This is a good week for swans! The mute swan that came to us with a fishing hook in his beak has, happily, been released. He made a complete recovery after just a few days and was put back to where he was originally found this weekend. Another mute swan we have right now came in weak with malnutrition, and he has been doing excellently. We plan to release him this Wednesday, a few days after the end of his treatment course so that we can make sure he is really eating fine on his own and is firmly back in good condition.
Malnutrition is a common affliction among the wildlife that comes to us at the Center. It is so ubiquitous because it is a generic symptom for many different problems. An animal will suffer from malnutrition if it is not absorbing the essential nutrients that it needs to survive. These nutrients are normally derived from the animal’s diet, and so predictable the main reason that animals are malnourished is that they are not eating a sufficient amount of food. This is commonly due to a bacterial or viral infection weakening them to the point that they are unable to find food, due to toxicity from some kind of poison or heavy metal, or due to an injury that limits their mobility.
An animal can be eating immense amounts of food and still be malnourished however. This is less common, but usually a result of parasites or intestinal damage. Parasites can infest an animal and leech away the nutrients from the food that it eats, so that no matter how hungry it is and how much the animal consumes it will still slowly starve. Intestinal damage has similar affects, and results most commonly from toxicity or infection. For example, when an animal has lead poisoning its villi can be permanently damaged. Villi are the small structures on the surface of the intestinal walls that actually absorb nutrients from the food animals consume. When they are damaged, no matter how much food passes through the animal cannot extract the nutrients it needs.
Fortunately, our mute swan did not have any permanent damage. After having his diet supplemented with specially formulated food for nutritionally deficient patients and receiving supplemental vitamin injections for a few weeks, he is eating normally and back to good body condition. His release on Wednesday will be an exciting event for us all.