Caring for orphaned Joeys

On arrival the baby should be quickly but carefully and quietly examined for injuries and its condition assessed, eg dislocations, broken bones, dehydration, hyperthermia or hypothermia. Immediately this has been done and everything found to be OK, place the baby in a pre-warmed pouch [unless hyperthermic] and weigh -you will have already weighed the pouch while awaiting the baby’s arrival – place in its warmed bed. Do not attempt to feed the baby if it is chilled. Body temperature must be raised to about normal first. Temp. will be OK when the baby feels ‘toasty’ warm when placed against your lips, all extremities should feel warm. A baby that is chilled through or hypothermic may take several hours to warm, don’t try to rush the warming process by placing in an overheated bed. If the baby is dehydrated and cold then giving fluids under the skin is a good idea, this will hydrate the baby and help warm it. Always warm the fluids to body temp. before injecting and never attempt to sub.cut. fluids yourself unless you are experienced. Get the baby to your vet asap.

If the orphaning event occurred only an hour or two before arrival it is not necessary to attempt to offer fluids immediately. If the baby is a pink, wait another hour or so before attempting to feed. Velvets can wait 3 or 4 hours and well furred can be left for 5 or 6 hours, this may seem a long time but it allows the baby time to settle into its new environment and also makes it more eager to drink when fluids are offered. Do not disturb baby during this time.

Sometimes baby will arrive very dirty and/or bloody, cleanliness is not the first priority just now, quiet, warmth and fluids are the primary considerations, however gently smoothing over some warmed oil [pure apricot, avocado or even baby oil] whilst the baby is in the pouch will loosen and help warm the pinkie or velvet covered body, the remainder of the dirt will rub off in the course of the day. Keep a fresh pouch on your heat source always and after feeding the baby change to the clean warm bed. Until established it is a good idea to keep the baby in the pouch at feeding time. Keeping the eyes covered can also reduce stress.

It is vitally important that you do not handle the baby unless it is essential, this means at feeding times only. Eastern grey joeys in particular stress very easily. Don’t misinterpret the signals baby is sending to you, eg relaxing in your arms or ‘snuggling’ into your body can, in fact, be signs that the joey is so frightened that it is surrendering to its captor, not that it is relaxed and happy in its new situation. Don’t take the chance, allow the baby to adjust to its new situation quietly and with minimal handling. It is a fact that stress is one of the major killers of eastern grey kangaroos.

The correct amount of formula needs to be given to prevent problems such as dehydration or diarrhoea and maintain the baby in a healthy condition. About 10% of body weight in fluid is required over 24 hrs, eg a 750 g baby will need 75 ml. Some babies will take up to 15% [112 ml], be wary though, after a few days there may be problems as baby’s gut becomes overloaded and refusal to suckle may occur. Diarrhoea is also likely to develop. I have found 10% to be a satisfactory amount at least until the baby has adjusted to its new lifestyle. Always heat formula to body temperature, approx. 36 degrees.

On arrival if baby is dehydrated you may offer lectade [or similar] if you wish, this is often taken eagerly and more than the 10% should be given. My preference for dehydrated babies is to sub.cut. fluids and begin formula straight away, by doing this the baby will begin to gain strength immediately, blood sugar levels will increase to a normal level giving more strength and energy. Sub.cut. fluids are given in conjunction with the 4hrly formula routine until full rehydration has occurred. Full strength, or almost full strength, formula is given from the beginning, the old rule of 24 hrs lectade, 24 hrs quarter strength, 24 hrs half strength, etc, etc is a definite no no, too much weight and condition are lost in this way and it is surely the cause of many deaths. Little, if any, weight is lost giving full strength formula from the beginning. A 2.5 kg baby will increase its weight by about 200 gms in its first week. Very occasionally a baby will react to the artificial formula and dirty a few beds. Do not mistake a few dirty beds or loose faeces for diarrhoea, diarrhoea is continual uncontrolled bowel movements.

All babies are slightly different and react a little differently to the artificial food and surroundings. If you experience problems with diarrhoea don’t begin to chop and change formulas instantly, formula, if mixed correctly and hygienically is rarely, if ever, the cause of any problems. Make certain the problem isn’t from another cause, ie baby too hot or too cold, too much noise, too much handling, irregular feeds, too much formula. Methodically work out a regular routine and stick to it. It’s probably a good idea to contact a shelter operator with more experience and talk things over, be prepared to accept that you may inadvertently be the cause.

Toileting at feed times is essential to prevent possible bladder or bowel infections. Exposing the ‘other’ end only, dab the urogenital sinus gently with a cotton ball or damp ‘chux’ wipe [I apply a little moisturizing cream – Roskens skin repair or unperfumed sorbolene with glycerine with no additives]. Don’t stimulate for too long as baby will become stressed and there is also the possibility of causing a prolapse [more in wallabies]. Bowels will eventually empty and 2 days of no action is not unusual until a routine is established, however, if you suspect pain in the gut area seek help. The bladder should work almost immediately, if you are not getting anything from the bladder after the first few feeds, then there may be a problem. When bladder finally empties collect a sample and check if it is clear and not cloudy or very dark, if in doubt have it checked by your vet. Stress can easily cause bladder infections.

The skin of pinks dries out in the artificial atmosphere and needs to be kept moist particularly the tail. I have tried many products but always come back to Roskens Skin Repair or any brand of Sorbolene and Glycerine. Humilac available from Vets is also used. Warm before use.

It is vitally important that feeds be given regularly and not erratically, 6 equal feeds per day [4hrly] is best. If very small then 3hrly may be necessary for a short while, I’ve found more than this isn’t required and can cause more problems than you may be trying to solve as constant handling and attempting to feed can cause unnecessary stress and possibly death. If you are unable to keep up this regular routine then it is best if the baby is passed on to someone who can.

Don’t be in a rush to reduce the number of feeds per day, small quantities 4hrly are by far better than large volumes spaced too far apart. If baby overfeeds then it won’t be hungry at the next feed time and will refuse, overfeeding may also cause pain and refusal to feed for a good many hours by which time baby will be stressed and so will you.

Kangaroos are quite old before they begin to eat solids, some around 9months, don’t worry if your baby seems too big to be on formula only, if a good quality formula is offered in the correct quantities your baby will be healthy and begin to eat when its time is right, always have a bowl of dirt handy, a little fibrous bark is good as is grass with roots and dirt attached, rolled oats and wallaby/kangaroo pellets can be left where baby can reach them. Never offer bread and if you offer any fruits keep them to a minimum.

Be suspicious of a young baby that begins chewing anything and everything. Is the formula lacking? Some babies will suck their pouch or various body parts, as long as they can’t harm themselves or ingest pouch fibres it’s not a huge problem but make sure baby isn’t hungry. Try to encourage baby to suckle on a teat without a hole, this will prevent sucking body parts or pouches. A baby not given a good formula will not grow properly and will end up with a multitude of structural problems, eg poor bone density, little muscle tone, etc. Those ‘cutesy’ frail looking thin boned animals rarely survive to adulthood. When baby begins to eat solids do NOT take this as a sign that milk can be discontinued, a quantity of milk is still required for many more months. Eastern grey kangaroos are not weaned in the wild until they are somewhere around 18months.

There are a number of milk substitutes available, none mimic mums milk very well. Macropods in their early development cannot digest lactose sufficiently rapidly when fed a bolus of cows milk or other high lactose formula. Therefore a low lactose formula must be given. It is likely that joeys could be fed cows milk if we could invent a method where the joeys were able to sip very small quantities of of milk very often as they normally would in mum’s pouch, rather than our 3 or 4 hourly regimes. It is the introduction of large amounts of lactose into their gut at the one time that causes problems not the lactose itself. Cows milk has always been suspected as being involved with the development of cataracts in joeys. Poor nutrition and overheating are known causes of cataracts, therefore good nutrition and a joey kept nicely warmed, should mean a healthy joey.

If you choose Wombaroo or Biolac then follow directions on the packet, remembering that from quite early on, if using Wombaroo, extra fluid has to be given to the baby either added to or between milk feeds. Di-vetelact and Formula One can be used but, if used as per pack directions, will not raise strong, healthy joeys. If using either of these products follow the formula below. With this formula animals grow at about the same rate as those raised in the wild, they will have an all-over healthy look, not frail and fragile, fur will be smooth not unkempt, bones and muscle will be well developed and strong. Weight by 12months should be about 7-8kg.

Cleanliness is essential, all equipment should be sterilized. Glass bottles sterilized in sterilizing solution are best, flush thoroughly with boiling water just prior to filling with formula, for tiny babies a salt solution may be preferred. Teats should be washed in warm soapy water and kept dry in the fridge, they are sterilized before each use by immersing in boiling water for several minutes. Regularly they should be scoured with salt to make sure there is no milk residue build-up.

The formula is as follows:

To 350ml warm boiled water, add 7 scoops [supplied] Di-vetelact, one egg yolk [approx. 16gms] and 3-4tspns full cream natural yogurt – Jalna, red lid is a good one. Stir with a fork. Always keep refrigerated, use within 24hrs.

Mix all together and always keep refrigerated. Do not reheat and do not keep more than 24 hrs. Formula 1 can be used but it MUST be weighed, mix as per instructions on packet and add yogurt and egg yolk as per the Di-vetelact. As the protein content of mums milk gradually increases as baby grows to pouch emergence, I usually begin with less egg yolk for tiny babies and gradually increase to the full amount as baby grows. For small babies I also add a drop of pure cold pressed wheatgerm oil to 1 or 2 bottles each day, this supplies vitamin E and helps the bowels. For the immune system a small amount of vitamin C in one bottle each day is a good idea as is acidophilus powder for the first few days after arrival. If using Formula One, weigh out 65 gms of powder and make up as for Di-vetelact. Do not use the scoop method with this product.

Calculations for raising a kangaroo from approximately 600 gms to weaned and near release is 350-360 hrs of time and, if using the above formula, several hundred dollars.

It is extremely important that you attend to your animals mental learning as well as his physical condition if you don’t want all that time and money to be wasted. Do not raise your animal to believe that humans are a part of his natural environment and do not let him eat or sleep with dogs, no matter how cute it may look you are quite possibly sentencing him to a cruel and painful death as on release he will have no fear of them



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