Bald Eagle #19-1068

Admission Date: 
May 23, 2019
Location of Rescue: 
Giles County, Virginia
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Suspect pentobarbital ingestion
Died May 28, 2019
Patient Status: 
Patient Archive

On May 23, the Wildlife Center admitted a Bald Eagle from Giles County, Virginia. The bird was found down in a landfill by an animal control officer and was taken to Virginia Tech. The ACO and clinicians at Virginia Tech suspected that the bird ingested a toxin at the landfill; they were able to stabilize the bird before sending it to the Center later that afternoon.

Dr. Karra, the Center’s veterinary intern, examined the gravely ill eagle when it arrived. The bird was laying down in the carrier and appeared nearly comatose. Dr. Karra placed the eagle in an oxygen chamber immediately; about 10 minutes later she placed an oxygen mask on the bird for a very brief physical exam and placement of an IV catheter in the eagle’s right leg. Blood was taken for in-house diagnostics; the eagle’s lead level was low, and the emergency panel was within normal limits. The eagle was in excellent body condition.

Based on the initial findings, bird’s presentation and location of rescue, the Wildlife Center team suspect that the eagle ingested a barbiturate – a chemical used to euthanize animals. The veterinarians can’t be sure without additional diagnostic testing, but the team has seen this acute poisoning in eagles before.

During the brief examination, the eagle regurgitated a brown liquid several times. Dr. Karra administered intravenous fluids and medication to neutralize the effects of the suspected ingested poison. A sedative was given as well to keep the bird sedate while it received intensive care. Dr. Karra connected an EKG to the eagle to monitor its heart rate overnight. There is no treatment for a pentobarbital overdose – the only option is to treat each symptom as it comes, and to provide critical supportive care to the animal as the drug withdrawals from its system.

Dr. Karra monitored the eagle late into the evening. On the morning of May 24, the eagle’s heart rate was notably decreased, so Dr. Karra provided a dose of atropine. By the end of the day, the eagle was alert and its respiratory level was within normal limits.

Despite the extremely grave prognosis for the bird – given that it arrived nearly deceased – the bird survived the weekend, and made improvements each day. By Saturday evening, the eagle no longer needed oxygen support; by Sunday afternoon, the eagle was stable enough for radiographs and the rest of its physical exam. The eagle is increasingly feisty, much to the relief of all the Center staff. Prognosis is still guarded; the eagle is currently being treated for aspiration pneumonia after it inhaled some of the fluid that it regurgitated. 

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May 30, 2019

Many Hospital Cam viewers were able to see the treatment of Bald Eagle #19-1068 on May 28. The team monitored the bird and provided medications, but the eagle was having an increasingly difficult time breathing. The eagle was placed in an oxygen chamber and its respiration returned to normal; however, an hour later, the bird passed away.

The Center is sending the eagle’s body for further diagnostic testing to see if the type of poisoning can be confirmed.