08 May 2008

Two fragile lives, two delicate decisions

I'm not saying that being a wildlife rehabber isn't rewarding - it is.

And I'm not saying that being a rehabber is easy - it isn't.

But two tough decisions, and the directions of two lives, hang in the balance in the next week or so....and time is running out on both.

I have a young female squirrel in my care - she has seven toes on her right rear leg, making her mobility somewhat hampered. (Massa, the little squirrel, is one of the subjects of my April 22 post). But it is hard to tell whether she is also somewhat neurologic, another factor perhaps in her awkward way of moving.

Two people whose opinions I highly respect (and who also work with animals) have suggested I have the two extra toes removed surgically by a vet. This is not uncommon but still, a source of concern for me. Still, I may have to make this decision soon. She is now about 9 weeks of age, and growing and.....developing from a somewhat user-friendly juvenile into a wild squirrel - as nature intended. That would make surgical aftercare problematic if I waited too long.

She is on my mind and I will investigate this further - seeking the opinion next week of my vet.

The other squirrel, also female, is a wild adult who frequents our property and is among the friendly ones who "stalks" me for the nut handouts that comprise a major part of our weekly household budget.

As wild squirrels go, she is sweet. And she comes very close (I have a photo of her I hope to post here soon). A couple of weeks ago, I noticed something white protruding beneath her left nostril and I thought perhaps it might be a solidified nasal discharge or something along those lines (yes, squirrels get boogers too!)

Then I found, on closer examination when she came to feed, something that disturbed me even more: It is actually her upper incisor, growing through the front of her face! And yes, it is getting longer each day.

What puzzles me is this: normally when there is this kind of overgrowth there are other issues. Infection, for one thing. Irritation, for another. And thirdly, an equally troublesome overgrowth of the opposing lower incisor which should be meeting the upper, and grinding against it, so both teeth stay short.

If this squirrel is truly suffering from malocclusion (in that her teeth do not line up), it seems to me that she would have had worse jaw issues by now and would have starved. Instead, she can take nuts, presumably crack them, is fat and happy and seems none the worse for the wear. At least for now.

My dilemma here is - do I trap her and take her to have the tooth trimmed? And then.....re-release her only to have this same issue come up again later?

For both squirrels I wonder: When does intervention cross the line and become interference?There are no easy answers to this.
Two lives depend on me making the right call.
Stay tuned.


High Power Rocketry said...

: )

haceplataconclicks said...

Nice ;) !

some solution

420Hacks said...

you have to do what you personally feel is right for the squirrels, yes intervention does cross the line to interruption but only at a certain point, google some Q and A about the specific concerns on the squirrels. Maybe even call your local vet for some information. ~WouldYouRather
comment back please!

squirrelmama said...

I will definitely consult with my vet who, of course, will weigh the issues with me both from a medical and an ethical standpoint. I do know that both procedures are medically do-able, and if little Massa, the young female squirrel, is releasable, she does need the other toes removed because extra toes will impede her ability to move swiftly (squirrels have only 5 toes on their back legs). As to trapping our beloved adult female from the yard, well, there are other things to worry about - such as, will the act of trapping itself cause distress of another kind? It's not uncommon, but also not unheard of, for some squirrels to die of cardiac arrest (or go into shock) if they are caught. Malocclusion, of course, can also kill a squirrel - and much more slowly - so again, I have a lot of considerations to weigh here.

Edfray said...

Please remove those Walt Disney eyeglasses squirrelmama. Insofar as you are able please worry less and think more.


great blog thanks for the squirrels!

Amy said...

Any type of surgery is interference. If the squirells were out in the wild, on thier own niether would be recieving surgery.

I don't think it's a matter of whether or not to interfere, but whether or not you want to help and what is less stressful for the animals.

Anonymous said...

if you're going to do the surgery (on the toes) go ahead and do it. Wild animals are quite resilient. Do it sooner than later.

But it is likely that this condition is genetic and will carry it on to her offspring. Extra toes are a hinerance, but I've seen 3 legged animals in the wild doing fine.

(I'm glad I found your page. I'm interested in urban wildlife, too. This is a great find.) Best of luck with your wildlife rehab efforts.

squirrelmama said...

The genetic issue is a concern. Frankly, her health is also an issue - these sorts of anomalies rarely occur as a single instance. I have to wonder what other kinds of oddities are on the inside?
Anyway she is getting good care for now and has a nice buddy with her, a female squirrel about a week and a half younger. We'll see where this all goes.

Lone Grey Squirrel said...

Well, I really am no expert but my thoughts on the matter would be this:- For Massa, the surgery has potentially a great payoff and no notable downside. Even if it does not solve all the problems, she would be better off with the operation done.

In the case of the other squirrel, I would probably wait and see as she is in no apparent distress at the moment.

Saju Thomas... said...


Anonymous said...

Erm,,saje jalan2 singgah kejap

Anonymous said...

i'm glad I found your blog: its an interesting outlet for an otherwise not-so-intersting subject.

One of your squirrels was out in the wild, doing fine, eating nuts with the upper incisor in the face. She shall continue to do fine without your help- helping her may actually limit the abilities she was accustomed to.

The other has a problem she has not yet resolved: if you help her now she will be a normal squirrel. Even if it reoccurs in the wild, THAT squirrel will have a chance to overcome it naturally.

Consult your vet: if they can both be ok without your intervention, then let it be.

good luck!

Anonymous said...


Kat Mortensen said...

Squirrelmama, my instinct would be to do as much as you can for both of them in the here and now and try not to think of the implications for the future. I think if the incisor issue is that serious and could be pointing to other problems, the risk of cardiac arrest outweighs the seriousness of the current situation. As you say, there may be a slow and painful death ahead if not treated. Better to risk a quick death for the possibility of successfully treating the problem.

I also feel that the younger one with the extra toes should be dealt with now too.

You do the best you can. It's hard to simply think of them as wild animals that would have had these conditions and dealt with them in nature's intended way when you know you can make a difference. I understand your dilemma, but I would strive to solve the problems.


Kat Mortensen said...

Aw! That picture is so cute. I enlarged it and had a look at that incisor. What an aberration. I'm glad to hear that for the moment it's not in pain. So, would they extract the tooth - maybe do a root canal? (I say that because I have one coming up myself and couldn't help but think of it.)
Your steps and evergreen garden look lovely, by the way.


squirrelmama said...

LGS, La Tirana and Kat,
You have all given me some wonderful input and moreover, the support I need to make this call. I know sometimes surgery is needed but anytime a scalpel is involved, and any cutting is involved, I always feel responsible for the fate and the outcome - such a small life and such a big decision. I will have the vet look at Massa next week and will meantime keep a watchful eye on the pretty female whose photo you see accompanying my blog post.
Kat, thanks especially for the kind words about the garden landscape. I did that a year or so ago after I had the new landings put in. It is a very squirrel friendly (and bird friendly) spot, and is much easier for our aging doggie to scale than the cement steps that were there before.

tutso said...

i say take them both to the vet and for the tooth squirrel i would keep her for a few wweks to make sure it doesn't come up again.

Admin said...

your blog is so unique and different, great work

Anonymous said...

Love squirrels ... keep up the great work!

Anonymous said...

The risk of surgery for the wild female would be the stress and trauma of being caught, taken to a vet who possibly has DOGS! barking and CATS! in cages. I don't think I could risk it and have peace of mind over it.

merinz said...

Your vet will have some good ideas on the wisest course of action.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoy this site. It's nice to know that someone cares when squirrel's get hit by a car,there homes get knocked down and other stuff.
I can understand your concern for the squirrel's. Squirrels,like human beings. Are born with problems. I agree to amy lyn who said "Any type of surgery is interference. If the squirrels were out in the wild, on thier own niether would be recieving surgery.

I don't think it's a matter of whether or not to interfere, but whether or not you want to help and what is less stressful for the animals.

I really like this site because I don't know much about squirrels and I'm learning a hole lot!

Becs said...

Perhaps by now you have already decided. I think you are wonderful for taking care of these critters.

Looking at the photo of the squirrel with the overgrown tooth, isn't there some inflammation around her nostrils? I vote for surgery, removing the tooth.

squirrelmama said...

Thanks for the vote of confidence with both squirrels.....I appreciate it. The good news is that what looks like inflammation is probably just the way the light is hitting the squirrel's nose in the photo. I did get to see her again today and the nose is remarkably free from any apparent irritation with respect to the overgrowth - something that in itself is remarkable. (In many other cases I have heard of raging infections as a result of a tooth piercing through). We continue to try to build trust with her so we can coax her into a carrying cage and hopefully get her some help in time.

Anonymous said...

Nice blog. I too am a squirrel lover and a part time rehabber. To those that say any surgery is interference then any wildlife rehabbing is interference. I just don't agree with dogmatic blanket statements like that because they never apply to every situation. Just think it through. If the surgery makes sense...do it.
Removal of a toe or two makes good sense as long as the recovery can be properly managed. I encountered a 2 week old baby squirrel that had one of its rear legs and it's tail cut off by a chainsaw. I had it surgically mended and 5 years later he is still doing fine as a 3-legged squirrel with no tail. He adapted to his limitation quite well and is still thriving in his environment.

I see the issue with the teeth as being altogether different. A malocclusion like you're talking about may require REPEATED intervention to keep it under control which might constitute excessive intervention. Unfortunately that little guy may need to be put down. That can be an almost impossible situation for a squirrel to live with and it could make it's life very miserable. Putting an animal down is always a hard decision to make but it is one all rehabbers need to be prepared to make. I've had to do it on several occasions and it makes me very very sad to do so and it never gets any easier to do. Good Luck with your situation and I know you will make the right decisions.