A Hypothermic Red Squirrel

Wednesdays are my office days at Wildwoods so I have less contact with animals than on other shifts, but there is no avoiding it. Once you set foot on WW property, if you are staff you will end up caring for animals. Last night a red squirrel came in while the other staff were busy so I admitted him. He had been caught by a cat, had spinal trauma and a laceration on his neck.

I only had brief contact with the finder, but he gave me the impression that he had thought he could nurse the squirrel back to health and only brought it in once a WW staffer told him the squirrel would need antibiotics. He had the squirrel for at least 24 hours, had not kept the squirrel by any heat source, and didn’t bring it in until it was obviously on death’s door. Sometimes we assume something is common sense, but it’s apparently not.

So, a learning opportunity for everyone! Fun facts:

1. Animals cannot process food, water and meds properly when the body is cold so the first thing we do on admit is make sure the patient is warm. If you are transporting a wild animal to a rehabber make sure there is a heat source; a heating pad under the box/carrier, hot water bottle inside, or even ziplock bags filled with warm water. (sometimes, though, if there is blunt force trauma we might suggest not adding a heat source so it doesn’t increase swelling.)
2. Cat bites are deadly (even for humans) and require immediate attention. Not only is there a crazy number of bad bacteria in a cat’s saliva, but its teeth act as hypodermic needles, giving passage to the saliva, then allowing the skin to close over the top and provide a nice, safe environment for that bacteria to incubate. If you have a cat-caught animal take them to a rehabber immediately. Do not delay!
3. Keeping wild animals for any reason other than transporting to a licensed wildlife rehabber is illegal, and also really bad for the animal’s health & well-being.

Big Red was hypothermic on admit so I wrapped him in a blanket and left him alone on a heating pad for probably an hour to get his temp back up to normal. Once he was warm again he started to be more active, a good sign. We gave him antibiotics, pain meds and subq fluids. He has spinal trauma and doesn’t use his back legs, but he has pain response so we’re hopeful it’s not seriously injured. Standard procedure is to observe for three days and if there is improvement, continue treatment. If not, euthanize. That is, of course, if he survives the cat bite. Another good reason to keep cats indoors.


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