Given the unprecedented number of wildlife that have been injured in Australia’s recent bushfires, many vets with minimal or no experience in wildlife injury management may have been presented with injured wildlife.
Drs Bob Doneley and Alex Mastakov of UQVets Wildlife and Exotics team have kindly offered us some basic principles of treatment of injured wildlife to share with you.
Wildlife are the unfortunate victims of bushfires within Australia. Veterinarians have a role in the management of these injured animals and can provide care through administration of anaesthesia and analgesia, wound cleaning and debridement, bandaging, dispensing medication and euthanasia. It is important for the veterinarian to remember that the aim of treating any injured wildlife is to allow them to be released back into their natural habitat and successfully breed. (The exception to this may be a rare and endangered species that is not able to survive if released into their natural habitat, but which may still be considered for breeding programs).
The aim of treating any injured wildlife is to allow them be released back into their natural habitat and successfully breed.
Accurate assessment and triage is required when dealing with burnt animals.
Triage is particularly important for wildlife injured in bushfires as it allows for appropriate allocation of resources towards animals that require rehabilitation, and for prompt euthanasia of suffering animals that are unlikely to survive even with intensive treatment.
The decision to rehabilitate or euthanize a burnt wild animal can be difficult.
Factors such as the depth, area, and location of the burn, and also how the injury will impact the animals’ ability to survive once it has been rehabilitated and released (i.e loss of multiple claws in tree dwelling animals) should be considered when making this decision. Burns to less than 15% of the body have a reasonable prognosis; burns to 15-50% of the body have a poor prognosis. Burns to over 50% of the body have a grave prognosis and require prompt euthanasia of the animal. The extent of the burn may not be fully apparent until 7 days after the initial injury due to initial tissue devitalisation and ongoing damage.
The extent of the burn may not be fully apparent until 7 days after the initial injury.
Prior to providing treatment for wildlife it is important to recognise that these animals are undomesticated and that any form of handling may result in significant stress to the animal. Thus, sedation and anaesthesia is often required to allow the animal to be safely examined and treated. Additionally, anaesthesia may be required for dressing changes and superficial wound debridement. General treatment typically involves correction of shock, provision of analgesia, fluid therapy, antimicrobial therapy and nutritional support. Surgical removal of eschars may be required in cases with full thickness burns.
Healing of the burn may take a prolonged period of time and is dependent on multiple factors including the size and depth of the burn, any complication events and clinical status of the animal. Thus, a network of experienced and committed wildlife carers that are familiar with the animals’ husbandry and care is important once the animal is ready to be managed as an outpatient.
If you require more help in management of injured wildlife the following resources may be useful: AVA Bushfire Resources.
Wiley has released JVECC Burn Injury, Burn Shock, and Smoke Inhalation review articles for Free Access for the next 6 months.
Dr Bob Doneley and Dr Alex Mastakov have generously agreed to answer email or phone queries to our community of veterinarians requiring more detailed advice re specific cases of injured wildlife. Their contact details are as follows:
Dr Bob Doneley BVSc FANZCVS (Avian Medicine) CMAVA
Associate Professor and Head of the Avian and Exotic Pet Service
Both Alex and Bob are based at the UQVets Wildlife and Exotics Department
UQ Veterinary Medical Centre
Building 8156, Main Drive
University of Qld, Gatton 4343
The team at VetPrac would like to take this opportunity to express our appreciation to all those involved with the challenging task of treating the huge numbers of injured wildlife. We’ve taken an initiative of donating $100 per participant at the Practical Ophthalmology Workshop at UQ Gatton on February 15-16, 2020 to the AVA Benevolent Fund.
Dr Alexandr Mastakov BVSc MVM MANZCVS (Avian Health)
Avian and Exotics Resident at the UQ Veterinary Medical Centre
Alex Mastakov graduated from James Cook University in 2013 and worked in veterinary practices in Nanango, Bundaberg and Newcastle before being accepted into the avian medicine and surgery residency and doctor of veterinary clinic science post graduate degree at The University of Queensland, Gatton in 2018.
He has completed an externship in avian medicine and surgery at the Abu Dhabi Falcon hospital and a Master of Veterinary Medicine Degree with distinction through Massey university. He attained membership in the Avian Chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Surgeons in 2018.
Alex has a keen interest in avian pain therapy, anaesthesia and surgery. His current clinical work consists of avian, reptile, small mammal and native Australian wildlife species.