bone we usually give pain medicine, because broken bones are painful. So we might add here that we gave 0.6ml of tramadol (and give the dosage in mg/kg, and concentration in mg/ml). We may also be giving a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory to help with pain and inflammation in the wing.

P: Plan. This is where we talk about what we plan on doing in the future. So for this bird case, we would say- “Continue to monitor posture, continue passive range of motion every other day, continue tramadol, and continue meloxicam until swelling recedes. Change wing wrap in 2 days.”

ADD: Addendum. This is the section we use to add anything else that does not connect to the problems, but still needs to be recorded. For example: “We cleaned the cage and refreshed the water bowl. We checked the feet and did not see any signs of bumblefoot. We left 3 mice (total 27 grams) in the cage. Patient flapped his good wing when we returned him to his cage.”

Recording our treatments is very important. There are multiple people on a team caring for our patients, and not everyone is there for every treatment. Those not there need to stay current on the case, see how the patient has been behaving, and note if there are any changes to the treatment plan. Having all that information is important when making decisions on the case as well. No one’s memory is perfect, so it is important to have a place to look back on what has been done and how the patient responded. I hope this gives you a little glimpse into what goes into keeping a complete medical record for our patients. The skills we gain doing this important work will be used throughout our careers as veterinarians.

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The Wildlife Medical Clinic: A Diamond in the Rough

By Maddy Erba, VM17

To the Future Veterinary Students of the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine:

It was a hot day in the middle of orientation week when Dr. Foreman explained the benefits (and setbacks) of joining clubs. It had been several long days of sitting in the classroom, listening to information about my new academic life and wishing I could go outside for a bike ride. Dr. Foreman was cautioning us about joining extracurricular clubs, especially the Wildlife Medical Clinic (WMC) which is operated by volunteer veterinary students under faculty guidance and mentorship. Dr. Foreman listed the many reasons why we should think twice about joining the WMC. He explained that to be a member you needed to go to rounds, meetings, treatments, be on a pager shift, and care for orphans. I recall the phrase “time suck” being used multiple times. The administration gave us a schedule at the beginning of first year, which I have supplied for you. If you look closely there isn’t even time to eat dinner let alone find all this magical non-existent time in the week for the wildlife clinic.

Being new to Illinois and unfamiliar with the curriculum, I heeded Dr. Forman’s advice. However, that didn’t stop me from going to the club fair and listening to the forbidden fruit of WMC. There Jenny Kuhn stood with a great horned owl perched on her arm, Nokomis. She told me the wonderful benefits of joining – how we can practice physical exams, learn to write SOAPS, practice communicating within a team, and care for a variety of species. And those are just a few of the perks. Yes, WMC is a time commitment, but it also solidifies what we learn in veterinary school.

After careful consideration, I decided to join. We were told we could leave at any time if school became too challenging, or if we decided wildlife medicine wasn’t for us. However, as long as we were members, we were expected to do all the work, go to the meetings, and be a team. On my team were five amazing team leaders – Stephanie Zec, Erica Morton, Teresa Schecker, Laure Monitor, and Amanda Kuhl. This group of experienced individuals taught me everything I know about wildlife medicine. We practiced wing wraps, how to calculate medications, how to make a splint. I learned how to put in an interosseous catheter on raptor! I practiced communication skills, something everyone can improve upon. I was applying concepts from school, asking intelligent questions, and learning by doing! By the end of my first year I had gained an enormous amount of self-confidence.

On May 1st 2014, just sixteen days before the end of the semester, I appreciated the fact that I was laying the foundation to be a skilled veterinarian. I was nervous because an undergraduate student and I were the only two people on PM treatments. I was nervous because as the veterinary student, I was in charge, and I don’t normally like taking the lead. Our patients at the time were an opossum with a distal tail amputation, an orphaned squirrel with a maxillary swelling, and an orphaned squirrel with lung crackles that we thought were from aspirating food during a feeding.

We decided to feed the two orphaned squirrels first, because we thought they would be the less challenging patients. We examined the squirrel with the swelling first, and fed him. He looked alright.

It was time to feed the second squirrel. She suckled roughly two thirds of her meal, and then started shaking. We quickly re-heated a rice sock to keep her warm as she ate dinner, and she seemed to be okay after that. But when I auscultated her heart and lungs, I knew there was a problem. The crackles in the left lung field were still present, but the more alarming observation was her heart. Normally you should not be able to count the number of heart beats per minute on a squirrel. I counted about 120 bpm. Normally the heart makes a “lub-dub” sound, but on our squirrel you could only hear the “lub” and the heart sounded like it was struggling to pump blood throughout the body. We also noted a sinus arrhythmia (which may be normal in young animals) but is still worth noting.

What do we do? We call in help from our team leaders. We rallied the troops. It is never wrong to ask for help or clarification. Amanda confirmed our observations. We determined that our furry friend was not dehydrated, and therefore did not need fluids to increase her cardiac output. So we took radiographs, which revealed an enlarged heart. This young animal had signs of a cardiomyopathy, or abnormality in her heart. It is possible that this was a congenital anomaly that had been present all along but became apparent as time went on. It was only through this valuable clinical experience that I was able to appreciate the signs of a problem in this squirrel and apply my classroom knowledge to a real case scenario.


Congratulations on making it into veterinary school. Part of being in a professional graduate program is being able to think critically, and to think for yourself. The Wildlife Medical Clinic provides you with the opportunity to learn from more experienced students. You won’t always have all the answers in vet school, but you should never feel afraid to ask for help. School is what you make of it. Your education is up to you. Learning by doing is not only enriching, it solidifies understanding of classwork. I strongly implore you to consider Wildlife Medical Clinic, take a chance, save a life, and strengthen your veterinary education.

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