The Mangy Squirrel
D. E. Larsen, DVM
“Bill is out front and wants to talk with you,” Sandy said.
Bill was waiting nervously at the front counter when I stepped out of the back. He motioned toward an exam room with a questioning expression on his face.
“Sure, let’s step into an exam room, Bill.”
A little relaxed now in a private room, Bill started, “Now Doc, I don’t want you laughing at me.”
“You know me, I might laugh with you, but I try not to laugh at you until after you leave,” I said. “What can I help you with?”
“Doc, I have a bunch of grandkids that are always around the ranch, and I worry when there is a sick animal around.”
“Bill, you take as good of care of your animals as anybody around. What do you have going on?”
“It is this darn little squirrel,” Bill said. “I don’t know what is going on, but he looks like his skin is rotting off. He has lost most of his hair. I was just going to shoot him, but you know Billie. She threw a fit about that idea. So here I am, hoping you want to treat a squirrel.”
“Treating a squirrel is not a problem. Getting ahold of the squirrel is the problem.”
“Do you think one of the live traps would work,” Bill asked? “They probably cost more than I would want to spend.”
“I know a group of ladies who have a bunch of them that they use to trap feral cats. I am sure they would loan you one for a few days. In fact, I think we still have one of their’s in the back of the clinic. We can have Sandy make a phone call, and you can take it home.”
“Those gals use them. They must be pretty simple to set up.”
“Bill, I don’t think you will have any problem. Just scatter a little grain around the front and inside the thing, and you will have the squirrel in the first hour.”
“If I catch him, can I bring him in tomorrow?”
“Just give us a call when you are on the way,” I said. “I will transfer him into an induction chamber so we can get him under anesthesia with gas. That way, he will recover quickly, and you can probably take him home right away.”
Bill was at the door with the caged squirrel shortly after we opened the following morning.
“This guy is a sucker for cracked corn. Took no time at all to catch him this morning.”
“And what a sorry looking squirrel,” I said. “If we can’t help him, we need to plan to put him to sleep.”
“Let’s take him back to the surgery room and dump him into our plexiglass induction chamber,” I said.
It is easy to dump feral cats out of the live trap into the induction chamber. Then nobody is at risk of a bite wound. But with squirrels, it is a little different. Try dumping a squirrel out of a wire cage when he doesn’t want to go. They hang onto the wires with a powerful grip.
“Doc, I don’t think your idea is going to work,” Bill said. “I brought some corn for just such a contingency.”
Bill pulls a small bag of corn out of his pocket. He dropped the corn through the top of the wire cage into the induction chamber below. The squirrel watched the corn, waited a moment, and then dropped to the floor of the induction chamber. We closed the sliding door on the chamber.
“We have him now. You were right about him being a sucker for corn,” I said. “We will get him under anesthesia and on a mask, and then I can do a skin scraping. We get a whiff or two of gas when we open this chamber. You should probably wait out front.”
I put the slide from the skin scraping under the microscope, and what a surprise.
“This squirrel has Demodectic Mange,” I said to Dixie. “That complicates the treatment a little.”
“Bill, your squirrel has Demodectic Mange,” I said as we brought Bill back to discuss our next steps.
“What does that mean,” Bill asked?
“I have no idea what it means in the squirrel,” I said. “In a dog, it can be difficult to cure because it probably occurs in a generalized form like this because of an immune problem in the dog. We can cure most, but some end up being put to sleep.”
“I only have a couple of remarks,” Bill said. “One, don’t call this guy my squirrel, and two, Billie is not going to talk about putting him to sleep until we try to cure him.”
“Good enough,” I said. “We will need to bathe him and give him a special dip application. I will probably also give him an injection of Ivomec and some long-acting antibiotics. There is the possibility that the dip and the Ivomec might be a problem for him. It might be a kill or cure type thing.”
“Then, I assume, I take him home and hope for the best,” Bill said.
“That will sort of be the case. Ideally, we should repeat the process in a couple of weeks. That might be difficult. My guess is this guy will know what that capture cage is all about next time.”
“Do you want me to wait for him,” Bill asked?
“I think it will take longer than I expected. Why don’t you plan on leaving him until this afternoon? We will recover him in the capture cage. That will give us a chance to monitor him a little. If he is going to have an issue, there is no reason to have Billie watching it.”
“What about the grandkids,” Bill asked?
“Demodex is a mite that is probably a normal inhabitant of the skin of many animals and people. The species are different. It only rarely causes a problem and is not considered contagious. Most animals probably get the mite from their mothers. Only those with a specific immune deficiency have a problem. So you probably don’t need to worry about the grandkids.”
We bathed and dipped the squirrel and gave him an injection of Ivomec and a long-acting antibiotic. Bill was in to pick him up in the early afternoon.
“Can I just pay you cash so this doesn’t show up on my statement,” Bill asked? “Billie wanted this squirrel taken care of, but she will be upset if she sees how much I spent on a squirrel.”
“We try not to do that very often, Bill, but in this case, I can make an exception. Your secret is secure here.”
“Thanks, Doc, and you mentioned he may be needing some additional treatment.”
“Is this guy around where I could see him if I dropped by in a couple of weeks,” I asked?
“He is around most of the time,” Bill said. “I can make a habit of giving him a little corn every day. That way, he will be easy to find. I will feed him around noon if you want to pick a good time to come.”
It was close to 3 weeks later when I was driving by Bill’s place. I noticed Bill out by the barn and pulled into his driveway. Just as Bill had said, the squirrel was down on the ground, busily stuffing his cheeks with corn.
“He looks almost well,” I said. “He is growing hair all over. I don’t think we need to do anything else.”
“That’s good,” Bill said. “He is almost a pet now. I suppose that I will have a whole litter to feed by next summer. He will look normal enough that he can get a girlfriend by then.”
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash