Oiled Sea Otter Rehabilitation Course

Literature Cited

If a pup arrives at the rehabilitation center with its mother or is born in the center, it should not be separated from the female unless its health is in jeopardy. Survival may be greatly enhanced if it receives colostrum from a healthy female during the earliest stages of nursing. However, care should be taken to avoid possible petroleum hydrocarbon transfer from an oiled female to her pup through contaminated colostrum. (See Chapter 8.)

An initial clinical examination is recommended to assess the pup’s body condition and overall health. The following information should be recorded: capture date and location, body weight, standard length, axillary girth, sex, and age. If age is unknown, the body weight provides a rough indication: pups weighing 1-7 kg are usually less than three months old; pups weighing 7-20 kg are usually three to eight months old. For those experienced in handling sea otter pups, dentition, pelage, and behavior can provide additional information to estimate age. A daily record should be maintained on each pup’s health status, food consumption, fur condition, and behavior (Appendix 2, Form M Download PDF).

During the initial examination, behavior should be noted: normal (alert and responsive); depressed (unresponsive to external stimulation but conscious); comatose (unconscious). The fur should be examined to determine whether it is clean or contaminated with oil, feces, or dirt. The presence and location of lacerations or other lesions should be recorded. The sea otter pup’s thermoregulatory ability is limited, and body temperature should be carefully monitored with an electronic digital thermometer with a flexible probe inserted 1-3 cm into the rectum. Rectal temperature should be measured during physical examinations and prior to any medical treatments. Normal values range from 37.5-38.1° (99.5-100.6°F) (Williams and Kocher, 1978).

Respiratory rate can be determined by observing movements of the chest wall and is normally 17-20 breaths/ minute (Williams and Kocher, 1978). The heart rate is determined by auscultation or palpation of the chest and is normally 144-159 beats/minute. A 6 ml blood sample should be taken from the proximal third of the femoral vein with a 19 gauge, l-inch needle. Hematology and blood chemistry should be measured and compared with normal values to assess the pup’s health (see Appendix 1 Download PDF).

Sea otter pups should be treated prophylactically on admission with penicillin (20,000 units/kg sid IM), gentamicin (1 mg/kg/ day sid IM for the first five days), and lactated Ringer’s solution (15 ml/kg/ day SQ) with vitamin B-complex added (2 ml/L) for the first three weeks or as needed. Medication is usually given subcutaneously between the shoulders or intramuscularly in the rear limb.