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!
I have exciting news! Get your planners out, because on Saturday June 14th we’re having an awesome event here at NEWC, our first annual Tater Day celebration! Here’s a flyer with some more details, but I can tell you there will be fun activities (like potato sack races), delicious food (french fries or potato pancakes anyone?), and really fun science projects (so many uses for potato batteries!) everywhere you go. We hope to see you there!
It’s springtime now, and for NEWC that means it’s time to start raising baby animals. We see a lot of squirrels, opossums, robins, grackles, and raccoons, but right now we have two rarer patients that we’re very excited about. These two are red foxes. They have had a pretty rough start, but now that they’re with us we’ll make sure that they get a second chance for health and happiness out in the wild.
Their story actually starts with a couple named Amy and Fred Carlsen. They were out walking their daughter’s dogs on March 15th when one of the dogs, Meeka, smelled something interesting behind a chain-link fence. When Amy and Fred went over, they found three dead fox pups outside of a den with two baby foxes still alive inside. One of them came out to bark, but the other was quiet and stayed mostly hidden.
Fred and Amy left some dried dog food for the pups, but they were still worried about their safety due to the fact that three of them had already died. They called Brockton Animal Control and Megan Hanrahan, an amazing ACO who has brought an incredible amount of rescued wildlife to us at NEWC, came to investigate. Megan had found a dead adult fox hit by a car in the area shortly before this, and so she knew that the pups needed to be taken care of. When she arrived at the den, she was only able to recover one pup, and assumed that the second had unfortunately already passed away like the original three.
Just in case, Megan left safe and humane traps with food and water around the area to see if the second fox could be found. Foxes are social animals, and need to be raised with others close to their age. It was very important to find the second fox both for its sake and for the fox she had already rescued.
After several days with no results, Animal Control pulled the traps as it looked pretty hopeless for the last baby. The Carlsens were still invested though, and they wanted to be absolutely sure. They took pictures inside of the den to see if they could get any sign of the last fox, and amazingly he was actually in there, huddled into a back corner hiding from the world.
Amy and Fred immediately called Animal Control, and Megan came right over with a freshly baited trap. She asked the Carlsens to check the trap in a few hours and to call her if there were any results. When they came back to see, the fox was in the trap! He had gotten hungry enough that fresh food right by the entrance to his den overcame his fear. Amy and Fred called Megan right away, and she came over immediately to get the fox. He was brought to us at NEWC the very next morning.
Now the foxes are both with us, and are receiving medical treatment for their roundworms. They are both eating well and are looking great, and should grow up just fine.
We’re very grateful for the effort Amy, Fred, and Megan all put into this rescue mission, and we’re thankful that it worked out so well in the end. It’s always wonderful when orphaned wildlife get a happy ending!
This is a Pleosaurus that Dr. Mertz recently saw in Odd Pet Vet. She’s just a baby, and was here for her first check-up. After some basic tests, Dr. Mertz gave her a clean bill of health, and she was ready to go home. Pleosauri are originally from the cretaceous period, and are herbivorous animals.
One of the many hats that Dr. Mertz wears is that of the Cold Blooded Vet. This is a well-deserved title, and comes from the fact that he sees an incredible number of reptile patients every year. A popular type of reptile pet is the boid family, encompassing boas and pythons. The picture below is of one of the boas that came in recently with a relatively common problem called blister disease.
Blister disease, also known as vesicular dermatitis, is an infection common to boids that exhibits as blistering and lesioning of the skin. It is quite painful, and also commonly fatal without treatment. It is caused by the snake lying in its own urine in a warm environment. It takes only 24-48 hours to occur, so pet snakes need to be handled or at least carefully observed daily to ensure that their habitat is healthy and safe.
Treatment for blister disease is a course of systematic antibiotics for 45-60 days and water therapy, which means running water over the snake for at least five minutes a day. Salves, ointments, and creams are all ineffectual and slow treatment. It takes three to four sheds over the course of about five months to see even partial healing. Like many snake diseases, this is preventable with proper husbandry. It is incredibly important for reptile owners to be aware of their snake’s environment and be regularly checking to make sure nothing has gone wrong.
This is a really incredible video that one of our former interns named Christine Dwyer made about the Center while she worked here. It’s especially amazing because she didn’t get any help from us, she did it on her own and then showed us afterwards. Quite a talent!
Recently we had a cedar waxwing come to us with no particularly terrible condition other than the fact that he was cold. Many cedar waxwings migrate south for the winter, although like most species of songbirds there is always a small percent that choose to stay behind. They are specialized fruit eating birds, and even during the winter they can find sugary food primarily in the form of juniper berries. Despite the fact that winter is survivable for these birds, it is still not particularly pleasant. The cold is just as unfortunate for a bird as it is for us
Unlike most of the other cedar waxwings that try to stay warm in their nests, this little bird had a plan. A local woman woke up one morning to find that he had taken up residence inside of her car. It was enclosed, warmer than the outside, and sheltered from wind. She tried to get him to leave, but when he refused she fed him and gave him water instead. It seemed impractical to have the bird live out the winter in her car however, so she brought him to us, where he will be able to stay even warmer until we release him for the early spring.
Here he gets free food and a warm bed, so I guess he outsmarted the ones who decided to fly all the way down South!
Baby season is coming, and we are getting prepared here at NEWC! Last season Vicki Croke from WBUR did a piece on our Center and the beginning of the wildlife baby boom, here is the video if you’re interested in hearing more about this time of year from a wildlife veterinarian’s perspective.
Today New England Wildlife Center staff worked with our volunteer audio engineers and webmaster to create an animated version of “A guide Dog: NEWC’s manual to creating a successful online presence for dog shelters”. It is our goal to share with dog shelters and other small nonprofits our steps and miss steps in developing a successful virtual presence. The audio slide presentation of “The Guide Dog” will be available online at the Center’s website, newildlife.org at the end of March. For more information, or for a hard copy of the manual, please contact Katrina at 781-682-4878 x 122.
The image in this post is of a bearded dragon’s feces sample that is being examined under a microscope. The objects that are in focus are not normal. They are crystals that are formed when salt and sugar are precipitated out of the feces sample due to a lack of water, and are an indicator of dehydration.
A second noticeable issue that arises from dehydration is the occurrence of stones in the urine. Urine is the body’s way of getting rid of harmful nitrogenous waste that is a normal byproduct of the body’s everyday functions. Normally, it has quite a lot of water in it, as that dissolves the nitrogenous material and safely carries it out of the body. Reptiles that are dehydrated, however, can’t spare the extra water to produce normal urine. The body keeps as much water as possible, and as a result solid material precipitates out of the urine and forms small stones.
Sometimes, in severe cases, the stones can become large enough to actually block the opening of the cloaca, which is the point at which all waste leaves the bodies of reptiles. This can lead to many other problems.
Reptile hydration is extremely important, and can often be neglected by well-meaning pet owners. It is a good idea to soak your reptiles in warm water baths regularly to help them remain healthy.
This is a snowy owl that was recently admitted to our center. She came in with one of the more difficult conditions to handle, which is a simple general weakness, lack of appetite, and poor engagement with her surroundings. While none of these symptoms are immediately life-threatening, they are difficult due to the massive number of problems that cause them. An animal that has general weakness and loss of appetite could be suffering anything from an equivalent of the common cold for their species to a brain tumor.
Fortunately, our veterinary team has a host of diagnostic tools at their disposal for cases just like this. After a basic round of X-rays and bloodwork, it became clear that the owl was almost certainly in the grips of an infection. She was proscribed fluids, anti-inflammatories, antibiotics, plenty of rest, and a force-fed diet of mice. After a few days of this, she was visibly improved. She has begun to eat on her own, and has more energy.
We are going to continue the current treatment until she improves to an acceptable level for release. Her subsequent reintroduction to the wild will be mediated with the assistance of experts in owl care that we are currently in contact with. For now, we’re just glad that she’s looking better than when she first arrived.
Kayla Spitz is an amazing young women who recently helped out us incredibly. She just had her Bat Mitzvah, and instead of enjoying all of the presents that are traditionally gifted during the celebration she decided to do something charitable instead. Kayla let everyone know that instead of gifts for her, she wanted them to bring gifts that could be donated to NEWC. After the Bat Mitzvah ended, she brought over all these presents she received and gave them right to us. This is going to be amazing for all of the wildlife that we keep over the winter. We now have to worry much less about supplies for feeding and cleaning them. Our heartfelt thanks go out to Kayla, may you always be such a wonderful person!
The first thing that happens when an animal comes into our hospital is a diagnosis. You can’t treat something without a basic idea of what’s wrong with it, in fact many treatments can do more harm than good if given in the wrong situation. Even if the diagnosis isn’t complete at first, the veterinarian tries to identify what about the animal is normal and what is not in order to get a starting point for a care plan.
When trying to find out what is wrong with an animal, the first thing to do is observe how they act before they are picked up and handled. Seeing how an animal acts when it is still inside whatever case or cage it was brought in can be very enlightening. For example, whether an animal is lying down, crouching, leaning abnormally on some part of its body, or standing straight without difficulty are all important signs to note. Once an animal has been grabbed and is being handled, the stress can cause signs like labored breathing and difficulty walking even in animals that normally wouldn’t exhibit these problems.
When performing a physical exam on an animal, it is important to have a ritual. That means that the exam is performed the same way every time, although allowances are of course made for different species having different shapes and body parts. This helps make sure that no area is missed, as jumping around from body part to body part without a defined pattern can lead to small areas being missed or forgotten. Physical exams can tell quite a lot about an animal, and many of our diagnoses are made at this point and only need confirmation later on. For example, a bird that can’t fly and has difficulty balancing with visible swelling around the head likely suffered a concussion from an in-flight collision. More work would be needed to confirm this diagnosis, but it is generally readily visible and a treatment plan can be started immediately.
The two most common means of following up on a physical exam in our hospital are X-rays and bloodwork. X-rays mostly show us the bone structure of an animal, and can be used to diagnose small fractures or find foreign materials such as small bullets that have lodged in the animal or objects that were eaten and can’t pass through the digestive system. Bloodwork is a general term for a large array of techniques used to analyze an animals blood. This can tell us if the animal is dehydrated, if they have an active infection, or if they have significant inflammation. Some other follow-up techniques that require an outside laboratory are feces analysis and blood toxicology. Feces analysis mostly finds parasites, while blood toxicology is just more in-depth blood work that can identify specific bacteria or viruses that have infected the animal, toxins like lead that the animal has come in contact with, and various other specific pieces of information.
These are generally the tools we use to diagnose animals and prepare them for a comprehensive, efficient, and effective treatment plan.
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.
Recently we had a Red-tailed Hawk come to us dehydrated, with a pronounced right wingdroop, and likely with a concussion. After doing wildlife medicine for awhile, there are some things you start to look for in certain types of cases. When we get a bird with the symptoms of a concussion or some other not easily visible injury preventing them from flying, it is very likely that they struck something while in flight. Often this can lead to easily treatable bruising and inflammation, although it does sometimes leave the bird with fractures or internal bleeding.
In order to get a better idea of what we were dealing with, the next step was to use more advanced diagnostic tools than a physical exam. First on the list was an X-ray, in order to search for a cause behind the wingdroop. The hawk’s X-rays all came back normal, with no signs of any broken bones or other issues. This couldn’t rule out a potential infection however, and so we still needed to draw blood and analyse it. This test, however, also came back normal, and so Dr. Adamski proscribed anti-inflammatory medicine for the concussion and likely inflammation of the wing, and had the wing wrapped to the hawk’s body in a tight bandage to prevent it from moving around too much.
After two weeks of treatment, his neurologic symptoms had subsided and his wingdroop was gone. As he showed no other signs of illness or injury and had been eating normally, we took him outside of the Center for a basic flight test. It is important when releasing birds to make sure that they are able to achieve both vertical and horizontal lift, meaning they can fly both horizontally and vertically in relation to the ground. When one of our interns released him from the towel he had been wrapped in, he shot off into the air and flew immediately to a perch on a nearby tree. Having thus proven his ability to gain altitude and sustain flight, we left him to fly off into the distance. Here is a video of his initial release and flight test.
This is a common snapping turtle that came to us with fractured lower and upper jaws after being hit by a car. Surgery on a snapping turtle can be difficult, because our preferred method of anesthesia, Isoflurane, requires the animal to breath it in to be effective. Snapping turtles, living underwater, can hold their breath for almost an hour at a time, and when we are holding a mask to his face trying to get him to breath the strangely smelling anesthesia solution he doesn’t particularly want to take a breath. Fortunately, we were able to intubate him. This means that we inserted a flexible plastic tube into his trachea, and then we pumped the Isoflurane directly into his lungs.
Dr. Adamski was able to successfully set his jaw using metal wires, surgical glue, and Play-doh. The Play-doh, while slightly unorthodox, works incredibly well to hold the wires in place around the jaw while the glue is drying. Reptile bones generally take between 4 and 6 months to heal, so we are hopeful that by the end of the winter he will be well on his way to recovery.
The next obvious problem was that to heal, he needed plenty of food, and to get food, he needed to hunt and eat fish. That was going to be difficult for him with a fractured and surgically splinted jaw, so we came up with a different approach. Dr. Adamski cut open the turtle’s neck and cut into his esophagus. He then inserted a red rubber tube, similar to the one used to intubate the turtle, into his esophagus. The esophagus is the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, allowing food to travel down after being swallowed. By putting a tube directly into the esophagus, we managed to skip the mouth phase of eating, and move the food directly into his stomach. He is fed blended fish, and when the tube is not in use it is secured to his back to it is not moving around and is out of his way.
The Night of a Thousand Faces is back!
When: Friday, October 25th and Saturday, October 26 from 6:30 pm – 8:00 pm. The cost is $7 per person.
Where: New England Wildlife Center, 500 Columbian Street, South Weymouth, MA 02190 Phone: 781-682-4878
What: Walk the Nature Trails with Hundreds of Lit Pumpkins. Animal Presentations. Candy Apples. Cotton Candy. Celebrate Raccoons. Music.
Want to help Carve Pumpkins? Please give us a call – we need you – or just show up! Oct 21, 22, 23 and 24 from 10:00 am to 7:30 pm. You can also drop off carved pumpkins on those dates. There will be pumpkins here but you can also BYOP to carve – the more the better!
On August 1st 2013 the New England Wildlife Center’s hospital admitted a Canada Goose who was shot through the head with an archery arrow. He was rescued and transported to the New England Wildlife Center by the Animal Rescue League of Boston. The Canada Goose was alert and conscious, but he was malnourished and had no use of his jaw. Dr. Mertz successfully removed the arrow and packed the wound with surgical padding to prevent further necrosis of the skin. Fortunately, the arrow did not damage any major nerves or muscles in his face and he retained full mobility of his head and jaw. After three and a half weeks of rehabilitative care, medication and nutritional support he is healthy enough to be released back to the wild.
The release will take place at 12:00 pm on Wednesday, August 28, 2013 at a pond near the Ellis Haven Camp Ground in Plymouth, MA . Katrina Bergman, the Center’s executive director said “We are particularly excited that the Canada Goose will be released back to the pond where his mate and goslings are. It is critical that we as a society protect the most vulnerable among us. Providing medical care to wildlife caught in harm’s way is just the right thing to do.”
The Center receives no tax payer funds and relies solely on individual donations. We are the only wildlife hospital and education center in the metro-Boston area. Please visit our front page to make a donation today! We need everyone’s help. Newildlife.org.