Oiled Sea Otter Rehabilitation Course

Long-Term Treatment of Oiled Sea Otters

The treatment program for each otter should be reevaluated daily. The clinical history of oiled otters during the EVOS showed that anemia, hepatic dysfunction, renal dysfunction, and gastrointestinal disorders may develop two to three weeks after admission to the rehabilitation center (Chapter 1). Sea otters from the Early Phase of the spill showed the highest incidence of these conditions. Weekly serum chemistry panels and hematological analyses are useful for identifying many of these disorders in otters that do not appear to be recovering normally. Most otters with these conditions will benefit from prophylactic fluid and antibiotic therapy.

The rehabilitation of some otters may require several weeks to several months of captivity. Medical problems requiring long-term care generally result from: 1) inability of an otter to maintain a normal core temperature in water because the fur has not regained water repellency, 2) residual tissue and organ damage that may prevent normal physiological function and result in secondary infections, and 3) the stress of captivity which may cause a variety of medical disorders including gastric ulcers, a spastic colon, and depression. Long-term holding also introduces the potential for exposure to infectious diseases and accidental injuries.

Captive sea otters may develop abrasions or pressure sores from resting on hard surfaces in haulout areas. These conditions usually occur in otters that have not restored the water repellency of their fur and must remain out of the water for prolonged periods. Perianal (urogenital) areas and the hind flippers are the primary sites affected. Dermatitis, characterized by erythematous regions and abrasions, was observed in many otters during the EVOS. Localized abrasions should be sprayed with BetadineTM solution. In severe cases where the bone is exposed, surgical intervention may be necessary. Antibiotics (emofloxacin, amoxicillin) should be administered to prevent or control infection. In most cases, placing the otters in seawater as soon as their fur is water repellent will eliminate skin disorders.

Long-term supportive care will eventually enable most otters to restore the insulation of their fur and regain the normal physiological function of their organ systems. However, the veterinarian should be aware that the functional capacity of these organ systems may be reduced, and they may fail to respond normally when physiologically challenged or stressed. In view of this, the regimen of care and clinical treatment should anticipate primary and secondary stress-induced disorders. For any medical or husbandry procedure, the veterinarian should consider the procedure’s benefits versus the additional stress that will be caused by handling the animal. Limiting the duration and total number of treatment periods will reduce stress.