Dehydration in our Wildlife Patients

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.

A skin tent is one of the ways we can examine a patient’s dehydration. Here you can see a volunteer is gently lifting the patient’s skin. They will release the skin and watch how long it takes to lay flat on the patient again. It’s completely painless and well tolerated by even the squirmiest patients (baby bunnies, for example).

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

Health and Safety in the WMC

With so many patients of every stage of life and health, the WMC has to take extra measures to keep disease from spreading between patients or even to volunteers. This concept of preventing the introduction and spread of pathogens and diseases is called biosecurity. Biosecurity is important in hospitals and can also apply in other contexts, like farms or dog kennels. Our procedures help keep communicable pathogens controlled and allow our patients to return to full health in a safe environment. Continue reading

Why should I care about Virginia Opossums?

Virginia Opossums (Didelphis virginiana) often get a bad rap, but they can actually be helpful to us and our environment!

But wait, aren’t they dangerous wild animals that can infect me with diseases? Yes, they are wild and they can carry zoonotic diseases, so you should be cautious with them, just like any other wild species. However, opossums are general not aggressive and their prime defense is to “play dead” and avoid confrontation. Additionally, they rarely contract rabies (likely due to their low body temperature) so they are a low risk vector for that disease.

Okay so how can they help me? Opossums can actually help clean up pests in the environment because they are opportunistic scavengers that eat things like cockroaches, crickets, beetles, slugs, snails, snakes, and many others. One very important target for them is ticks, which are a significant vector for Lyme disease. Opossums are very good at finding and killing ticks, thus eliminating a substantial amount of them every season. This is not only helpful to prevent disease in us, but also beneficial for pets and wildlife that can contract Lyme disease or other tick-borne illnesses. Continue reading