Most of the red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) that present to the Wildlife Medical Clinic are underweight, lethargic, and have some severe skin disease. Their skin is dry, flaky, crusty, and sometimes even has open wounds. They are often also missing large patches of fur throughout their body. Why do most of the foxes we see look like this? Sarcoptic mange, caused by a mite (Sarcoptes scabiei) is commonly the culprit. These mites burrow under the skin and cause an allergic-type reaction, which leads to all of the changes observed on the skin and coat. Microscopic but prolific, there can be several thousand of these mites in just one square centimeter of skin! Mites are not insects, being more closely related to spiders and scorpions. Continue reading
Recently, a juvenile eastern cottontail was brought in to the Wildlife Medical Clinic after being picked up by a community member’s dog. While they’re man’s best friend, excited dogs can end up injuring wild animals. Unfortunately for this bunny, he was left with a laceration over his right shoulder and was unable to return to his nest. This patient needed extra care and attention because eastern cottontails have delicate digestive systems and easily stressed. Rabbits rely heavily on their “hind-gut” or cecum to ferment all the greens they eat. They have precise proportions of different microorganisms in their digestive tract; if they have an imbalance of microorganisms, or dysbiosis, they could become gravely ill. Stress and feeling sick can cause rabbits to stop eating and create an imbalance in microorganisms! Unfortunately, we see only stressed and sick rabbits in the clinic. Wild rabbits are easy to scare and generally do not do well in captivity. As such, we have to be quick and gentle while handling cottontail patients. Their environment must be quiet and clean, and they need the freshest leafy greens. We also supplement special veterinary diets for rabbits in the clinic to keep them eating healthy foods. In addition to ensuring rabbits are eating, we also have to consider the rabbit’s digestive system when prescribing medications. The sensitive microorganisms in a rabbit’s digestive tract can be killed by certain types of antibiotics and the rabbit’s digestion could be slowed by common pain medications. Continue reading
Most of the patients we see in the Wildlife Medical Clinic are suffering from a common abnormality in addition to any illness or injury they have: dehydration. While dehydration might not sound that harmful, it can actually be a significant contributor to an animal’s poor prognosis. One of the many reasons we must address dehydration quickly is because a patient’s hydration can affect whether they absorb medications and nutrients from their digestive tract. This means that we must rehydrate a patient before expecting them to eat food or take medications orally. There are many ways we can address a fluid deficit, but all involve careful calculation and planning.
First, we must determine if our patients are dehydrated and the severity of their dehydration. The first step in estimating a patient’s hydration status is looking for specific physical changes. A mammal’s hydration status can be examined by using a “skin tent” test. We gently pinch and pull up on a patient’s loose skin then observe how quickly it returns to a normal position. If a patient is healthy the skin returns to normal in within a second or two, while a dehydrated patient’s skin fold will take longer or may not move back into place at all. You can even try this on yourself by gently pinching the skin on your lower arm or abdomen & seeing if it snaps back into place quickly. For birds and reptiles, it isn’t always possible to find an area of loose skin to tent, so we rely on other changes such as “sunken” eyes or thick strings of saliva in their mouth. These changes are signs we can use to quickly and non-invasively determine what measures need to be taken. Continue reading