Beating the Heat in the Wildlife Hospital

Beating the Heat in the Wildlife Hospital

When the temperatures rise, things really heat up around WildCare!

Our outdated facility doesn't have air conditioning (and our circuits can't handle the power load to run AC units), so our team makes heroic efforts to keep both the humans and the animals onsite in San Rafael cool.

One of our team members saw the heatwave predictions and proactively froze water bottles to create a cooling option for many of the mammals, like this young opossum, that we currently we have onsite at WildCare.

Heat is a real threat to wildlife in general, and an animal suffering from hyperthermia (overheating) is in real danger! Read below to learn more about the flood of heat-stricken we've admitted this week, and why caring for hyperthermic patients requires so much effort!

In the video below, you can see a delightful option our Raccoon Foster Care Specialist found to keep our in-care raccoon patients cool.

These juvenile raccoons grew up in foster care. They are nearly old enough to be released, but for the time being, our team must find ways to keep them both cool AND entertained! This "splash pad" toy manages to do both!

Right now in the Wildlife Hospital, we're not just dealing with extreme heat, we're also facing a squirrel-palooza!

Late August and early September often bring an influx of baby squirrels to WildCare. The tree squirrel species in our area, especially the non-native Eastern Gray and Eastern Fox Squirrels, have a second brood of babies at the end of the summer, and this year is a big one. We currently have over 50 baby squirrels in care, with more arriving every day. The extreme heat makes everything worse

When baby squirrels, like the ones in the photo above, get too hot, they will often climb out of their nest to try to cool off. These youngsters are uncoordinated and they easily topple to the ground. With air temperatures over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, the temperatures on the ground, especially on cement or blacktop, are staggeringly high, and a baby squirrel lying on the ground is literally baking in the heat.

One major concern for Wildlife Hospital staff is that animals that are admitted with heat-related issues need constant monitoring.

As with humans, our wildlife patients experiencing hyperthermia (overheating) need to be cooled down, but cooling them down too quickly risks complications and even death. When we admit an animal with heatstroke, our Medical Staff must turn all their attention to that particular patient.

Last Monday, when we had nest of four baby squirrels, a goldfinch and a fawn that all came in at the same time suffering from heatstroke, those patients needed the immediate and full attention of our Medical Staff.

Fortunately, our volunteers and interns really step up when our Medical Staff is tied to the Med Room monitoring heatstroke victims, and they make it possible for the normal feeding, cleaning and medicating of our other wildlife patients to happen in a timely manner. Huge thank you to our wonderful volunteers and interns!

NOTE: Because bringing an animal's body temperature back to normal requires such care, we ask people to bring heat-affected animals to WildCare (or your local wildlife care center) as soon as possible. Cooling incorrectly can be very dangerous for the injured animal. Always call WildCare's Living with Wildlife Hotline at 415-456-7283 if you find an injured animal.

Another challenge in the Wildlife Hospital is that the best treatments for hyperthermia aren't possible on the majority of our patients due to their small size.

IV fluids and other medications given intravenously are some of the best medical interventions for heatstroke, but we are only able to give subcutaneous fluids to patients like baby squirrels. The fluids eventually enter the bloodstream from subcutaneous administration, but it takes longer, and the animal's body must be healthy enough to absorb the hydration. IV treatment is much more direct and immediate, but, again, not a viable treatment with the majority of our wildlife patients.

Weather reports indicate that this blistering heatwave will finish by the end of this week, but with avian influenza, climate change, drought, and fire season, we know we have to be ready for the next emergency!

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