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Spotted skunk showing signs of recovery at CROW

By Staff | Jul 28, 2017

Due to the rarity of the species, the Clinic for the Rehabilitation of Wildlife pulled out all of their stops to help a very young spotted skunk that had an infected open wound on the top of her head, as well as showing signs of severe dehydration and emaciation.

“It looked almost dead,” CROW Hospital Director Dr. Heather Barron said of when she first arrived from Lehigh Acres. “It wasn’t moving. It’s eyes were closed. It had a severe, severe wound.”

The wound, which was completely open, was expected to be at least a few days old.

“There was a puncture wound through its skull, so its brain was exposed,” Barron said. “It was already severely infected.”

The spotted skunk was also more than 10 percent dehydrated, mimicking a raisin with no fluids left in its body. She was non-responsive to any kind of stimuli. It was also covered in fleas and ticks, which were treated.

The blood work showed the spotted skunk was very anemic and had an infection. Blood work continues to be taken to continue to monitor it to make sure the values that were out of whack are going back down to normal reference range.

She said the spotted skunk is starting to show that its body is starting to fight the infection.

“Its white blood cell count, in some ways, its worse, but sometimes it’s hard to tell because when they are that infected and things are that bad initially it kind of takes a while for things to correct themselves,” Barron said. “For a while they can look worse, but really what it means is the body’s immune system is actually strong enough to respond to all of that infection. Initially it was not having any response at all.”

Its blood vessels were so collapsed, showing no signs of any blood pressure because of the dehydration, an intravenous catheter could not be used.

“It had no blood pressure, so you couldn’t see, or feel any veins at all,” Barron said.

The staff resorted to using a intraosseous catheter into its thigh bone, which provided them the opportunity to administer antibiotics, pain medications and fluid therapy.

The following day, the spotted skunk was a little more alert, allowing CROW staff to anesthetize it and clean the wound a little, as well as offering supportive care, milk and medication.

By the third day, the skunk showed further improvements and was anesthetized again, so staff could do a delayed primary enclosure even thought the wound was heavily infected.

“Normally with a wound that infected you normally wouldn’t close it, but the fact that the brain was exposed made us feel like that might be the best way to go. We did try to close it, two days later it dehisced, which means the sutured just fell apart because there was so much infection there,” Barron said.

The spotted skunk now has a special bandage on her head, a special cap that helps protect the brain and allow the wound to heal.

The feisty spotted skunk is brighter, eating on her own, drinking and walking around.

“We are not out of the woods yet because there is so much infection in that wound. That wound communicates with the brain, we have a long way to go,” Barron said.

CROW had to be careful with the amount of food the young 8-10 week old spotted skunk received because of what is refered to as concentration camp victims.

“I use that terminology because that is the first time they ever recognized something called the re-feeding syndrome,” Barron said. “It’s when they freed people from the concentration camps back in World War II. They were all so thin. Everyone was like feed them, offer them food. They offered them lots of food and the people ate and they did okay for the first week to 10 days and then they died. It was because their body couldn’t handle food again so quickly. When you have a starvation victim, your first impulse is to feed them as much as you can. But, really what you need to do is very slowly start to ramp up their calories really gradually.”

She said they were still within that first week danger zone, which is why they are not complacent with the animal and they continue to rerun its blood work, taking two drops of blood, and watching for trends very carefully.

Since the patient is a skunk, staff is taking extra precaution because it could carry rabies.

“You have to look and see if they develop signs consistent with rabies,” Barron said, which can be hard to tell with the spotted skunk because if she starts developing neurological signs it may be caused by its brain being infected. “So, one thing we are watching very carefully is what her neurologic signs and if she is taking turns for the worse in that regard it will be euthanized because we cannot take the risk. It will be very hard to know because there is no way to test for rabies except to turn the brain in and check for rabies.”

Everyone who works at CROW is vaccinated against rabies and they are adamant at using personal protection equipment, such as exam gloves, or a second layer of gloves for bite protection.

In terms of the skunk spraying while under care, Barron said its scent glands are not fully developed until around 16 to 20 weeks old. The staff will tuck the spotted skunks tail underneath while picking it up, which usually prevents the spraying.

In order to be released the young spotted skunk’s wound has to be fully healed with a normal body condition score. Barron said they will probably have to keep her for at least a month to make sure she is not showing signs of rabies.

In the past, Barron said they have had excellent success with spotted and stripped skunks at CROW.

“It’s very rare that we don’t have one recover and returned to the wild,” she said.

On average, CROW takes care of at least one spotted skunk a year.

Those who would like to stay up-to-date with how this patient is doing, visit www.crowclinic.org.