CROW Case of the Week: Barred Owl (#18-3255)

The barred owl (Strix varia) is a good-sized owl with a large round head without ear tufts. It gets its name from the sides of its head which are barred with light and dark colors. The woodland bird has wide dark eyes that it utilizes to hunt from its tall perch when it preys on amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and other small mammals. 

Barred owls are one of the most vocal of its species, sending resounding “hoos” to either communicate with others or as a mating ritual. The nocturnal owls prefer to nest in a tree hollow or hole and are known to be very aggressive when defending their nests. 

At CROW, an adult barred owl was admitted to CROW after flying into a truck on Highway 31 in North Fort Myers. Upon intake, the owl was noted to have a depressed mentation and was only standing with the support of the towel and box it arrived in. Veterinary staff found that the patient had some mild retinal hemorrhage in both of its eyes, a sign that it had suffered head trauma from the collision. 

“Any time head trauma is suspected for a patient, the fundus – the back of the eye which includes the retina and optic nerve – is checked for evidence of trauma,” said Dr. Malka Spektor, CROW veterinary intern. “With a case of head trauma, bleeding can be seen back there, or in severe cases, retinal detachment, which can cause blindness. In this case, there was bleeding in the back of the eye, but it was a mild amount, with no other signs of trauma noted in the back of the eye.” 

The owl was given pain medications, iron and B12, and an intraosseous (IO) catheter was placed to administer fluids. “The iron and B12 were actually given because the patient presented mildly anemic. Iron and B12 help the body regenerate red blood cells, and upon a recheck of the owl’s bloodwork a few days later, the anemia had resolved,” said Dr. Spektor. “An intraosseous catheter is placed when a patient is critical and venous access cannot be gained. After multiple unsuccessful attempts to place an IV catheter due to poor blood perfusion, access was gained through a bone with the intraosseous catheter to save its life. Fluids and other medications to decrease brain swelling are administered using this catheter.” 

The patient was then placed in an oxygen chamber to help in its recovery. “When patients have head trauma, oxygen delivery to the brain can be compromised. To combat possible brain damage due to lack of oxygen, supplemental oxygen is provided,” said Dr. Spektor. “Additionally, some patients with head trauma have compromised respirations, so supplemental oxygen is used to help make breathing easier.”

Surviving head trauma is never easy for an animal. Many times, head trauma can lead to fatality. Fortunately, for this barred owl, the trauma was mild and a full recovery is expected. “The patient has been doing great,” said Dr. Spektor on Monday. “The catheter was removed and the patient is now standing and eating on its own. It was moved to an outside enclosure on August 24, where it is flying normally. After a few days outside building up flight muscles, the patient should be ready for release.” 


CROW Case of the Week stories are written by Bob Petcher and appear weekly in the Island Sun and River Weekly Newspapers.

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