Opossum family admitted after interaction with dog

April 30, 2024

A mother opossum and a raccoon were among the seventy-three animals admitted to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida this past week. Other admissions include a white-eyed vireo, a boat-tailed grackle, an ovenbird, a northern mockingbird, a raccoon and a Florida softshell turtle.

The mother opossum and three babies were admitted after an interaction with a dog. The dog’s owner let the dog out not realizing there was a mother opossum in the yard. The injuries to the opossum caused by the dog attack were significant.

The opossum was dull, but responsive to handling during her physical exam. She had increased respiratory effort, suffered multiple puncture wounds along her spine and neck, and bruising was evident over her lower back and pelvis. Two of the babies were dead on arrival and the third appeared unharmed. Due to the positioning of two of the babies on their mother, it was obvious they sustained the force of the attack thereby protecting their mother from more significant injury.

Wildlife Hospital Staff examine a mother opossum’s wounds while her two babies cling to her fur. The mother and babies were attacked by a dog, only these two babies survived.

Our vet administered pain medications as well as a mild sedative. Once stabilized, staff cleaned the opossum’s wounds, administered electrolytes and antibiotics, and closely monitored the opossum throughout the afternoon and evening.

The following morning, staff continued the established treatment plan as it was having the desired effect; the opossum and her one baby were resting comfortably. The opossum had not shown an interest in eating, but she was producing milk and her baby was doing well.

Around noon, the opossum’s rescuer arrived at the hospital again after finding another live baby and a deceased baby in the yard. The surviving baby was cold to the touch, vocal, and showed a mild increased respiratory effort.

Staff placed the baby with her mom and she went straight to her mother’s nipple and began nursing. By the evening treatment, the mother opossum had finally eaten the diet staff offered.

Wildlife and pet interactions typically have devastating consequences for the wild animal. Never underestimate the prey drive dogs can possess. It doesn’t mean they are bad dogs as, often, certain breeds have a strong hunting instinct. I have a dog that has an insanely high prey drive that requires me to keep track of his actions when out in the yard. Knowing my dog is a hunter requires me to be vigilant to ensure he doesn’t have the opportunity to harm wildlife. Please, keep an eye on your pets if they are allowed outdoors. It will keep your pets safe and save the lives of unsuspecting wildlife as well.

Good Samaritans Creatively Contain Injured Raccoon

Staff from multiple businesses on J and C Boulevard worked together after contacting the von Arx Wildlife Hospital about an injured raccoon. The raccoon was seen dragging himself through a parking lot into some shrubs. The concerned Good Samaritans wanted to know how they could help the raccoon. Hospital staff inquired about containing the animal, which they were able to do but they did not have a way to transport the raccoon since they had contained it in a very large garbage can.

Good Samaritans showed ingenuity and successfully contained an injured raccoon in a garbage bin to keep it safe and secure until von Arx Hospital staff arrived to help with transport.

Staff from the wildlife hospital arrived on the scene and were truly impressed with what the rescuers had accomplished. The garbage bin was secured to a tree with a rachet tie-down and the opening to the bin was covered with a flattened piece of cardboard held in place by a large rock. Hospital staff were able to carefully tip the garbage bin so the raccoon slid from the bin into a large rescue box for easy transport to the von Arx Wildlife Hospital.

The raccoon was dazed, but responsive when admitted. Hospital staff administered a sedative in order to perform radiographs and a full physical exam. The raccoon had multiple lacerations on its body and right hind leg and the radiograph showed a fracture to the lower spine resulting in paralysis. The only option was humane euthanasia. While not the outcome anyone hoped for, the entire team involved with containing the raccoon should be incredibly proud. Their actions minimized the pain and suffering the raccoon endured.

Help from the Public

The raccoon rescuers weren’t the only people who went above and beyond to help wildlife in need last week. A woman found a deceased mother opossum with live joeys in her pouch but was unable to transport them. Hospital staff could not find any volunteer Critter Couriers available to help either. The woman posted the need for help on a Facebook post. Within minutes, a woman called the hospital offering to transport the opossum to our facility. So many caring people truly bolster hospital staff when we are busy trying to help animals in need.

I say it often but it bears repeating – we couldn’t do all we do for injured, sick and orphaned wildlife without help from the public.

Joanna Fitzgerald, Director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital

Please, if you find an animal in need of assistance, take action. Sometimes the simplest step can mitigate the pain and suffering an animal endures.

If you are unsure of how to help, call the von Arx Wildlife Hospital and staff will provide information on how to help. Wild animals face incredible dangers in a world altered by humans; doing something positive like rescuing an animal that is suffering or volunteering are great ways to give back and maybe, just slightly, these actions balance some of the damage inflicted on native wildlife.

Recent Releases

A Florida softshell turtle, five eastern cottontails, an osprey, a sanderling and two grey squirrels were released this past week. 

Opportunities to Help

Please visit our website to learn about opportunities to get involved. The von Arx Wildlife Hospital needs your help; please consider becoming a volunteer. If you are unable to give of your time as a volunteer, become a member or donate. Your support will help the Conservancy continue to protect Southwest Florida’s water, land, wildlife and future.

Joanna Fitzgerald is director of the von Arx Wildlife Hospital at the Conservancy of Southwest Florida, 1495 Smith Preserve Way, Naples, Florida 34102. Call 239-262-2273 or see conservancy.org.