SB Wildlife Care Network’s Patient of the Week: Virginia Opossum
Source: Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network
Patient #4171 of 2020
Virginia opossums were the most common patient at Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network in 2020 but this opossum’s story is very different from the rest. A Santa Barbara citizen found this adult opossum wedged between his house and the fence, unable to free itself. He called the SBWCN helpline for help. When Jay, a volunteer rescuer with SBWCN, arrived, he and the caller were able to pull out the nails holding the fence down, allowing the opossum to scramble into the awaiting crate.
When the opossum arrived at the Wildlife Care Center, the staff was quick to examine it. They found that it had some abrasions on its back and dirt in its mouth from being stuck in the fence. However, what they found on the x-rays was more concerning. The opossum had dislocated its second to last tail vertebrate. Opossums have prehensile tails, meaning that they use their tails to grasp things like tree branches. They need their tails to function for their survival.
Within days, Dr. Avery Berkowitz and the veterinary team performed surgery on the opossum to amputate the dislocated vertebrae. Dr. Berkowitz saw that this surgery was necessary to give the opossum a chance at a second wild life. After surgery, patient #4171 recovered at the Wildlife Care Center. Very soon after surgery, the opossum began using its tail in a prehensile fashion again! This was an incredible sign of recovery, but, because it started so recently after surgery, the opossum reopened the incision on its tail. Staff tirelessly reapplied medication and bandages to the opossum’s tail each time the incision and subsequent scab reopened so it could continue healing. The wound looked better every single time the bandage was changed.
During one of this opossum’s routine bandage and weight checks, staff noticed that it had fractured its upper left canine. A second surgery for the opossum was planned to extract the tooth. Dr. Berkowitz collaborated with a technician from VCA Noah’s Ark to make this surgery a success. After extraction, the opossum barely missed the tooth and continued to eat voraciously.
After a successful, full recovery, the opossum was able to return to the wild on February 10th. Watch this incredible (and speedy) release.
There are still 60 patients in care at the Wildlife Care Center. You can help provide food, medications, and quality care for these patients by giving to the Santa Barbara Wildlife Care Network: www.sbwcn.org/donate.