Some of my pets...


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Not bad for a 25-yr.-old "cripple!"
3-29-98--Valerie riding Max.

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My darling Schmo, all massive, moth-eaten 17 hh of him, in
(Stubben Parzival dressage saddle, with tree I had widened to 34 cm.)
Will Miller's catalog be calling us next?

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Schmo gnawing on my coat, Christmas '96

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Schmo, with Valerie riding that's a BIG mule!

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Ears, one of my coonhounds, with most of the cats.
Leather couches and tile floors the only way to fly with so many pets!

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Left, Puppy Boy.   Right, Spot.

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Wild baby bunnies I rescued, nursed back to health and set free.

Puppy Boy and my cats, June 2003.
This was the last photo of Hoover (orange and white cat in rear).


The opossums I was feeding.  They are more trusting
than the rabbits, and used to fall asleep in my hand when smaller.
Lately they are more energetic and crawl all over me.

September 4, 2003--Possum update--I just set my baby possums free today, which may be a victory of sorts, but it still feels bad!  I probably could have done it a month ago, but I have really been dragging my feet.  I found a good spot in the woods, fairly secluded and not near a road, and next to a creek with a gradual bank so they won't fall in and drown when they drink.  I hid a large Coleman cooler under logs that I have strapped shut, with a 4" hole drilled into one end.  It should be a nice, secure shelter...insulated, waterproof, etc.  Put in some excellent timothy hay as bedding, which they can also eat.  Most of them did not hang around the shelter, but were soon exploring and eating all kinds of stuff I would never see as food, even picking through rotted downed logs (hunting for bugs?).  The runt, a shy little female, was the only one not to venture as far.  I took her to the creek so she could see where the water was.  Then I took her back, and she crawled into the shelter.  There were a lot of trees whose roots they can climb under for shelter on the sides of the hills, too.  Now I'm worried about that small female...she always let the others eat first at my house, too.  One of the males was riding on my shoulders, and crawling all over me for the longest time.  I really will miss them.  Even though they always slept in a pile in my house, when free, they were all striking off on their own rather than staying together.  I had them in the bathtub at home.  Lately they were getting strong and big enough to crawl out of the bathtub, despite it being a deep, over-sized old tub on legs.  So now my tub is mine again, and clean...but it's still sad.  I felt bad when I set my bunnies free, too, but one came back to see me a while later.  The possums were more interested in contact with me than the bunnies, and braver.  However, they were getting nippy...with me, and anything else they encountered.  It is almost like they investigate everything with their teeth.  The rabbits were gentler in that direction.  The possums  loved fruit and yogurt...and it's an empty feeling cleaning some of the last bits of the treats I bought for them out of the fridge.  The opossum web sites do recommend a varied diet; they have higher calcium requirements than dogs and cats, too.

Check out info on orphaned opossum care here:
Opossum diet info:

Discussion of metabolic bone disease in opossums.  This is much like rickets, and quite painful...and the result of an incorrect nutritional balance.  They can't just be left on cat food and raw liver; this almost guarantees this disease.  Yogurt and fruit and vegetables need to be part of their diet, too.

Photo above--I have a pet nipper water bottle for them. (They eliminate in water bowls, so the bottle is better.)  Heaps of bedding are in the foreground. A gerbil exercise wheel, a cat post, and a wire shelf give them opportunities to exercise and build up strength.  They are good climbers.

I called the opossum society, and they recommended this diet for young opossums not yet weaned--
Eyes closed--1 part, Esbilac powder, or puppy milk replacer, 1-1/2 parts Pedialyte, 1/2 part distilled water.
Eyes open--1 part Esbilac powder or puppy milk replacer, 1 part human baby rice or oatmeal cereal, 1 part applesauce with NO preservatives, 1-1/2 parts Pedialyte, 1/2 part distilled water.

Notes on raising orphan baby animals--cow's milk is too thin, and relatively low in fat and protein, yet high in carbohydrates, for many species.  Another concern is its lactose content.  Therefore, formula made from it usually needs to be enriched to varying degrees with raw egg yolk.  If I had fed the rabbits cow's milk unaltered, they would have starved to death.  I fed the rabbits goat's milk and raw egg yolk, which they thrived on. 

Milk composition table, in percentages, from Borden, Inc. research:

Species Solids Fat Protein Carbohydrates
Cow 11.9 3.5 3.0 4.6
Dog 24.0 10.5 7.9      3.8
Cat 20.0 6.5 9.0 6.8
Rabbit 30.5 10.4 15.5 1.9
Mouse 25.8 12.1 9.0     3.2
Pig 20.0 7.3 6.6 5.0
Sheep 20.5 8.6 5.7       5.4
Goat 12.8        4.1 3.7 4.2
Opossum 14.0 4.7 4.0 4.5
Gray Squirrel 26.6 12.6 9.2   3.4
Beaver 33.0 19.8 9.0 2.2
Coyote 24.5 10.7 9.9 2.3
Fox 18.1 6.3 6.2 4.6
Racoon 13.4 3.9 4.0 4.7
Otter 35.9 23.9 11.0 .1
Deer 23.1 8.0 10.6 2.8
Antelope 25.2 13.0 6.9 .4.0

"Wild Orphan Babies: Mammals and Birds: Caring for Them and Setting Them Free" by William J. Weber, DVM, Holt, Rinehard & Winston, NY, 1975, 1978, 1980, is unfortunately out of print, but old copies can still be found at HERE   Much of the information below is condensed from his book.  I wish they'd do another printing!

Cow's milk is NOT rich enough for most animals, and diarrhea from feeding it is common due to its lactose content.  To see the tragic results of feeding squirrels a straight cow's milk diet,

Dr. Weber recommends the following formula recipes for making mammal baby formula from easily-found ingredients:

Mice, Squirrels, Cats (small) 1 egg yolk cow's milk added to total 4-6 oz. (118-177 ml)
Rabbits (may need anti-biotics in formula once eyes are open to prevent intestinal infections.) 1 egg yolk cow's milk added to total 4-6 oz. (118-177 ml)
Opossums, Raccoons, Foxes (medium) 1 lg. or 2 sm. egg yolks cow's milk added to total 8 oz. (237 ml)
Goats and deer (larger) 1-2 weeks 1 egg yolk cow's milk added to total 8 oz. (237 ml)
Goats and deer (larger) 2 weeks 1 egg yolk cow's milk added to total 12 oz. (355 ml)
Goats and deer (larger) 4 weeks 1 egg yolk cow's milk added to total 16 oz. (473 ml)
Goats and deer (larger) after eating 1 pint (473 ml)/feeding, you may switch to powdered milk, mixed 50% thicker than directions    

He also suggests adding a little bit of honey (up to 1 tsp. (5 ml) may make a typical 8 oz. (237 ml) batch of  formula more appealing to them.

Nancy Filbert and I both feel better about using goat's milk than cow's milk, though, as many animals do not do well on cow's milk's high lactose content.  Nancy also talked about using kitten milk replacer on opossums she had raised.  I used Farnam's puppy milk replacer on my possums.

I called the opossum society, and they recommended a different diet for young opossums--
Eyes closed--1 part, Esbilac powder, or puppy milk replacer, 1-1/2 parts Pedialyte, 1/2 part distilled water.
Eyes open--1 part Esbilac powder or puppy milk replacer, 1 part human baby rice or oatmeal cereal, 1 part applesauce with NO preservatives, 1-1/2 parts Pedialyte, 1/2 part distilled water.

In any event, contact your local wildlife rehabilitator!  In some cases it is not even legal for you to keep wild animals.  Wildlife rehabilitators have a wealth of experience to help you with.


Feeding using eye droppers, left, and baby bottles, right
(From "Wild Orphan Babies")
Note that their heads are NOT tilted way up!

Getting Formula INTO them--you can't just leave a bowl out and forget it!  On smaller animals, you can use an eye dropper, or a small syringe, to slowly expel tiny amounts of formula either into their mouths directly, or at the tip of their nose if they will lick off a drop at a time.  They need to be held gently somewhat upright, but with the head not tilted up very much--you don't want to choke them.  Larger babies can use pet nursing bottles, or even human baby bottles.  Formula and your feeding equipment need to be kept scrupulously clean to avoid intestinal infections, which can dehydrate and kill.  Only warm the portion up you will use right away.  The rest must be kept refrigerated.  Babies who are cold won't eat or be able to digest until they are warmed back up, which needs to be done slowly.  Re-heating too rapidly can kill them.  Overheating them can kill them, too.  Very weak babies may need to be stomach tube fed, but I recommend you get your vet's help on this.  Mistakes can be fatal if you fill the lungs with formula instead of the stomach.  Be sure to keep utensils very clean, and completely detergent-free.  Detergent residue can cause intestinal upsets.

I have also been having some success getting the opossums to lick formula out of a spoon--the latest experiment!  They also liked to lick yogurt off my finger.

Nest, with light bulb for heat on one end.
(From "Wild Orphan Babies")

Housing--the nest needs to be warm, but not hot.  A box with towels, flannel shirts, or the like, works well.  Leave a thermometer in the nest to check; you don't want to exceed 95 degrees F (35 C), and this would be a good temperature for very young babies with their eyes still closed   If the baby has some hair, but the eyes are still closed, aim for a nest temperature of 90 degrees F (32 C).  Once the eyes are open, drop the temperature of the nest 5 degrees F (2.5 C) a week until you are down to room temperature.  (However, some species may need a little less warmth, depending on their normal body temperature.  Opossums, for instance have a normal range of 94-97 degree F (34.4 - 36.1 C), which is what the mother's pouch would come close to, but not quite.  A light bulb at one end of the nest will enable the baby to move away if it is too warm, and to move closer for more heat.  Heating pads can dangerously overheat babies, and are not recommended, unless you put one under one end of a well-lined nest box, but have quite a bit of the box NOT on top of a heating pad that is turned on to its lowest setting.  When they get older and no longer seek out the heat of the light bulb, you may discontinue it.  When they get older, the nest needs to be in a larger cage to contain them.  In the case of my rabbits, I just gave them a whole room (which had a tiled floor), plus their bedding.  I notice the opossums have been burrowing under layers of bedding to simulate a pouch; the rabbits weren't as interested in being under covers.

Squirrel eating cereal, first solid food
(From "Wild Orphan Babies")

Weaning--Before you quit giving formula, once they are getting stronger and more active, you can start offering solid foods, and slowly transition them to solid food.  My rabbits especially liked Romaine lettuce, oatmeal, and spinach.  I also left piles of grass, clover, dandelions, and other native plants, etc., for them to nibble on.  When they get older and are starting to wean, you can offer water--bowls for larger babies, and water bottles with a sipper tube from a pet store for smaller animals.  I had to go with a sipper bottle for the possums, who would piddle in their water bowls.  A feeder worked out better for dry cat food for the possums than bowls, which they always turned over.  Other weaning recommendations from Dr. Weber:  For squirrels and mice, begin to offer dry unsweetened breakfast cereals and nuts as new first foods.  Discontinue cereal when they are eating nuts, and try adding some fruit, lettuce, brown bread, and carrots.  Acorns and other seeds squirrels normally eat should be added as well.  For Rabbits, start with breakfast cereal and green leafy vegetables.  You can also try lettuce, celery, cabbage, apples, and other green plants they may find outdoors. Foxes, Skunks, Opossums, Raccoons Armadillos and Bobcats--when they are old enough to become playful at about 4-5 weeks, start offering a 50/50 mix of complete canned dog or cat food and formula, and offer it on your finger. If they like it, try a bowl.  Gradually transition away from formula to canned dog or cat food and formula, followed by canned dog or cat food, followed by dry cat food.  Discard uneaten canned food or formula after 5-10 minutes.  When you have graduated to dry food, this can just be left out.  Prior to this, feeding needs to be done 4-6 times a day.  A very weak baby may need to be fed more often, but smaller quantities, for a while.  With the possums, I began weaning very gradually.  I first added some canned cat food to their formula.  While still on formula, I offered pulverized dry cat food next...and graduated them to dry cat food that had not been pulverized.  You cannot feed them only dry cat or dog food, though.  Possums need a diet of about 1/3 cat or dog food, 1/3 fruit yogurt and 1/3 raw fruits and vegetables, grass, etc.  They develop weak bones on a diet with too little calcium and too much meat.

I think cleaning up formula on the babies is important.  It will soon sour if just left on.  My guys get cleaned off after feeding with both dry and moistened Kleenex.

How much to feed--in general, bottle feed 4x daily, and they'll stop eating when they are full.  Not a hard and fast rule, though.  Dr. Weber walks you through some of the calculations, and then says that in practice they don't always eat this much.  Other clues:  if they are satisfied, they will sleep.  If they are hungry, they will get restless.  One obvious example of when the yardstick of sleeping being equated with satiation, though, is when the animal is in such bad shape he is unconscious.  This is an animal who may need a stomach tube feeding.  Animals who are in worse shape will also want to eat less, maybe less than they need, so quitting feeding the minute they want to quit may not always be the right thing to do.  Examples Dr. Weber gives on how much to feed:

1-1/2" long, no hair--2-10 drops
3-4" long, hair, but eyes not yet open--2-6 droppers full (1-3 cc)
4" long, eyes open--4-10 droppers full (2-5 cc)
Weaker, traumatized squirrel would take less, but more often.

250 calories/Kg. body weight, or 100 calories/lb. body weight.  (Basic formula is 28-30 calories/oz. or 1 calorie/cc;
1 lb. kitten needs 4 oz. (118 cc) formula a day; squirrel with higher metabolism needs more (150 calories/lb. or .45 Kg) By this tortuous process, I eventually figured my 1 oz. opossums needed 4--2 cc feedings...I think!

Elimination--very young mammals need help with this, and it is a plus to be able to control elimination as long as possible to keep the nest clean.  You dip a cotton ball in warm water, squeeze it out, and gently rub the anal and genital area, simulating the mother licking the babies.  They are unable to eliminate on their own without this outside stimulation when they are still very young (less than 4 weeks old).

Petting, Handling and Freedom--making a friend of the baby is OK.  Some will crawl all over you, and then curl up for a nap in your lap, or something.  Overly restraining some animals may result in them panicking and you being bitten.  When the baby is old enough to romp and play, it is time to begin getting it used to life on the outside.  This can be started with taking the baby out for a while, and then taking it back in.  Dr. Weber favors letting them start having free access between indoors and outdoors, like with a door left ajar, although I am not up for this idea in my own house, in terms of bugs coming in, etc.  He talks about leaving access to a cage with food and bedding out, and says that eventually the orphan will be coming back to it less and less.  I have some doubts about this, though--if I leave dry cat food out, you can bank on all the area mice eating it, plus I wonder how safe the babies would be with the neighboring dogs loose; I turned my rabbits out in an area with fewer loose dogs.  However, his idea of gradual transitioning makes sense.  When I turned the rabbits out, I was bringing them their favorite, oatmeal, to the place I turned them out in for a while.  Many other area animals like oatmeal, though, so who knows!  However, even though I let the rabbits out 1.5 miles away, one came back and let me pet him, which was really sweet!  The opossums I am caring for right now are considerably more interested in relating to me than the rabbits.  Their little velcro-like paws will get them thoroughly stuck in my hair if I let them, and they cling and nuzzle more; the rabbits were less sociable with me.  The opossums were inside the pouch of their mother, who had been hit on the road.  The babies not in her pouch were dead, but I did manage to salvage 5.

Dr. Weber feels you should start transitioning the baby to the outside world before it has grown into an adult, as they are more flexible when younger, and more likely to look for their own food if they have not been inside for months on end.

Dr. Weber's book also gives detailed information about nursing many kinds of birds, which I have not summarized here.

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