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Oklahoma State University
Center for Veterinary Health Sciences

Healthy Animals - Healthy People

Barred Owl is Back Home in the Wild

Monday, May 11 2015

Treating Wildlife at OSU

OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital recently treated a barred owl that was brought in by the Stillwater Animal Control.

“A member of the public reported seeing an owl next to a road and the Stillwater Animal Control transported the bird to the OSU Vet School,” explains Dr. Joao Brandao, assistant professor of zoological medicine. “While we will never know what happened, the lesions she had when she came in did appear like it could have been trauma caused by a car.”

Brandao says it is difficult to age this species.

“She is not a nestling,” he says. “They change their feathers and look the same throughout the rest of their life so the best we can say is that she is at least an older juvenile or an adult.”

The owl spent four and one-half weeks in the Avian, Exotics and Zoological Medicine ward at OSU’s Veterinary Medical Hospital.

“When she came in, she was bleeding from the nose and the mouth. We tried to stabilize her as fast as possible by trying to stop the bleeding and replacing the blood loss by giving her fluids. There were no visible wounds but during the physical exam, we detected some instability on the right side of her chest. We suspected a fracture of the bone around that area. It also appeared that on extension of her wing, there was some instability on the wrist area and we suspected there could be a fracture there as well.”

Brandao and his team stabilized the owl for a few days. They kept her in a warm environment giving her IV fluids through a catheter and force-feeding her with a critical care diet for carnivorous birds. Another important aspect is the pain management. She received multiple medications in order to control pain as they assumed she had multiple fractures and most likely was uncomfortable. Once she perked up, they knew it was safe to take x-rays.

“X-rays or radiographs showed two fractures—a fracture of the coracoid, which is a bone around the shoulder area at the beginning of the body of the chest that holds the shoulder in place and a fracture of a very small bone in the wrist.

“Neither fracture was a surgical candidate in our opinion. The coracoid fracture is very challenging to repair surgically. It is a very invasive procedure and there is a significant risk associated with surgery.  At the same time, there is a very high success of medical management of these cases.  So we confined her to a small cage so she won’t flap her wings.

“With the wrist, we placed a bandage on the wing to allow the bone to heal and the tissues to improve on their own. Weeks later we x-rayed her again to assess the process to see if healing is now undergoing.”

In addition to confining the owl, Brandao’s team started doing laser therapy.

“With laser therapy, the idea is that it will improve the healing process. It allows us to have a faster healing process and at the same time, it is reducing inflammation and reducing pain. This is a new approach that is starting to be used in nontraditional species like birds. Other departments in the hospital that use this on a more regular basis provided guidance and technical support.”

Since her latest x-rays show improvement, the owl is being moved to an outside flight cage.

“This will allow us to see how well she can fly. We have to see these animals as perfect athletes. They cannot be just doing ‘okayish.’ They need to be able to fly, hunt and survive in the wild. By placing them in a flight cage, we can allow they to start exercising and regain their body condition.”

The wildlife fund is supported by the OSU Foundation.

“Members of the public very kindly donate money to the wildlife service through the OSU Foundation,” adds Brandao. “This financial support allows us to treat these cases with the same standards as we would treat any client-owned animal. Furthermore, working with wildlife is an invaluable experience for veterinary students and provides them a unique learning opportunity. Nevertheless, it is a limited fund that needs to be replenished on a regular basis so that we can do more for the conservation of native Oklahoma wildlife species.”

To support the OSU wildlife service, please visit www.osugiving.com or contact Heather Clay, Sr. Director of Development at (405) 385-5607.

OSU Veterinary Medical Hospital is happy to report that one month later the owl was released back into the wild.


Contact: Derinda Blakeney, APR | OSU Center for Veterinary Health Sciences | 405-744-6740 | derinda@okstate.edu