Great Horned Owl #18-2952

Admission Date: 
October 19, 2018
Location of Rescue: 
Bedford County, Virginia
Cause of Admission / Condition: 
Lead toxicity
Patient Status: 
Current Patient

On October 19, a Great Horned Owl was admitted to the Wildlife Center from Bedford County, Virginia. The owl was initially found by the side of the road on October 5 and was taken to a local veterinary clinic. The owl was given medication and was fed venison and rabbit for about 12 days before it was transferred to a local permitted wildlife rehabilitator.

The owl was not behaving normally; the rehabilitator suspected that the owl had signs of lead toxicosis. She took the owl to her veterinarian for an examination; radiographs were taken and four metal pellets were seen in the bird’s digestive tract – likely lead pellets, causing the neurologic symptoms.

The owl was transferred to the Wildlife Center, where the veterinary team drew blood from the owl and performed a lead test. Results were extremely high – results were 2.36 ppm. The team decided to attempt treatment, though recovery from severe lead toxicity is rare, since the animal can have permanent neurologic symptoms and organ damage from the lead.

The following day, the veterinary team performed a gastric lavage on the owl – the equivalent of stomach pumping. The four metal lead pieces were successfully removed.  The owl was started on a course of chelation therapy, to essentially “scrub” the lead from the bird’s bloodstream.

After a five-day course of treatment, lead levels dropped to 0.231 ppm – indicating that treatment was working, though lead was still present. After several days of rest from the chelation, an additional lead test was taken, with a reading of “low”. The owl has been bright and alert; the bird is also eating well and casting pellets normally. Overall, the veterinary team is surprised at how well the owl is doing.

This Great Horned Owl’s story emphasizes the importance of switching to a non-lead ammunition when hunting. When shot with lead ammunition, game animals can contain very small pieces of lead, which fragment upon impact with the target. These very small fragments are ingested by those who eat the game animals – both humans and other wildlife.

Your donation will help provide veterinary medical care to this Great Horned Owl ... and the 3,000 other wild patients the Center will treat this year. 


November 6, 2018

Great Horned Owl #18-2952 has been doing very well during the past few days; the owl is bright, alert, reactive and has had no neurological signs. On November 3, the owl was moved to an outdoor enclosure for continued observation. If the owl does well in the coming weeks, he’ll be moved to a larger flight space.