This is an orphaned Ruby-throated Hummingbird that came to us awhile back weak and unable to fly. We have been caring for her as she grows older and stronger, and she will hopefully be ready for release soon. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are the only hummingbirds found in Massachusetts. The males have a distinctive red patch of color on their throats, which gives the species its name. Their wings beat incredibly quickly while they fly, at an average speed of roughly 53 beats per minute.
This is a photo with (from left to right) Martha Smith, vice president of animal welfare at Animal Rescue League, Katrina Bergman, our Executive director, Dr. Greg Mertz, our CEO, and New York Times best-selling author of the book “Elephant Company” Vicki Croke. Both long-time friends of the Center, Ms. Smith and Ms. Croke were at a reception with Greg and Katrina recently held at the JFK Library in Boston, celebrating the release and success of her latest book. “Elephant Company” is the story of a man’s amazing connection with the elephants of Burma, and how together they managed to become heroes during World War II. If you’re interested in finding yourself a copy, here is a link to its amazon page.
What do you think is wrong with this snake? At first glance, it might appear to be the rat in its belly, but that’s quite normal. It’s actually in the space around the middle of the photo, immediately below the rat’s head. If you look closely at the snake’s ribs, you can see that at this point there is a separation where they curve away from each other as opposed to the normal curvature found everywhere else. This is called a subluxation of the middle ribs. The muscles the snake uses to move are actually attached to its ribs, and in this case some of them pulled too tightly and the ribs got moved out of position. It’s nothing more than an inconvenience for the snake, but if it happened multiple times it could cause the snake to lose its freedom of motion.
This is an Eastern Bluebird, one of the last of this summers babies. She is almost ready to be released, and is currently outside building up strength in one of our flight enclosures. Eastern Bluebirds eat mostly berries and insects, however they have been documented catching and eating larger prey such as lizards and small snakes. They are very social animals, and will sometimes gather in flocks of over a hundred birds at a time.
This is a mourning dove we have with a fractured coracoid bone. The coracoid is found in the upper chest region, and is necessary in order to fly. It is often broken when birds fly into windows. We are going to splint the right wing, which is the side of the break, and we are hopefully that he will recover in 6 to 8 weeks.
This is one of our orphaned Eastern cottontail rabbits. We have a special room for them, because they are very high stress animals that are difficult to treat and rehabilitate. We make sure they stay mostly in the dark, and always have quiet, with minimal human contact outside of feedings and medication treatments. This little guy has been with us for awhile now though, and will hopefully soon be ready for release.
Raccoons suffer from many diseases, however four that stand out to us as a wildlife hospital are Baylisascaris procyonis, rabies, parvovirus, and distemper virus.
Rabies is the most well-known of these diseases because it is a big problem for humans as well as raccoons. It is a virus that causes acute inflammation of the brain, and is almost invariably fatal unless the victim has previously been vaccinated. Signs include flu-like symptoms, confusion, hydrophobia, and hallucinations. In addition to its deadliness, it has also been known to lie dormant in an animal for years before manifesting as symptomatic. It in zoonotic, meaning it can be transmitted between species. We have to be especially careful with raccoons, as well as other likely carriers such as bats and skunks, due to this risk.
B. procyonis is a type of parasite called a roundworm. It is fairly innocuous when infecting raccoons themselves, however it is of great concern to us due to the fact that it is also zoonotic. Infection of humans is extremely rare, with less than 20 cases reported in the last 30 years. Unlike in raccoons however, in humans, B. procyonis has the ability to penetrate the brain tissue. Due to this fact, it is extremely dangerous and difficult to treat. It has almost universally resulted in serious neurological damage or death. Even more so than rabies, B. procyonis is the reason we have stringent safety protocols when treating and caring for our orphaned, sick, or injured raccoons.
Distemper and parvovirus are both big issues primarily due to the high mortality rate involved, and their tendency to spread quickly. Neither of these viruses are zoonotic, meaning human caretakers have no need to worry about contracting them, however we still vaccinate all our raccoons for them when they arrive at NEWC. If one raccoon comes in with distemper or parvovirus, it is very possible for our entire group to get sick. This contagiousness makes them both very scary illnesses. Distemper symptoms include fever, respiratory issues, and neurological confusion. Parvovirus is characterized by vomiting, diarrhea, and lethargy.
Due to all these risks, we make sure to quarantine our raccoons when they first arrive. We test them for parasites, and observe them for symptoms that could indicate a rabies infection, parvovirus, or distemper. During this period we also begin any other treatment they may need for more mundane injuries or illness. Once we’ve determined that they’re likely doing OK, we move them in with the rest of our raccoons.
This is a spider called the spined micrathena, scientific name Micrathena gracilis. Our veterinarian found it tangled up in its own web, as you can see in the photo below. These spiders spin a web with a diameter of about 10 inches, that is very tightly coiled. It is often found in woody areas, and is harmless to humans.
Generally spiders create a web using two basic types of strand, although there are exceptions to this rule. One type is sticky, and is used for catching prey, and this strand variety is criss-crossed with a normal non-sticking type that the spider can walk on. Spiders are generally very good about identifying the correct strand, and will not generally tangle themselves up, however this little girl simply had the misfortune to be caught in a big gust of wind. It tangled her web up in a ball around her, and caught her with the sticky bits. Fortunately, one of our veterinarians was walking by, and managed to free her from her predicament. Here she is ready to make another nest!
This year Dr. Mertz, Zak Mertz, and our Executive Director Katrina Bergman made a guide to creating a successful online presence for dog shelters. This project teaches the basics about setting up an organization’s website, getting information out to the public, and generally getting off on the right foot online. It has a lot of fascinating information and is worth checking out!
Rodenticide is the commercial name for rat poison, and it is an issue that we have to deal with fairly commonly here at NEWC. Interestingly enough however, we almost never treat rats that have ingested rat poison. Hawks are by far the most common animals that we treat suffering from rodenticide toxicity. This is due to the fact that rats tend to hide themselves very well, so those that do get poisoned rarely reach us, and due to rats being a common food item for many species of hawk. The hawks will eat the rats that have just ingested the poison, and it will transfer into their system through the digestive process.
The reason this type of poison works so well on rats is that rats are very good at telling when they are eating something dangerous. They will eat small amounts of a certain type of food and then wait to see if it makes them sick before continuing. Rat poison is odorless, tasteless, and generally takes over a week to start affecting the rat, meaning they never have a chance to associate its effects with the food they ingested, and they will not stop eating the poison.
Rat poison works by preventing the production of vitamin K, which is necessary for the creation of essential blood-clotting factors (primarily prothrombin and proconvertin). The toxin also causes damage to the capillary system (small blood vessels) which causes internal bleeding. The combination of wide-spread internal bleeding and a lack of clotting factors to stop it usually leads to death after a few weeks.
Treatment for rat poisoning is fairly straightforward, although it is very important to correctly identify the issue early and begin treatment as soon as possible. The most effective solution is to give daily doses of injected vitamin K, which we keep on hand in our hospital. The poison works by preventing the creation of vitamin K, so by providing a daily dose of it we completely negate its effects. Rodenticide usually takes about two weeks to leave the body naturally, and so two weeks of vitamin K therapy is generally enough to ensure our patients will recover well.
We are extremely excited here at NEWC to welcome the newest member of our team, Dr. Lisa Trout. An exceptional veterinarian who graduated from Iowa State University College of Veterinary Medicine in May of 2013, Dr. Trout will be joining Dr. Mertz and Dr. Adamski in our Odd Pet Vet service, which will now offer appointments 7 days a week.
Dr. Trout is originally from Pennsylvania, and earned her BS in Small Animal Science from Delaware Valley College. She has a very diverse background, having worked in both farm animal medicine and small animal emergency and intensive care. Additionally, she has already volunteered her time with us at the Center learning from Dr. Mertz and Dr. Adamski about exotic pet medicine and wildlife medical care. We have gotten to know her both as a veterinarian and as a person over the last few months she has spent time with us, and we are truly glad she chose to accept the position as one of our official veterinarians.
In her free time, Dr. Trout will kick back with a good book, head out for a hike, or bake (especially Pennsylvania Dutch recipes).
Here’s a video of one of our new tiny opossum babies being fed. It can take quite a long time just to get a few milliliters worth of fluid into one baby, as if we go too fast we could cause the opossum to aspirate, or in other words to get liquid into their respiratory system. This leads to a high risk of pneumonia, not to mention being a very uncomfortable immediate experience for the baby.
This is a short video of a surgery we had recently. One of our raccoons developed an abscess in his neck. An abscess is an accumulation of pus within the body that is generally surrounded by inflamed tissue. It is usually caused by a bacterial infection, which can result from as little as a tiny cut. Normally this is an easy fix, as we keep close track of all our animals, and with regular wound care it would have been healed in a matter of weeks. We cleaned the wound, removed all the dead tissue and pus, applied antibiotic ointment, and bandaged the area. Raccoons are very intelligent and curious however, and although we did the procedure under anesthesia, as soon as he woke up he would pull the wrapping off to see what was underneath. The surgery in this short video clip shows our solution to this dilemma. Dr. Adamski cleaned the wound again, made sure it was on track to heal well naturally, and used surgical staples to close the skin over the cleaned and treated abscess. This should now allow the wound to heal without interruption.
An animal’s blood contains an incredible amount of information if you know how to look. You can find signs of infection, or signs of an infection that occurred in the past. You can discover whether an animal has had enough to eat, if it is missing a specific type of vitamin or mineral, or if it has had too much of the same. These are among the vast array of conditions that can be effectively diagnosed by examining an animals blood. Most of the more complicated tests are very expensive and require specialized machinery and testing supplies. In order to make the process more efficient, most veterinarians send out their blood samples to a lab that specializes in these tests and that can quickly and efficiently get all the pertinent results.
There are a few specific tests that we like to do in-house however, for a good first impression of some of the more critical aspects of an animals health. This helps us assess their state as stable or critical, and can make it easier to create an accurate and effective treatment plan. The four values we tend to look at for almost every animal are blood glucose, total protein, hematocrit, and buffy coat.
While not as exhaustive as the more complicated tests, these tend to give a basic picture of an animal’s state of health. Blood glucose is a general way of measuring how much nourishment an animal has received in the recent past. If they have had steady meals for a day or two before the test then the levels should be normal. If low, it implies the animal has not gotten enough food recently, and if high it implies the animal is stressed. Total protein is a measure that we use in a similar fashion, although not quite the same. If the total protein is low then it is likely that the animal has been deprived of nutrition for an extended period of time and is malnourished. High total protein levels on the other hand indicate the presence of inflammation, and makes it likely that there is an infection present.
Hematocrit refers to the percentage of actual red blood cells in relation to the amount of plasma, mostly water, that makes up what we see as blood. There is generally a larger amount of water than actual red blood cells, but if there is even more plasma than normal (a low hematocrit value) then it implies that the animal is having trouble producing blood cells or they are being destroyed by something. This can be due to a variety of factors, including lead poisoning and hematoparasites. A high hematocrit value means that there is not enough water in the blood, and suggests that the animal is dehydrated. Finally, the buffy coat can be roughly described as an indicator of the amount of white blood cells present at the time the blood was drawn. A higher than normal value for this means that there could be an infection.
These are all general values, and while they are useful to observe they cannot conclusively identify an issue without other symptoms being taken into account or more exhaustive testing done. They are easy to get for most animals we get in however, and can be very useful for identifying a large number of common problems.
Here you can see a video of our raccoon painting enrichment. They dip their hands in the paint and walk around on the paper we have laid down. We make the paint personally, it’s a mixture of edible food dye, flour, and water, so it is completely safe for the animals to handle. Raccoons are very intelligent with an excellent sense of touch. We make sure our raccoons get novel items and phenomena to explore and investigate as much as possible. Activities like this help them develop their touch sense as well as helping them exercise their minds. We give them regular enrichment to help them learn to effectively explore their surroundings.
Hi everyone, as you know we are gearing up for Tater Day on June 14th and we are trying to find as many potatoes as we possibly can for all the games and events that we are planning. If anyone has any extras or wants to donate some normal or sweet potatoes we would really appreciate it. Thanks so much!
Please join us for our first annual Tater Day on the 14th of June. There will be games, music, food, and potatoes everywhere! Check out this flyer for more information, and call us if there’s still any questions you need answered. We hope to see you all there!
We recently admitted a very young great horned owl to our hospital. He came to us in perfect health after being found wandering around by a concerned passerby. Most likely he fell out of his nest, then went searching for food and ended up on a sidewalk where he wasn’t supposed to be. Regardless, it was very nice to find out that he was healthy. When we admit a healthy baby orphan there are generally two options. The first, and this is the less preferable one, is that we raise them at NEWC until they reach an age where they are able to fend for themselves in the wild. This can often be quite late, for example this owl would likely not be ready for release for several months at least. The downside to this is primarily that the animal will not be raised in an ideal environment. Parents often shows their babies basic skills such as hunting, foraging, or hiding depending on the species in question, and animals raised with humans often become too used to us despite our best efforts and become more prone to wandering into humans that they find once they have been released. This is very dangerous for them. Unless there is some pressing danger in the environment that prevents the animal from having a good chance for natural survival it is much preferable to allow wild animals to be raised in the wild by their own species.
This leads to the second option we have with healthy wild babies, and this is the option we prefer when it is possible. We can foster them out to a different family of wild animals of the same species. This does not work for every animal, and indeed can often be dangerous if it is a member of a species that is selective about how they care for their young. Great horned owls, fortunately, tend to raise their young without paying too much attention to specific individuals. If the babies are all the same size and are all healthy the parents won’t notice an extra owl being placed into the nest while they are away. We are moving our baby great horned owl today to a special facility that keeps a list of local known nests belonging to birds of prey, and our baby will be fostered into one of those with appropriately aged young. This will allow him to have as natural an upbringing as possible with no chance of being imprinted upon or becoming too familiar with humans.
Although it is often exciting to have interesting animals such as owls here at NEWC, we are very happy that we were able to arrange for him to go back to the wild this quickly. It is always better for wildlife to be in the wild whenever possible.
Raccoons are wonderful, intelligent, and adaptable animals. Here at New England Wildlife Center we have adopted them as our animal mascot, because we believe that they symbolize many of the characteristics we strive to embody. They are curious, hands-on animals that are constantly exploring their environment to learn more about it. They are creative and adaptable, able to eat pretty much anything they find in order to survive, as well as being able to live in almost every type of habitat imaginable. They exist in swamps, cities, forests, marshes, and many other ecosystems in between. We treat quite a lot of raccoons every year, and the majority of them come to us as small babies.
When treating a baby raccoon, there are four very important things to keep in mind. The first is the frequency that they need to be fed. We start by feeding babies as much as 8 times a day if they are very young, and feeding at regular intervals is very important for their digestion.
The second is hydration levels. Baby animals need to be kept around a certain level of hydration, which is usually taken care of due to the fact that the formula we feed them contains a large percentage of water. What is often a problem is too much hydration. Babies can get diarrhea easily, and feeding too often with too much water is one of the easiest ways to give them loose stool. A balance needs to be struck between over and under hydration.
The third thing to keep in mind is the need for genital stimulation when their eyes are closed. In the wild, their mothers lick their genital area in order to stimulate the babies to urinate and defecate. We need to wipe the area with a warm wet cloth after every feeding, or their waste builds up in their intestines and can lead to some nasty problems.
Finally, it is very important to keep the babies warm. Young animals have very little tolerance for the cold, and succumb to hypothermia much more easily than adults. The cold can also hurt the function of their immune and digestive systems. We keep heating pads under our baby raccoon cages at all times until they reach a more adolescent stage. Like hydration however, it is important to remember balance. The heating pad is always set on low and we keep an area of the cage off the pad so that the babies can self-regulate their temperature by moving to that area if they get too hot for some reason.
Soon enough these babies, like those we have raised in the past, will be living on their own in our large outdoor enclosure and be ready for release. For now however, we will care for them diligently and make sure that every aspect of their health is taken care of. We do love wild raccoons!