Black Bear cub #19-1176 [Orange Tag]

May 28, 2019
Rescue Location
Franklin County, Virginia
Cause of Admission/Condition
Separated from mother; heavy tick infestation
Former Patient
Patient photo

Last Updated Jump to patient updates

On May 27, a young Black Bear cub was found in the middle of a road in Franklin County, Virginia. There was no sow in the area, and the bear was picked up and taken to the Southside Virginia Wildlife Center, where he stayed for the night before he was transported the next day to the Wildlife Center of Virginia.

The male cub was bright and alert when he arrived. Dr. Peach anesthetized the bear for a full examination, including a physical, blood work, radiographs, and skin scraping. The bear cub was thin, and had a severe tick infestation; no other issue was found. The cub weighed 2.02 kg.

Dr. Peach placed an Orange Tag in the bear’s left ear and gave the cub fluids and a dose of an anti-parasitic, as well as a topical flea/tick spray. Given the cub’s condition, Dr. Peach guesses that the cub has been separated from his mother for a period of time.

The rehabilitation staff will feed and monitor the bear during the next few days and will apply more topical tick spray as needed. The cub will be kept separate from the other cubs for now until the severe tick infestation is under control, and until he weighs more than 3.0 kg. The bear will be placed in a Zinger crate in the Center’s Large Mammal enclosure so the cub can see and smell his new “sisters” prior to introduction.

Your donation will help provide rehabilitative care to this cub for the next 10 months — until he’s old enough to be on his own. Thank you!

Patient Updates

The Center veterinary team received results from the necropsy and additional post-mortem diagnostics of Black Bear cub #19-1176 [Orange Tag]. The diagnosis: canine distemper.

In the wild, bears can be exposed to this virus and can be latent carriers; generally, individuals are not affected unless they are severely immunocompromised or have another underlying issue. It’s not common for a wild Black Bear cub to be diagnosed with this viral disease, but it is reported in captive facilities. It’s difficult to confirm if the bear was exposed to the viral infection before or after admission to the Wildlife Center; in dogs, the incubation period of the virus is seven days, though there is no conclusive study to indicate what the period is for Black Bears. This cub spent one month at the Center and was admitted very underweight, anemic, and with a severe tick infestation – essentially, the cub was very immunocompromised.

There is no treatment for distemper other than supportive care, so knowing the diagnosis wouldn’t have changed the Center’s treatment protocol during the one-month period that the cub was at the Center.

Dr. Karra was at work late on Thursday evening, and when she went to check on Black Bear cub #19-1176 at 11:30 pm, she found that he had passed away. The staff are saddened, but not overly surprised, given how the bear’s condition had been quickly deteriorating during the past few days.

The staff will perform a necropsy to see if they can isolate the cause of the bear’s issues; based on the many recent diagnostics and consultations with outside specialists, the team still thinks heart issues (either congenital and/or bacterial in origin) are a likely cause. As Dr. Karra noted, the veterinary team have been diligently tackling treatable conditions and were left only with conditions that would likely be untreatable or too far advanced for effective treatment.

Black Bear cub #19-1176 ate a small amount overnight, but Dr. Ernesto found that the cub had increased respiratory sounds this morning and more lung crackles than yesterday. The bear attempts to evade handling, but is still very quiet without sedation.

The veterinary team took radiographs and a heart ultrasound. The results were not good; the bear has a lot of fluid build-up in his chest. Based on the heart ultrasound, the veterinarians suspect vegetative endocarditis. This infection of the heart valve happens when a growth occurs on the valves, which prevents them from meeting properly. Ultimately, it causes heart failure. The cause of this issue can be congenital or bacterial – it’s more commonly caused by bacteria in an affected animal’s bloodstream. It may also be a combination of the two; some animals are pre-disposed to this infection if they have a congenital heart anomaly. This bear arrived at the Center very underweight and completely covered in ticks; it’s possible this is how the bacteria was introduced.

The Center vets are waiting for feedback from another consultation based on the ultrasound, which they should receive on June 28. Dr. Ernesto removed the IV catheter since the line is due to be changed, and the bear is very hydrated. He decided to leave the catheter out overnight so the bear’s e-collar could be removed; this may encourage the bear to eat more. Another medication was also added to the bear’s treatments; this medication should help the heart work more effectively.

Black Bear cub #19-1176 was very quiet this morning when Dr. Ernesto and Kelsey checked on him. The bear had licked a few food items during the night, though had not eaten much. Dr. Ernesto noted that the cub’s lung sounds did sound better, though the cub was cold and not thermoregulating all that well. The cub did produce a lot of appropriately concentrated urine, indicating that his hydration status was much improved.

The benefit to keeping the bear sedated is that it’s much more likely that the cub will leave the IV catheter alone; sedation also helps decrease the cub’s stress level while being housed in an oxygen crate. The downside to sedation is that it’s quite difficult to monitor the cub’s attitude – the staff can’t be sure that the cub is quiet due to not feeling well or just simply due to sedation. With that in mind, Dr. Ernesto stopped the sedation for the day, just to continue to observe the bear carefully.

Dr. Ernesto and Kelsey are treating the cub together three times a day; providing a variety of medications (including the important diuretic) and cleaning the cub’s enclosure. The bear ate a small amount of A/D food plus pureed tuna between this morning and this afternoon’s treatments.

On the evening of June 24, wildlife rehabilitator Kelsey checked on Orange Tag, and found that he had not eaten anything during the day. He was also very quiet and not his feisty self. The vets formulated a plan and decided to sedate the young cub to help offset the additional stress of handling for treatments.

Dr. Karra examined the bear, and took another set of radiographs. She heard crackles in the bear’s lungs (indicating fluid) and was able to see fluid in the lungs on radiograph as well. This was a marked change from a week ago. Dr. Karra gave the bear fluids, anti-nausea medication, and an appetite stimulant, diuretic (to remove fluid from lungs) and settled him to an oxygen chamber to assist with his breathing overnight.

On the morning of June 25, Orange Tag seemed a little brighter; he ate a small amount of canned tuna in the morning. Hospital Cam viewers were able to watch Dr. Ernesto place an IV catheter in the bear’s front leg; this system will deliver a continuous drip of fluids to keep the tiny bear well hydrated. The bear is also mildly sedated to reduce stress and improve his breathing; the cub is also continuing to receive diuretics.


The veterinarians are increasingly concerned about the bear’s deteriorating condition; it’s difficult to assess what the cause of all these issues are, though possibilities include vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) which could be caused by infection or disease, or possibly a congenital heart defect. The diuretics should help alleviate these symptoms; how the cub responds to this treatment will help the veterinarians continue to learn more about this bear’s condition.

Many bear fans asked about the high burden of ticks this cub had when he was first admitted; that certainly caused him to be weak and anemic at the time. A SNAP test was performed on the cub last week, which tests for several vector-borne diseases including heartworm, Lyme, Ehrlichia canis, Ehrlichia ewingi, Anaplasma phagocytophilum and Anaplasma platys.

Orange Tag continues to be a picky eater; the rehabilitation staff have continued to offer a wide variety of foods, and it appears that the cub typically eats novel food items, then loses interest the next time it is offered.

On Saturday, Dr. Karra administered additional anti-nausea medication and an appetite stimulant. The bear has the full run of the right side of the Large Mammal enclosure but is still separate from the other two cubs so that he has full access to his food and so the rehabilitation staff can closely monitor all food intake.

The veterinary staff are hoping this bout of gastritis is self-limiting and will clear given time and reduced stress (limited handling). It’s a tricky situation to treat; ideally, the staff would give the bear subcutaneous fluids and an oral dose of medication on days when he doesn’t eat, but excessive handling and restraint may stress the cub and cause him to not want to eat. If the cub becomes quieter this week and appears less bright and alert, the veterinarians will perform an endoscopy procedure to check the bear’s upper GI tract for ulcers.

Orange Tag ate about 60% of his meal overnight; rather than eating the A/D again, he mostly ate baby food and canned dog food. The cub only lost 200 grams, and while the rehabilitation staff would prefer that the cub gain, 200 grams is a small loss. The rehabilitation team offered a variety of foods once again, this time adding baby food on top of the A/D diet.

If the cub’s appetite decreases again, the staff will order more anti-nausea medications, along with an appetite stimulant.

Wildlife rehabilitation intern Kylee reported that Orange Tag ate his second meal of A/D during the day on June 18. For the evening feeding, she offered more A/D, plus a mush bowl. On the morning of June 19, wildlife rehabilitator Shannon found that the cub had eaten about half of the A/D, but showed no interest in the mush bowl. The cub is feisty and bluff charging the rehabilitation staff as normal.

On the afternoon of June 17, Dr. Karra anesthetized Black Bear cub #19-1176 [Orange Tag] for radiographs and an ultrasound to see if any abdominal masses or obstruction could be seen. The small bear cub was extremely feisty before anesthesia – even though the cub has not been eating the past few days, he is not acting sick.


Drs. Karra and Peach were not able to see anything of note on the ultrasound or additional radiographs. The bear’s gastrointestinal tract was empty, and no masses were seen. The veterinarians are unsure of what is causing the bear’s lack of appetite at this point. A student went to a local animal hospital and picked up anti-nausea medication and an appetite stimulant; Dr. Karra gave the medications and fluids and then placed the cub back in a Zinger crate. The crate was moved back to the right side of the Large Mammal Isolation enclosure, and the rehabilitation staff offered the bear a meal of canned A/D, a highly digestible, soft food.

On the morning of June 18, wildlife rehabilitation intern Kylee checked on Orange Tag and found that he had eaten the A/D food overnight. She prepared another meal for him, along with some baby food. The team will carefully monitor him to see if he continues to eat.

Rehabilitators Shannon and Kylee assessed Black Bear cub Orange Tag this morning and found that, once again, he did not eat last night’s food. He did gain a small amount of weight but generally was not interested in today’s food either, which is highly unusual.

Drs. Karra and Peach reviewed yesterday’s radiographs again; the bear’s abdomen appears abnormal, though it’s difficult to assess. While the bear does not appear to have an obstruction, there is a chance there is a mass in the bear’s abdomen, but it’s difficult to appreciate. Dr. Karra decided to bring the cub down into the Center’s hospital for an ultrasound this afternoon; depending on what she finds, she may take the bear into exploratory surgery immediately after the ultrasound.

Black Bear cub Orange Tag has been doing well in his Zinger crate on one side of the Center’s Large Mammal Isolation enclosure. As of May 30, the rehab team felt like they were finally getting on top of the cub’s severe tick infestation; at that point, most ticks were dead or dying. The staff have continued to monitor the cub closely for ticks, but haven’t needed to reapply a topical treatment in the past three days.

The cub gained a little weight, and on June 3, weighed in at 2.34 kg. Once the cub is more than 3.0 kg, he can be introduced to the two other cubs residing at the Center. In the meantime, his separate housing ensures he has access to more food; the rehab team are feeding him three mush bowls per day.