Close to midnight on Friday 5th October, 2012, the phone rang. “We’ve just picked up a joey, mum was dead on the road.” The usual questions including how big is the joey, does it have fur, is it warm/cold, do you think mum has been dead long? The answers were, the joey is getting fur, it is warm and mum is still warm.
The caller and her very angry mother had brought in a 3.9kg male joey a little after 5pm two months earlier, mum had been shot but not killed. The joey had been found about 4.30pm in the afternoon the day after the previous nights shooting spree along with the bodies of several other dead animals, some of which also had pouch joeys. It appeared from the markings around the bodies, most had not died for some time, some had died well away from the killing zone. All but one of the pouch joeys had already died. This joey was tiny, icy cold and moribund and died shortly after arrival. Time of the shootings was known as the caller had gone to a nearby house to check if anyone had any information.
The finder and her mother had spent considerable time with us talking about wildlife and its required care on their first visit so, after some discussion, it was decided the caller could cope with this new joey until the following morning when she had to be in Maryborough just after 6.30am for work. Detailed instructions were given but only about one and a half hours had passed before the phone rang again to say the joey wouldn’t settle, it was constantly calling and never remained still. All processes discussed had been followed and I explained what was happening was often normal with new joeys but the caller asked if she could bring it out straight away instead of waiting till early morning, she refused Garry’s offer of meeting part way saying she was more than happy to drive it the full distance. By the time she arrived about an hour later everything was prepared including a variety of pouches warming in the heated hanging pouch, all had been weighed so it would be a simple matter to place the joey in the most appropriate pouch and set it on the scales without having to waste time. The joey weighed 638gm and a magnifier must have been used to find the fur which could not be felt but the normal shiny pink skin of ‘pinkies’ was just turning to the much paler, non shiny, hue which means fur isn’t too far away. The joey was placed into the warmed pouch and very quickly settled and slept. Of course by the time the finder left it wasn’t too many hours to normal get up time so I decided not to go back to bed. And, it was the day of the October WRIN meeting and I’d be missing out again.
Things went really well for 2 or 3 weeks then one morning I noticed the joey had a tiny dot of muck in the corner of her left eye. Looked like the start of conjunctivitis so after some consideration decided to begin treatment for this condition. I called my vet as soon as I knew the clinic would be open but the answering machine prompted my memory that it was a holiday. Later I contacted the vet at home and explained the situation where the conjunctivitis was confirmed as the probable problem an to continue with the medication being used.
Two days later there was no improvement, now both eyes were looking sore and the left eye looked swollen so a visit to the clinic was made. Several tests were done and nothing unusual found, it was decided to change the medication to a combination of 2 other antibiotics, one a stronger medication, to be used alternately 4 times a day and also to put the joey onto oral antibiotics as an added precaution. The eyes appeared marginally dry. The eye swelling was soft tissue around the eye and not the eye ball protruding which may have indicated a problem behind the eye. Another couple of days and the problem was still not improving. By this time the joeys eyes were partly closed and she was clearly distressed, no doubt more by the regularity and timing of the medication rather than pain as she was also being given pain relief. After considerable thought I made the decision to alter the medication prior to contacting the clinic as, again, it was after hours. Overnight the eyes appeared to improve a little, they seemed to be more shiny and more open. Again I spoke to the vet and reminded him of a joey from many years earlier who had arrived with eye problems, after several medications had been tried she had eventually been put onto a much stronger antibiotic as a last resort when nothing else worked. I remember my vet saying at the time it is very expensive and a final resort. It had worked so I requested the same medication again. My vet suggested one more treatment before beginning the treatment I requested as he had discussed the case with a colleague. After 2-3 days of the new medication I gave up and once more began using the medication I had used on her twice before after no difference had been seen using the other antibiotics.
The following morning the eyes appeared to be a little wider open. I called the clinic and arranged for a vet to come to see the joey and bring the medication I had requested which had been ordered and arrived the previous evening. On arrival, the eyes were again tested with nothing specific found although they were not producing the normal amount of tears, surprisingly the swollen eye was working better than the normal sized right eye. There was still no sign of damage to the eyeballs. The new medication was started straight away, as it was only a twice daily medication I would be able to alter the entire medication/feeding regime which hopefully would ease the joeys stress each feed time – she would eagerly take her bottle, sit well for stimulating but then begin to throw her hands out trying to keep me from going near her face. The new medication would be needed for a period of 2 – 3 weeks, it may cause irritation and if so would have to stop immediately and probably call it quits on this beautiful little animal although we could once again go back to the medications already tried for a final time, my criteria would be had I caused enough stress already.
At the time of writing this [5th Dec 2012] we are into her last chance of a successful outcome. She now weighs in at 1234gm, a disappointing gain as it is a little less than what would be the norm with a strong healthy joey, no doubt due to some stress occurring because of having to have the eyes treated so often. The use of pain relief took away the physical discomfort and organising the feeding and treatments in particular ways avoided much of the psychological worries, at least that was my hope. Surprisingly during her first 3 days in care she had lost 53gms, this was rapidly regained and by the end of her 7th day had regained those lost grams and added 35gm more for a total gain of 88gm over 7 days. Fingers are firmly crossed that at her next eye test we will see success.
December 28th. The best news is the treatment worked. After several days of the new antibiotic the vet checked and suggested I stop using it as her eyes were mostly closed and she seemed distressed when she thought her face was to be touched. I decided not to follow this advice, I had dealt with this joeys problem for a long time and considered her demeanour was more likely to be psychological than physical and a few more days were well worth trying.
January She now has beautiful wide open shiny eyes and loves nothing more than exploring around the lounge and kitchen and, despite being the youngest, is most often the last back to bed after a feed. It is thought her eye problems possibly began with a bacterial infection behind the eyes perhaps the first sign of this was the 53gm weight loss on her first days after arrival. It may have been caused by dust, dirt, grit, etc getting under the eye lids while still in her dead mums pouch. On 14th January she weighed in at 1854gm, an appropriate weight for her age estimated at around 7.5 months. She is a glorious animal. But, aren’t they all!
UNLESS YOU ARE TOTALLY FAMILIAR WITH EYE PROBLEMS AND TREATMENTS IT IS VITAL THAT NOTHING OTHER THAN SALINE OR STERILE WATER IS PUT INTO THE EYES OF ANY SPECIES WITHOUT THE ADVICE OF A VET OR TRAINED PERSON. IF YOU USE THE WRONG TREATMENT YOU MAY CAUSE PERMANENT DAMAGE WHICH WILL MEAN DEATH FOR SOMETHING THAT MAY OTHERWISE HAVE BEEN SIMPLY AND SUCCESSFULLY TREATED. THE SAME APPLIES TO ANY MEDICATIONS OFFERED WHEN THE PROBLEM HAS NOT BEEN DIAGNOSED.