Burping an infant otter like a baby might be just as cute as you would imagine, but that is what one team at the Wildlife Haven Rehabilitation Centre had to resort to in their efforts to save an orphan animal that was brought to them suffering from malnutrition and dehydration.
Executive director Zoe Nakata says the otter’s rescuers showed many good instincts when they found it alone in the wild, but they made many mistakes when trying to care for it that it made the animal’s condition worse.
For example, the otter’s stomach was lined with milk protein from puppy formula, which its rescuers fed to it.
“Otters have different dietary needs than dogs, so that can cause complications,” Nakata said.
The infant otter had also been fed cooked pork while in a state of dehydration and starvation.
“Contrary to what our instincts would tell us, food is not the first line of treatment,” Nakata said. “It’s important to hydrate and to stabilize the patient before moving on to proper nutrition.”
The otter had also been placed in water to swim, which wouldn’t normally happen in the wild until the otter is about 12 weeks old. This can cause problems with the lungs, and as a result the otter was having difficulty breathing.
Once the otter arrived in their care, Nakata and her team performed X-rays and administered hydration treatment.
Steady feeding schedule
For weeks, staff at the rehabilitation centre kept up a steady schedule of feedings five times a day, often late at night. These feedings followed a familiar pattern for anyone who has taken care of a human baby.
“This is going to sound a little bit funny, and just as cute as you’d imagine — we actually had to burp the otter, just like you would a baby after every feeding,” Nakata said.
“We had to kind of do belly rub and back rubs … and actually stimulate his stomach to make sure that he would poop and to really get his digestive system kind of back on track,” she said.
Despite their rookie mistakes taking care of the otter before bringing it into the rehabilitation centre, Nakata says the people who found the otter did the right thing by bringing it in.
Now, after weeks of care, the otter is doing well, Nakata says.
“He’s perked up, definitely. And he’s one of our most rambunctious patients. He’s very vocal. He likes to let us know when he’s hungry.”
Nakata’s team has been consulting with other veterinarians and provincial government officials to plan next steps, but she says no decision has been made yet about whether to release the otter back into the wild.
“We’re still in the early phases and looking at all the options, making sure that the final decision is the right one for this patient,” she said.