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Pets Large & Small


Dr. Kimberly Brokaw, DVM
Walkersville Vet Clinic

(5/2017) As the weather gets warmer animals, both wild and domestic, start to have their babies. Animal babies are fragile, very cute, and often in need of assistance. Many goodhearted people can't help but want to help them. While baby wild animals may seem like they need your help, it is always important to assess whether they are truly in need of assistance. Unless they are injured or truly orphaned you should refrain from rescuing, i.e. kidnapping them. Some species of wildlife, like young deer are normally left hidden and alone all day. Finding a fawn in the underbrush does not generally mean it needs help. Other species are closely supervised by their parents.

Some signs that an animal may need your help are if it has been injured by a cat or dog, it is bleeding or has a broken limb, is featherless or nearly featherless and on the ground, is shivering, has a dead parent near by, or if it has been crying and wandering all day. If you determine that a wild animal does need help, you may call a wildlife center, animal control, or your veterinarian for assistance. However, you should not try to keep the injured/orphaned animal yourself. Not only do you have to be licensed in Maryland to legally care for wildlife, but wildlife require different nutrition and housing than domestic animals.

Earlier this week a client saw an opossum hit by a car and on the side of the road. Being that she is a kind and conscientious person, she stopped and checked to see if the dead possum had babies in her pouch. Upon discovering that there were several live babies, the client called our clinic and asked if she could bring that animal in to the clinic. Some veterinary clinics have staff with wildlife rehabilitation licenses. Other veterinary clinics cannot accept wildlife or must immediately turn over wildlife to a licensed wildlife rehabber or Animal Control. At Walkersville Veterinary Clinic, we do accept and rehabilitate limited numbers of certain species of wildlife.

The client who brought the possum had grown up in the Caribbean. She told us that the Caribbean name for possum was Manicou and that they are eaten in the Caribbean. She said that while she had never eaten them she had memories of them being served barbequed and covered in curry. Obviously she had no intentions of eating these possums and wanted us to try to save them. We told her we would do our best.

Unfortunately three of the babies were already dead, one had sustained significant trauma and died within minutes of being brought to the clinic. The two remaining possums were alive but very cold and dehydrated. We immediately began to gradually warm them as well as administer parenteral (injectable) fluids. Unfortunately the male baby opossum died a couple hours later. The female baby possum seemed to be stabilizing and was named "Manicou" in deference to her rescuer.

After Manicou was rehydrated and warmed, she was started on an infant food formulation created by a veterinarian with the National Opossum Society. Possums are prone to metabolic bone disease and it is very important to give them the appropriate amount of vitamin A and calcium. Manicou is being kept on a heating pad and soft bedding, and fed every 2 hours around the clock. As she grows a little older, she will not needs such time consuming care. Eventually, the plan is for Manicou to go to an opossum rescue and be gradually reintroduced to other opossums and to wild living.

While successfully rehabilitating and releasing baby opossums requires a lot of work, it is worth it. Not only are possums cute and pleasant natured, but they also eat lots of ticks. Research led by scientists at the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies showed that opossums eat about 96% of ticks that try to feed on them. Their immune system is also fairly effective at fighting off the bacteria that causes Lyme so even the ticks that do survive on the opossum are less likely to be infected with borrelia burgdorferi (that bacteria that causes Lyme disease). With the warm winter we had, I'm already treating lots of Lyme and other tick spread diseases in horses and dogs. I will lose sleep taking care of this opossum, but her species may save me from having to treat my own horses or a client's pets for tick related diseases.

Animal rehabilitation is time consuming, but a lot of fun. If any readers are interested in wildlife rehabilitation, I urge you to check the websites of various rehabilitation groups. The Opossum Society is a good first place to browse. It is not difficult to take the required classes to become a licensed rehabber. Wildlife rehabilitation is a great way for families, retirees, or any animal lover to enjoy caring for animals.

Read other articles by Dr. Kim Brokaw