Editor’s note: This report was written by fourth-year veterinary student Malky Spektor, who chose to spend her six-week professional development program working at Israeli Wildlife Hospital. Dr. Julia Whittington, clinical associate professor and director of the University of Illinois Wildlife Medical Clinic, was her mentor.
I have now completed five weeks here at the Israeli Wildlife Hospital. This week we have done many things similar to past weeks, so I will not go into detail about all the rechecks, wound care, new admissions, etc. I have gotten pretty good at positioning and taking avian x-rays. There is no x-ray technician, so we get to do it all ourselves. And we want good diagnostic images, so we focus on keeping the body as symmetrical as possible. Anytime we suspect, feel, or see a fracture on an avian patient, they get meloxicam and butorphanol, sit for about 20 minutes, and let the medications kick in, and then we take an x-ray. I’m glad I have a chance to develop those skills.
We had an adorable patient come in this week, a baby Egyptian mongoose. Her home was run over by a tractor, and the rest of her family was killed. They found her alive and brought her to the clinic. We started out by syringe-feeding her kitten’s milk replacer mixed with “recovery,” a high-calorie cat and dog critical care diet. After a few days, she was eating on her own out of a dish, so she no longer needs hand feedings. She has been gaining weight and growls at us when we come to her cage to switch her food. Hopefully she will be able to do okay in the wild.
We did recheck radiographs and a bandage change on the hyena whose plate we removed a few weeks ago. I learned that striped hyenas are very nocturnal, to the point that during the day, it is pretty simple to inject them with their anesthetic drugs. Safety measures were taken (pole syringe, controlling the head), but she really just sat there and didn’t react to the poke. Her bones looked good on x-ray, but she developed a pressure sore, since she has a hard time getting up, and spends much of the day lying down. She also managed to remove her bandages on her own, and bit a hole through her e-collar. It’s difficult to heal orthopedic injuries on animals where physical therapy is not a viable option. You want her to heal, but do not want to train her to the point where she gets along with people. And it’s not ideal to anesthetize her often. So we hope for the best with her healing, even without physical therapy.
We get a lot of swifts this time of year. They are a lot of work to rehabilitate; since most of their life is spent in the air, they do not eat well while grounded, and have to be hand-fed. We usually have a volunteer dedicated to the swifts at each feeding time. This week, one of the volunteers was a little rough with them by accident. They have extremely sharp nails, and like to grip things tightly. It feels like they are biting you when they grab you. They will also grab towels that you put them on, and someone pulled two of them off a towel a little too roughly and both got broken nails. They came into the clinic bleeding profusely. One of them we got under control quickly by cutting the nail and using some chemical cautery and manual pressure. The other one, after doing the same thing, still would not stop bleeding. I sat with him for about half an hour putting pressure on the digit, and finally it stopped. We gave them both fluids, since they were small and had lost a significant amount of blood. It can be scary in small patients that something as simple as a broken nail can cause them to bleed out and die. We gave the volunteer a sheet instead of a towel, and made it clear that they had to be very gentle when taking them off the sheet.
This week was also a week of broken legs. We got multiple glossy ibis chicks that fell out of the nest and broke their legs. Unfortunately, some had broken both legs, others had nasty open fractures, and although they were bandaged and given a chance, we had to euthanize most of them. Even with medications and wound care, they mostly could not stand, and the fractures were not healing. In general, there is a low success rate with glossy ibis chick broken legs.
The stone curlew who had an IM pin placed for his broken leg has been doing okay. We have his leg in a tongue depressor splint cast. Every few days, we will change the bandage or entire cast, depending on how much poop he managed to get in it. On bandage change days, I do physical therapy with him. He cannot stand on his own right now with the cast, and when we tried to create a box for him to stand in he ended up falling over on his head. So for 10 to 15 minutes, I gently support him while he stands on his legs. I know it’s time to be finished when he starts buckling and trying to sit despite my hand holding him up.
Another cool case from this week was a short toed eagle (pictured at top). He came in with severe bradycardia. We placed an IV catheter and gave him atropine, then fluids. His heart rate was responsive to the atropine. The initial suspicion was some type of organophosphate poisoning. The vet told me that in birds, there is usually a better prognosis with supportive care than if you try to give something like 2-pam. But then we found two small wounds, one on each wing. When there is a wound on each side of the body, it can be indicative of electrocution, which can also cause arrhythmias. We kept him in the ICU overnight on fluids, and he was doing much better the following day. We then dealt with the feather parasites he had, and pulled two ticks out of his ears. For the feather lice, we took him outside and put a powder on his feathers that are supposed to kill the lice. He is doing well in his run outside. He cannot fly yet, but he is walking well, which he was unable to do when he first came in.
The male baby badger developed generalized hyperkeratosis. Our top differential is canine distemper virus, which theoretically could have caused the respiratory infection that killed the female (if it wasn’t just aspiration). We did tape preps and skin scrapes, and found nothing. He is quarantined now; people who work with him cannot touch other mammals. Other differentials can be generalized vasculitis, some parasite that we cannot find, reaction to a medication, or an autoimmune disease. We took biopsies this week to send for histopath and immunohistochemical evaluation. His skin was so thick and dry, the punch biopsy sites barely bled. He was given a bath afterwards, making use of the anesthesia, to help soothe his skin.
We had a few orthopedic surgeries this week. One on a kestrel ulna/radius fracture. We placed a pin in the ulna, and attempted the radius as well, but it was too small for successful pin placement. The post-op radiographs showed that the radius was pretty well aligned just from the ulnar pin. We also put a pin in the femur of a great spotted cuckoo, which is one of the loudest birds I have ever worked with. Anytime it could see anyone, it would start screaming. The important thing to remember with femur fractures (and humerus as well) is not to flush the site so you don’t accidentally drown the bird. One thing I was thinking is that we place lots of IM pins, which doesn’t help with rotational forces. I guess that they rely on bandages here to further stabilize the fracture for full healing. I should ask why they rarely do ex-fixes.
As far as safari animals go, this week’s patient was a jungle cat. He hadn’t been eating much lately, and hadn’t defecated in four days. We anesthetized him (butorphanol, ketamine, midazolam, and dexmedetomidine combination), took radiographs which showed a feces-filled colon, and then gave him subcutaneous fluids and an enema. The vet tried to manually evacuate what he could reach in the colon. It smelled terrible, but was still fun to be part of. The diet the cat had been getting had a high bones to meat ratio (some mistake in the kitchen), so he needs to be switched to something that will pass easier. He is such a picky eater that it is difficult to get him to eat anything. We are just hoping he will start eating, and then we can try to add new things.
—Malky Spektor, fourth-year DVM student