Diagnosing human illness is difficult but at least the patient can tell you about their symptoms, pain levels and the most likely origin of said sickness/injury.
With animals, there is a lot more guesswork involved as they can’t communicate. At least with pets, their owners can provide some insights.
With wildlife, however, there is no communication, no patient history and a variety of environmental factors not seen in captive animals. Add to that the fact that they are not used to being handled, and our volunteer vets have a very difficult job making a diagnosis and formulating a treatment plan.
This is when diagnostic equipment proves invaluable.
A careful physical examination and general behavioural observation is the most important starting point, which then directs us to decide which diagnostic tools we may need to use.
Radiography is a very useful tool in diagnosing the severity of injuries or for confirming fractures that are suspected during a physical examination.
Like radio-waves and microwaves, x-rays are part of the electromagnetic spectrum except they have a very short wavelength which allows them to penetrate matter, including cells.
Our small x-ray machine gets used multiple times a day! It is perfect for focusing on specific areas of the body and for smaller animals. Sometimes we need a full-body x-ray of a patient, however, and that is when we rely on the generosity of other local veterinary practices for assistance. We are very grateful to those practises for their willingness to help.
Radiograph of a marsh snake (Hemiaspis signata) showing contrast medium passing through GI tract.
Microscopy is a vital diagnostic tool when trying to decipher if the cause of an illness is bacterial, fungal, protozoal or other.
A simple impression smear can be taken from a patient by gently pressing a microscope slide onto its skin which we can then gram-stain and diff-quik stain for scrutiny under the microscope. Sometimes we need a skin scraping, blood smear or faecal smear to examine the cause.
Pathogenic bacteria, protozoa, inflammatory cells, parasites and fungal hyphae are what we look for, in order to commence appropriate treatment.
Our portable ultrasound machine is ideal for seeing soft tissue structures, such as the kidneys, heart, colon etc. It is also a safer way to detect the presence of eggs or foetuses in an expectant patient.
As its name would suggest, it is a method that uses high-frequency sound waves to produce these images.
We currently have two machines for testing blood: a centrifuge and a VetScan.
One very simple blood test our volunteer vets can undertake is a PCV/TP test to give them information about what may be going on inside a patient.
The PCV (packed cell volume) measures the percentage of red blood cells to the total blood volume. We take a small blood sample in a haematocrit tube and then spin that in our centrifuge.
During this process, the red blood cells are separated from the plasma. A low PCV could indicate anaemia whilst a high PCV could indicate dehydration.
Once the PCV value has been determined, we then check the total protein (TP) by placing the plasma onto a refractometer. Elevated TP can indicate dehydration, chronic inflammation or infectious disease. A low TP can indicate haemorrhage or organ disease.
Our Vetscan can provide information pertaining to serology (detection of abnormal levels of enzymes or metabolites in the blood that may reflect organ disease or malfunction).
Sometimes a CBC (Complete Blood Count) is required to ascertain haematology and this is when we once again rely on the kindness of local clinics for help.
All our diagnostic equipment has been purchased with money that has been donated to us over the past few years. Some items were donated to us by Worldwide Veterinary Services or being loaned from Zoetis.
For the items that we don’t have, we thank our local clinics for providing access to theirs. We love working collaboratively with our fantastic local veterinary clinics for the benefit of our precious wildlife.
Any donations towards our current Wish List would be very welcome:
• Rotors for VetScan - $40 each
• Upgraded examination light
• Portable Veterinary Doppler
• Pen Cautery
• Microscope camera
• Slit Lamp for eye examinations
All the above equipment and many more items can be purchased with your tax-deductible donations (above $2). Your donations will also contribute to our $30K annual running costs for the Mobile Care Unit.
Please click here to donate: http://www.sydneywildlife.org.au/donate
Wombat photo by Peter Sharp of Tame and Wild Studio and veterinary photos by Margaret G Woods