Emergency and critical care of koalas
Blanshard, W 1993, Proceedings from the Annual Conference of the Australian Veterinary Association, Gold Coast.
In this report, Blanshard draws upon her experience in the veterinary care of koalas at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary to describe how emergency and critical care protocols for koalas differ from those for other species. Blanshard details the physical and physiological characteristics of both healthy koalas and koalas with specific ailments in the context of the animal’s diet, behaviour, common conditions and appropriate health care.
The most essential aspect of veterinary care for koalas is maintaining the factors that ensure their nutrition. These factors include provision with suitable amounts and types of eucalypt leaves as well as regular health checks in which the koala’s weight, temperature, urine, faeces, hydration and dental condition are monitored. While the koala’s normal diet is sufficient to maintain the nutrition of a healthy animal, animals with illness or injury will require additional support to have their water and energy needs met. If food intake appears to be reduced, carers can support the maintenance of water and energy levels by providing koalas with younger leaves upon which to feed, spraying leaves with water, and making leaves easier for the koala to physically access. If still required, further dietary interventions may include hand feeding, supplementary feeding with low-lactose, high-energy milk powders for koalas exhibiting a loss of condition, and supplementing pap feeds for orphaned koalas. Blanshard describes procedures for veterinary assessments and treatments of hospitalised koalas such as recommended methods of restraint and transport, external assessment protocols, and procedures for venepuncture, palpation, radiology, anaesthesia and administering fluids. It is emphasised, however, that medical and surgical procedures are second to the animals’ quality husbandry and should only be performed to reduce the stress of the koala rather than that of its carer. Finally, Blanshard outlines some of the common conditions that affect koalas and provides an overview of their identification and appropriate treatment. Such conditions include trauma, chlamydial disease, rhinitis/pneumonia, delayed gastric emptying, septicaemia, lymphoid neoplasia, oropharyngitis, typhlitis, pouch infection and stress.
Maintaining a large population of captive koalas such as that at Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary presents many valuable opportunities to build upon existing knowledge of koala husbandry and medical care and, importantly, share this knowledge with others. The procedures outlined here document current best practice in emergency and critical care of koalas and serve as a basis for future developments in the field.
Summarised by Joanna Horsfall
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