A Visit to the Wildlife Medical Clinic


If you’ve ever brought an injured or sick animal to the Wildlife Medical Clinic, you might wonder what we do for our patients. Our student-run facility takes care of these animals much like your own pet would be cared for at the U of I Veterinary Teaching Hospital.

Regular physical examinations are especially important for our growing patients! This young turtle hatched recently and is still reabsorbing his yolk sac. We assess this patient regularly to ensure he is growing appropriately.

Every animal first receives a complete examination, and the first part of any exam is reviewing the patient’s history. While the finders of our wildlife patients often can’t tell us much about how the animal came to be under their care, often it’s the few details they can provide which make all the difference. In some cases, the history is very specific and we know exactly when the incident occurred, such as when a bystander sees an animal get hit by a car. Other cases are more mysterious, such as an animal found in someone’s backyard unable to walk properly but with no obvious trauma.

This bald eagle is waking up from anesthesia; the tube in his mouth will be removed when he’s swallowing and alert enough to protect his airway. He was anesthetized for a physical exam and had a soft tissue wound on his wing that was cleaned and bandaged. Anesthetizing the eagle allows us to do a thorough cleaning of the wound while preventing undue stress or pain to our patients.

The next step is our hands-off exam. We observe the animal’s breathing rate and character, whether they’re standing or lying down, and many other visual cues that will help us narrow down the animal’s ailment. This is also an opportunity to evaluate the urgency of treatment. For example, if an animal is struggling to breathe, we need to intervene immediately. In other cases, animals may need some quiet time to calm down due to the stress of being transported. Most of the animals we see can benefit from supplemental oxygen and rest in a quiet cage before our hands-on portion of the exam.

When an animal can tolerate handling, we start by weighing them. An accurate weight is extremely important. For animals sensitive to stress, we use their weight to calculate a species-specific sedative dose. This helps us reduce stress as much as possible when handling our patients. There are different ways to perform a physical exam, but we always teach our students to perform the exam in the same order each time. A common method is to start at an animal’s head, evaluating their eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, then continue systematically to an animal’s tail, observing each bodily system.

This great horned owl was stuck in a car grate when brought to the clinic. He was sedated so we could safely remove him from the grate and reduce the stress he was feeling during this process. A volunteer then collected a blood sample for diagnostic testing.

Once we complete a thorough exam, we develop a plan for our patient that often includes diagnostic testing. We regularly collect blood samples for analysis in our in-clinic laboratory. Another common diagnostic we use is radiography, or “x-rays”. This allows us to evaluate the skeletal system as well as other body systems. We are fortunate to have access to the many veterinary specialists at the Veterinary Teaching Hospital, such as ophthalmology or dermatology, to help guide our diagnostics and care, especially during challenging cases. Surgery and physical therapy can be components of our treatment plan as well. In addition to providing medical care, our patients receive tailored housing and diet formulation as a part of their comprehensive treatment plan. Some factors we account for when formulating a patient’s diet include their species, age, and health status.

This process, from physical exam to a patient plan, allows us to provide the best care for our patients. Over a patient’s time in the clinic we may repeat this process, using physical exams findings to gauge the progress a patient is making and adjusting our treatment plan accordingly.

By Monika Liszka, Class of 2022