Veterinarian called in to help ailing moose

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Despite efforts of staff at an Okotoks veterinary clinic, a moose calf that fell ill after being separated from its mother on a rural property outside Okotoks died after arriving at a wildlife rescue centre.

Veterinarian Nathan Bernadet, with Southern Alberta Veterinary Emergency on Okotoks’ north border, jumped in after an area resident brought in the moose calf on Nov. 20 that had been on her property for a number of days.

He said the moose had been separated from its mother, which has since disappeared, and became ill while on a rural property outside town. He said the calf was eating hay people had put out for it, but it eventually weakened and laid down and wasn’t able to get up.

Bernadet said the residents tried to get Fish and Wildlife officers to look into the situation, to no avail.

“They had been in contact with Fish and Wildlife, which had said just to leave it alone,” he said. “But certainly in these cases I can’t see how you can watch something die out your window, so to speak.”

At this point, Bernadet said the animal was brought to the clinic.

He said the moose was extremely weak when it arrived at the clinic. It wasn’t able to stand or lift its head. Bernadet said the animal was hypothermic, as well as dehydrated and had possible abdominal problems, but the main problem was the animal’s blood sugar levels were extremely low.

He said it was given IV fluids and he worked to bring its blood sugar levels up.

“Within an hour of treating the moose it responded to it and actually went from being flat out, non-responsive, semi-comatose to being able to stand weakly,” said Bernadet.

After treating it, he said the moose was taken to a wildlife rehabilitation centre in the Airdrie area.

Bernadet said the moose died the next day.

Brendan Cox, Alberta Solicitor General office spokesperson, said Fish and Wildlife officers will try to help where they can when they receive calls from the public, but it’s not always possible.

“Our officers have saved many animals from dangerous situations, like being trapped on a frozen body of water, or being stuck in fences or pits,” he said. “But, unfortunately, they are not always able to help in every case when they are responding to other calls for service, such as enforcing hunting, fishing and public lands laws and regulations, and responding to incidents of dangerous wildlife.”

Cox said it’s not uncommon for animal mothers to leave their young and they could return. For this reason, he said people are advised to not approach young animals.

Cox said officers routinely receive calls of animals that appear sick or wounded and are able to recover naturally. Human intervention and interference can cause stress for wild animals, he added.

“Tranquilizing, capturing or even handling a wild animal causes it stress, and this can lead to capture myopathy,” said Cox. “Capture myopathy is a disease complex that causes an animal’s muscles to stop functioning properly, and it can lead to death. Unfortunately, there is no treatment.”

This is partly why officers and wildlife rehab facilities try to let animals retain their inherent ‘wildness’ and opt to avoid human interference if an animal is able to recover on its own, he said.

Bernadet said he understands the position of Fish and Wildlife officers. He said moose generally don’t do well in captivity.

However, once the animal wound up at his clinic, he said it was his responsibility to treat it.

“The fact it shows up at the door, that’s not something we can turn away or I’m going to turn away,” he said.

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