Possum Clinic

Within a three-day period in October 2009 there was a series of possum crises: the first possum showed up with a badly damaged toe and inflamed foot, the second possum (a young male) was killed by a car, and the third possum arrived with a staph infection on his face.

Several hours after the arrival of the third possum, GK had to leave on a work trip for a couple of weeks. I was on my own to try to treat the two possums who remained alive. Both possums at that time were irregular visitors, and for antibiotics to be effective it is best that they be administered daily. The female with the dead toe, Kiki, had a baby at that time. The baby was no longer nursing, but when she was not off on her own she was following her mother around, and trying to take her food from her, as young possums generally do. [Note: possum 'hands' are technically front feet.]

A possum can develop a staph infection when its immune system is not functioning at optimal levels due to stress. Usually this stress is related to having to fight for territory. A relatively minor cut or scratch does not heal, but becomes increasingly ulcerated, the possum loses fur, the skin is badly affected, the infection spreads and the possum can't recover (a staph infection can signal the beginning of the end).

From sunset to sunrise, I would take books, notepaper, (some of the books I read and notes that appear in this new extension to xesce.net were what occupied me during those nights) to the livingroom and wait for Kiki and Švejk. The livingroom opens on to the balcony which the possums find convenient to visit. When they arrived, there was often a disorganized rushing around as I tried to measure antibiotics into a syringe, then squirt that into food, watch the possum until the food was consumed, meanwhile chasing off/feeding other possums who might try to interfere or take medication not meant for them. I also tried to take photos to document progress.

It was an immense relief to be able to give each possum a full course (10 days) of antibiotics, but after that there was still a period of waiting to see the effects, and there was stress related to our attempts to surgically remove Kiki's dead toe. We kept trying each opportunity we got, but in the end we were lucky: the toe either dropped off itself, or Kiki chewed it off.

If the source of stress that led to infection does not disappear, does it make sense to treat a male possum who will continue to face stressful conditions? Most local vets euthanise all possums who have even minor problems, under the rationale that it is kinder that they not have a long, drawn-out, stressful death.

However, Švejk not only made a full recovery, he actually seems more confident now than before. About a month after receiving antibiotics, most of his fur had grown back. As the fur on his face grew back, GK would often remark that his coat in an overall sense looked 'glossy' or 'lustrous'.

Kiki has managed to cope well with the loss of a toe. It took approximately 5 weeks from the time of discovery of the dead toe until the time the toe was gone and the foot healing well. She recently visited with a new baby, and both looked very healthy.

Both Kiki and Švejk have more time, and appear to have a good quality of life.















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