Sunday 2 August 2015

Wasabi's Second Stay in Hospital

Wasabi has had to go to hospital again. It was the same problem as last time - an infected wound on his tail - and like last time he was treated successfully and released.

Wasabi's hospital room

I'll document what happened in (moderate) detail for the benefit of anyone who might be looking at treating possums. I'll concentrate on what I did differently to last time, so if you haven't already seen Wasabi's first stay in hospital, I'd recommend reading this first to get a full picture of the process.


On the first of July, a slight injury was visible at the base of Wasabi's tail. This was barely noticeable under the fur and I only spotted it because I had been keeping a very careful lookout since the last time.

After about a week there wasn't much change in the injury, but after two weeks it definitely looked worse.

The wound still didn't look terribly bad at this stage - it was something you probably wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it - however, our observations are that is that if a possum wound hasn't started getting better in a week, there is a problem, and it's probably going to keep getting worse.

We didn't want to wait until things got as bad as last time, so our vet - Dr Jim Pollock - was contacted. He agreed that treatment was needed and issued me with five syringes loaded with Baytril.

As Wasabi had been visiting regularly, we weighed up the possibility of treating him on an outpatient basis like we do brushtails, but decided against it. We're still very cautious about giving antibiotics to ringtails, so we wanted to guarantee he was given a dose at the same time each night, without the possibility of missing doses. Also, we could monitor his health and if anything went wrong, he could simply be loaded into a cat carrier and taken in to a vet.

Also, if there was a physical component to the injury (e.g. he was sleeping somewhere where his tail was subject to damage or irritation of some sort), we could eliminate this and give the wound time to heal by keeping him in a known safe location.


His hospital room was refurbished.

The refurbished Possum Aviary

Instead of tying jars to the walls of the enclosure to hold foliage like I did last time, I built a couple of what look like over-sized spice-racks. The idea was that jars (old plastic drink bottles with the tops cut off) filled with foliage could be prepared in advance, and quickly swapped with jars in the enclosure; limiting the amount of disruption during the day.

Foliage containers

I still think this was a good idea, although it didn't quite work out as intended. When removing one jar, the remaining jars had a tendency to fall over sideways, so I couldn't cleanly swap out the old jars and replace them with new ones. It was easier to just pluck the foliage from an old jar and push new foliage in its place. Nevertheless, having multiple jars to stuff foliage into made the process easier.

I also built a recessed holder for the water dish. The idea was to prevent the dish from tipping over if Wasabi knocked the dish or decided to stand on its edge.

Water dish holder

I also put a second bolt on the inside of the cage door. This allowed me to fasten the door from the inside when working inside the cage.

Last time, Wasabi hadn't wanted to use either the coconut planter ball or the small possum box I had provided, but instead had slept either on the floor of the enclosure or on top of the possum box. It might be that he's scared of sleeping in enclosed spaces, which would be understandable because his mother and sibling were cornered and eaten by a python in a possum box.

I therefore built a small open wooden shelf in the top corner of the enclosure, and put some pieces of golden wattle - which seemed to be his preferred bedding material - on it.

Wasabi sleeping on his shelf - 19th July 2015

He ended up sleeping on this shelf every night. He didn't care about the pieces of wattle I had provided and either knocked or flung them off the shelf and curled up on the bare wood. He looked very exposed, and the weather was quite cold (at least by QLD standards - Box 4 got down below 7°C during this period), but his perch was sheltered from the wind, so presumably he didn't need any extra insulation against the cold.


Some time ago, I had made a possum-catching bag out of muslin. I hadn't ever used it, and this seemed to be a good opportunity to try it out.

Basically, this was a failure. Enveloping him in the bag proved too difficult, so I grabbed him by the tail and tried to lower him in (the injury on his tail was much less severe this time, and it was possible to do this without injuring him further). Unfortunately, I didn't unbalance him while doing this (you're meant to "slowly twirl the animal, as if you were mixing a cake"), with the result that he grabbed onto the side of the side of bag and escaped.

The bag was then abandoned and he was captured soon afterwards by being lured into a cat carrier with a slice of pear.


He was given small quantities of apple, pear, banana and grape. Grapes are out of season and expensive in mid winter, but they are a particular favourite of his, and he was generally given a grape to keep him busy while he was being injected.

There wasn't any point in giving him any other items on the Recommended Diet list, since he didn't eat them last time, and anyway had plenty of varied foliage to munch on.


I had weighed the carrier while he was in it, and again afterwards, and it seems his weight is in the range 1.1 to 1.2 kg.

Last time, I was unable to weigh him and I was scared of over-dosing. I had assumed he weighed perhaps 800g and wanted to err on the side of caution, so I gave him the dose for a 500g possum (0.1 ml).

It's not clear exactly how much he has grown since then, but I wouldn't have thought very much. Given he had a much worse infection last time, and it cleared up quickly at this low dose (without even administering the full course of antibiotics), I decided that it would be better to continue to be cautious in my dosing.

I gave him only 0.13 ml. It was actually quite difficult squirting down the dose to exactly this figure and a couple of times I overshot and gave him a little under this. Maybe I was being over-cautious, because this is only a bit over half of the recommended dose, but it is claimed that ringtails can have adverse reactions to antibiotics.

This time, all of the syringes I was given were the small 0.5 ml insulin syringes with integrated 29 g needles. A 29 g needle is one of the thinnest gauge needles manufactured; it's only 1/3 mm in diameter (or about the width of four human hairs), and this means that it's easier to insert and hurts less than larger needles.

Once I managed to find a suitable flap of skin to inject into, the injecting process was fairly easy. I managed to bend one needle trying to inject when he was in an unusual pose (hanging by his back feet), but I managed to straighten the needle out and successfully complete the injection.

He wasn't dosed with Ivermectin this time. It was arguably not even needed last time, and this time there weren't the numerous bald spots which suggested the possibility of mites.

I also didn't give him any probiotics this time either. I had looked into probiotics a little more since last time, and I'm even more dubious about their effectiveness. Also, his poos, both last time and this time, showed no sloppiness or other abnormalities, so it would seem the antibiotic isn't affecting his gut bacteria in any significant way.

Wasabi's poo - looks normal [except for the gumnut which somehow found its way into the photo]

Wasabi was held for four days, he was given his last dose just before being released.

He was not resentful of his captivity, in fact after being release, he made his way straight up a tree and onto the balcony rail where he had been captured, to request more food from the humans. Over the following few days, he visited less regularly than normal - possibly he had possum business to catch up on elsewhere - but he now appears most nights and looks healthy and happy.

Finally, here are some before-and-after photos of the wound itself.

The injury before treatment - not a large wound but raw and weeping

The injury after treatment - some fur is gone, but the skin looks clean and healthy

1 comment:

  1. I thought I posted a comment here the other day, sorry I must have got the I'm not a robot thing wrong! Thank you again for such an informative and interesting post.

    I do love the photo of Wasabi sleeping on the small open wooden shelf :)