Lead Positive: Great Horned Owl

PATIENT:  Great Horned Owl, #12-0050 LOCATION OF RESCUE:  Augusta County, Virginia CIRCUMSTANCE OF ADMISSION:   Found unable to fly ADMISSION DATE:  January 24, 2012 OUTCOME:  Euthanized February 9, 2012 On January 24, a Great Horned Owl was found down in the woods in Augusta County.  The owl appeared to have an injury to its right wing; the rescuer captured the owl and brought it to the Wildlife Center for treatment. Upon admission, Dr. Miranda Sadar found that the owl did have a right wing droop, though she was not able to palpate any fractures.  The owl was also very thin and had mild retinal scarring in both eyes.   Dr. Miranda gave fluids to the bird and placed it in one of the Center's critical care chambers for the night. The following day, the Great Horned Owl #12-0050 was observed holding its left wing out.  Radiographs were taken; Dr. Miranda did not see any abnormalities.  Since there was no apparent explanation on physical examination or radiographs for the way the owl was holding its wings, Dr. Miranda decided to run an in-house lead test on the owl.  While lead toxicity is not a common cause of admission for owls, Dr. Miranda was suspicious based on the owl's presentation.  The lead test came back as "high" -- meaning that the lead level was more than 0.65 ppm. The Wildlife Center veterinary team recently decided to try a new technique for testing in-house lead levels in raptor blood -- after receiving a "high" reading, they are diluting the blood sample and running another test to see if an exact reading can be obtained.  Blood samples are still sent to an outside lab for confirmation -- this will confirm that the dilution technique is effective.  After using the dilution technique on this owl's blood sample, the staff was able to calculate a lead level of 2.72 ppm. Chelation therapy was started immediately and will continue for five days.  Center veterinarians surmise that this owl was exposed to lead after preying on some animal that had been shot.  Thus far in 2012, the Center has admitted five patients with lead toxicity [two Bald Eagles, a Red-tailed Hawk, and a Black Vulture].

January 30 update

Great Horned Owl #12-0050's lead levels were checked again today -- this time, the lead level is much lower than the initial reading.  With a result of .296 ppm, the veterinary staff are encouraged that the chelation therapy is working.  They will give the owl's system a break for a few days, and then will resume with another round of chelation to continue to remove the lead from the bird's body. The Great Horned Owl remains bright and alert, and for the past two days, has been holding its wings in a normal position.  The owl has regurgitated its food a couple of times in the past few days, so the veterinary team continues to tube feed the bird.

February 1 update

The Great Horned Owl was much quieter on January 31 and was observed using its wings again to help prop itself up in its enclosure.  This could be the owl feeling the effects of the lead poisoning again.  After a two-day break in treatment, the second round of chelation therapy was started on February 1.  Lead levels will be checked again after the five-day course of medication.

February 3 update

Lead level results from the outside laboratory came in on February 2; results were 3.8 ppm.  This means that our dilution technique is a bit off -- the veterinary team will continue to experiment with dilution on "high" readings as well as getting levels checked at an outside laboratory. Despite the very high lead level, the Great Horned Owl continues to remain fairly bright and alert.  The bird is still intermittently using its wings for support -- though the veterinary team is hopeful that this will improve after the second course of chelation therapy is finished.

February 6 update

The Great Horned Owl finished up another round of chelation therapy on Sunday, February 5.  When lead levels were re-checked in house, the owl's level dropped to 0.099 ppm.  While this is an improvement, the veterinary staff would still like to see the lead level drop to a "low" reading.  After a few days of rest, the owl will start a third round of chelation. The veterinary team continue to tube feed the Great Horned Owl twice a day.  The owl is intermittently regurgitating some of its food after it is placed back in its enclosure.  Dr. Adam has placed the owl on a course of medications to help it keep its food down.

February 10 update

Great Horned Owl 12-0050's condition began deteriorating on February 7.  The owl was quiet in its enclosure, and continued to regularly regurgitate its tube-fed meals, despite medication to help keep the food down.  Because the bird was only digesting some of its food, it continued to lose weight.  After receiving results of blood work, Dr. Adam decided that the owl was not stable enough yet for another round of chelation therapy -- even though the owl's lead level was rising again [a result of 0.161 ppm]. On February 9, the owl was unable to lift its head -- a dramatic deterioration from the days before.  The owl was in respiratory distress, and was placed in the Center's oxygen chamber.  Despite efforts, the owl did not make improvements, and Dr. Adam decided to humanely euthanize the owl. Your special donation will help the Center to provide state-of-the-art medical care to this Great Horned Owl … and to the 2,500+ other patients the Center will admit this year.  Please help!