Rosemary’s story about Tinkerbell the Ringtail Possum
Winter is the time to check rescued animals for hypothermia. Even a very cold, floppy, unresponsive animal can show great improvement after a few hours of warming. We have seen a number of examples of this. Its important to be absolutely certain an animal has died before holding off any treatment for hypothermia.
Tinkerbell (re-named Zena because of her attitude) was a 500 gram ringtail possum with a severe case of hypothermia. When rescued she was cold and motionless laying on the ground. She appeared dead but I put her under my shirt and jumper for the short trip home. She was very cold, floppy and showed no response when I pinched her toe. I was about to get my stethoscope out to check her heart and be absolutely sure when I decided to try a blink reflex test first. There was an ever so slight eyelid movement when I touched her eye so she immediately got the treatment for hypothermia and hypoglycaemia.
To treat for hypoglycaemia I usually just wet my finger and coat it in glucose powder and then rub the glucose powder around the gums and into the mouth. To treat hypothermia I use warmed wheat bags, an electric blanket on a low setting or a warm bath. Its important to warm the hypothermic animal slowly from the inside out. If you warm the animal too quickly the peripheral vasodilation (peripheral blood vessels dilate and blood is diverted to the peripheral areas of the body and away from the vital organs (heart, brain, and kidneys) can cause a drop in blood pressure and death. The ideal treatment is to warm the animal from the inside with warm intravenous fluids when available. Warmed subcutaneous fluids are also useful in warming a cold dehydrated animal.
After four hours of warming Tinkerbell regained some tone and curled herself up. She was now able to swallow Nutrigel and glucose water dripped into her mouth from a syringe. After a few more hours of warming she was able to drink Lectade from a syringe. She also licked baby fruit juice gel and apple puree from a spoon. After 24 hours she was eating wattle flowers, roses and gum tips. Over the next few weeks she ate her way through all my autumn roses, gained weight and was released after several weeks of care. We renamed her Zena because she became a very feisty ringtail and not a Tinkerbell at all.
Steve’s Story about Slim the kangaroo joey
Slim (Steve’s Little Miracle) was a small kangaroo joey that had been caught by both legs in a wire fence, released by a member of the public but left on the ground in very cold conditions. His mother was nearby but Slim could not get up from the ground to get into the warmth of his mother’s pouch. All through the freezing night he lay on the ground with his mother standing by. When rescued the next day it appears as though he must have been attacked by a fence as he had puncture wounds to the head and ear. If not for his mother he would have succumbed to the fox attack and the freezing cold. When noticed the next day Slim as taken to the local vet by a member of the public. This is where we came into the story.
With puncture wounds from the fox attack, injuries to both legs from being caught in the wire fence and freezing cold from the hypothermia Slim was in a terrible state. He was unable to suck and his mouth was cold (a simple way to check for hypothermia). He was dehydrated. He was warmed slowly in an electric blanket and I gave him glucose and Nutrigel every two hours for the first 24 hours. As he warmed he was also able to drink small amounts of Lectade and glucose water. After b48 hours he was able to drink small amounts of milk. He was also treated with Vit E/ Selenium, Dexamethasone and Baytril. After one week Slim as doing very well but was knuckling on both toes. It was several weeks before he could hop again but he was happy being in a warm bag.
Its important that rescued cold joeys are carefully checked as they may still be alive despite showing all the signs of being dead.