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Eastern screech owl overcoming cornea ulcers after being found in cement

By Staff | Jun 29, 2017

A screech owl, which was found in cement in Lehigh Acres, is slowly making progress at CROW.

After being admitted to the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife hospital a week ago, an adult eastern screech owl is undergoing aggressive treatment to overcome complicated cornea ulcers.

CROW Veterinary Intern Spencer Kehoe said the adult male eastern screech owl arrived at the hospital June 21 after being found in cement in Lehigh Acres.

Individuals who poured cement into a flagpole post hole the day before, returned to the hole the next morning to find a screech owl stuck in the cement. It was taken to Specialized Veterinary Services, one of CROW’s drop off locations.

“There they bathed him and got most of the cement off before it hardened, which was a huge help,” Kehoe said of the cement that was still wet.

When the screech owl arrived at CROW it still had some cement in his plumage and feathers, as well as in his mouth. Kehoe said they were worried about the screech owl ingesting the cement, or inhaling cement dust, which could have affected his ability to consume and process food, causing obstruction.

A screech owl, which was found in cement in Lehigh Acres, is slowly making progress at CROW.

“When you inhale the dust from cement it can go into the air sacs and lungs and (when it) meets moisture, or water it becomes cement in the lungs and air sacs,” Kehoe said. “But, we took X-rays and didn’t see any of that. There was no cement in the GI tract that we could see. There was no visible mineral density on the X-rays that we could see on the lungs or air sacs.”

The screech owl’s main problem was cornea ulcers in both eyes. The ulcers are mainly caused from the lime found in cement. He said when it meets water it becomes very basic, or alkaline, causing an alkali chemical burn.

“Which is worse than an acid burn,” Kehoe said. “It can do a lot of damage and a lot of death to the tissues in the eye.”

Normal cornea ulcers will heal after three to seven days, but the screech owl had been at CROW for a week and the ulcers had not improved. He said the screech owl now has complicated cornea ulcers.

“They are not a simple one where the surface is damaged and it regrows and heals. He now has one where it cannot heal appropriately,” Kehoe said.

An adult screech owl is fighting cornea ulcers after being found in cement.

His left eye is healing well and responding to treatment better than the right eye. Kehoe said they are becoming more aggressive with their treatment and the screech owl is starting to head towards surgical treatment.

Right now the treatment includes taking a dry sterile cotton tip applicator and rubbing them very hard against the screech owls cornea surface.

“When you do that a healthy cornea shouldn’t come off. Only damaged, or unhealthy cornea should lift up, so you can be pretty aggressive with that Q-tip on the surface of the eye after you numb it,” Kehoe said. “We remove that unhealthy tissue all the way back to the edges of the lesion, so that new healthy tissue can grow back in.”

The process has already been done once, and he said would be done again in the next couple of days.

If that process does not work, Kehoe said they will have to do a grid keratotomy, which takes a needle, or another sharp instrument, to make score marks in a grid pattern across the cornea.

“Their eye is numb and it allows blood vessels from the tissues around the eye, the white part of the eye, to grow into the cornea through the healthy cornea to the unhealthy cornea. (This) allows nutrients and things that fight inflammation and infection, to promote growth to that area that is damaged,” he said.

If that does not work, micro surgery would be done to take a flap of tissue from around the eye. That piece is gently dissected and taken off, rotated and laid down on the damaged part of the cornea, so it can heal over a long period of time.

“These chemical burns from cement in people can go very poorly and can lead to permeant vision loss. He is a more mild, to moderate case,” Kehoe said.

The screech owl has a great appetite and is keeping its body weight. Kehoe said he can see and tries to bite, which is a sign of a healthy screech owl.

“We are just trying to manage his ulcers. That is the main reason why he is still here,” he said. “In more severe cases it can take several months for these to heal, instead of the three to seven days. We are already at one week. We are hoping another week or two and he will be good. It just depends on the course of the treatment and how well the eye does.”

The eastern screech owl is one of the smallest species this area has and can be found in colors of gray, brown and red. These owls fly low at night hunting for small prey.