It is strongly recommended that all new wildlife carers initially work under the supervision of an experienced carer. The Department of Environment and Conservation maintains a list of wildlife carers throughout Western Australia and can be contacted for names and contact details.
Before taking on the responsibility of raising a joey, consider carefully your personal situation. Unlike puppies or kittens which are weaned at 6 weeks, a kangaroo joey is not weaned until it is about 18 months old. You could therefore be bottle feeding your joey four times a day for up to a year. This is a big commitment that most people are not in a position, or not prepared to make.
Young joeys are also stressed very easily by excessive noise and handling. A joey should not be kept in a noisy household where it is constantly being handled by young children.
A decision must also be made about the joey’s future. A suburban backyard is not a suitable place for a full grown kangaroo Nothing is more heartbreaking than to successfully raise a joey for 18 months only to have it savaged by a neighbour’s dog. It is also difficult to re-home or rehabilitate a kangaroo after it has been kept as a pet for several years.
To keep wildlife permanently in captivity a licence must be obtained from the Department of Environment and Conservation. They will take into consideration such things as height of fences and accessibility by stray dogs.
Ideally your joey should be returned to the wild. This does not mean dumping it in the bush, but following a structured release program that ensures its survival. Release and rehabilitation is discussed elsewhere.
When presented with a joey, a carer must first assess its viability. Joeys are generally the result of a traumatic event such as a vehicle accident, shooting or dog attack. This can result in injuries to the joey as well as the mother.
Refer to the section on First Aid for information on assessing viability.
Constant warmth for a young joey is essential. Eskys (without the lid and packed with blankets) are ideal for housing joeys. They insulate the joey from heat and cold and are a convenient way of transporting the joey. Even a furless joey can maintain its body heat without artificial heating when wrapped up well in an esky.
The blankets lining the esky should create a snug cavity for the joey and support it evenly in an upright position as if it were in its mother’s pouch. With the joey in place, the blankets can be folded over the joey and tucked down the sides of the esky.
Keeping the esky in a warm room and off cold floors will help to maintain the joey at a constant temperature. Caution is required if using polystyrene eskys for older joeys as they can be chewed.
If a joey is cold or hypothermic, a well wrapped hot water bottle may be used in the bottom of the esky. It is imperative that the water in the hot water bottle is no hotter than body temperature. When the joey has warmed to its normal temperature it should be able to maintain its own body temperature without artificial heat.
Furless joeys housed in eskys very rarely need oiling as the humidity keeps their skin moist. This is important because it reduces the amount of handling required, which reduces stress. If the joey’s skin does become dry, apply warmed Eucerin wool alcohol ointment.
Other methods of providing warmth include:
• Electric blankets with the ties removed, draped over a box or basket. Do not fold the electric blanket and waterproof it from the joey in its pouch. More wool blankets can be used both under and over the joey as required. Set the electric blanket on its lowest setting. Electric blankets do not create an even warmth and there is a risk of overheating and drying out the joey’s skin.
• A humidicrib gives a more even warmth, but also tends to dry out the joey’s skin. Humidicribs are difficult to obtain and are therefore rarely used.
• A well made Hospital Box is a useful addition to any wildlife carer’s equipment, but once again the warmth created is uneven. It also does not provide the security given by the gentle pressure of being ‘tucked into’ an esky. A Hospital Box is very useful for smaller active marsupials, eg Bandicoots, Pygmy Possums or Dunnarts, but beware of fast moving escapees.
All joeys need the security of a pouch which will also help keep the bedding clean and dry. An inner pouch can be made from polar fleece, flannelette or interlock liners. Synthetic materials such as nylon and rayon should be avoided as they tend to hold the moisture. An assortment of sizes will be required to accommodate the joey as it grows.
Pouches should be rounded at the bottom rather than square. With square corners a joey can catch its head in the corner when it flips into the pouch and break its neck. The rounded bottom also provides more uniform support when carrying the joey. The hems and seams of the pouch should be on the outside to avoid the joey’s claws catching in loose threads.
A woolen outer pouch provides additional comfort and warmth for younger joeys. Outer pouches can be made by sewing together two squares of knitted wool.
For an older joey (past the emergence stage) a hanging pouch can be used. A pouch can be made from an old jumper with the bottom and sleeves sewn up and then suspended just off the floor and away from draughts. In cold weather, a thick blanket can be wrapped around the pouch for extra warmth.
Always be careful not to overheat a joey. A marsupial’s body temperature is between 35 and 36 degrees Celsius, which is slightly lower than ours. A joey should therefore feel warm, but not hot. Signs of overheating include:
If a joey overheats, cool it down slowly. Leave the joey in its pouch and open up the blankets allowing air to circulate. Check regularly. If the joey remains in a stressed condition, contact an experienced carer or a veterinarian.
All joeys are milk dependent until weaned. Marsupials have a low tolerance to lactose and therefore avoid using milk from cows and goats. Lactose can cause diarrhoea and cataracts, which causes permanent blindness.
Although many joeys have been raised successfully on a number of different formulas, milk specifically formulated for marsupials such as Di-Vetelact, Wombaroo or Biolac are recommended. These formulas are available through veterinarians, pet shops, stock feeders or in bulk from the manufacturers.
The choice of milk formula is largely one of personal preference. Whichever formula is used, it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions.
Di-Vetelact is used for milk feeding all species at the Hospital and is mixed at one level scoop to 50 mls of warm water. It is fed at this strength at all times. It is important to use the scoop provided rather than estimate the quantity of milk powder with a spoon or other measuring device.
Each joey has individual dietary needs but a good approximate guideline to begin with is 1/10 of the body weight per day divided into four feeds. A 1 kg joey for example can be started on 100ml per day fed at 25ml four times a day. This amount can then be increased or decreased depending on the condition of the faeces, which should be firm (the consistency of toothpaste) and a honey brown colour.
Wombaroo manufactures different milk formulas for many different species. Therefore, if feeding Wombaroo, it is important to know which species you are rearing. It is also obtainable in different strengths to accommodate the maturing joey. It is important to adhere to the stated daily intakes.
Biolac is produced in two different strengths — M100 for furless, progressing to M150 once the animal has dense fur. Full instructions are on the container.
In an emergency situation, when the correct milk formula is not available, low lactose baby formula or soy milk can be used. These should only be used in the short term until a recommended milk formula is obtained.
All formulas should be fed at body temperature. Any leftover formula should be discarded after 12 hours. Sour or re-heated milk can cause digestive upsets. Between feeds the milk should be stored in the fridge.
Avoid switching from one milk diet to another. If you decide to change milk formulas, do so gradually.
Bottled or boiled rain water is recommended for making up milk formulas, especially for “pinkies”. The chlorine in tap water can destroy the gut flora in a developing joey.
The quantity of milk should be increased gradually as the joey gains weight. Remain at the new level for at least a week to assess any changes in the consistency of the faeces. If the faeces become loose, cut back the amount of milk to the previous level.
Joeys will drink as much as they are given, however overfeeding a joey will cause diarrhoea, which can kill the joey. A joey with prolonged diarrhea will dehydrate from loss of fluids. If a joey develops diarrhoea, which persists for more than 48 hours, seek expert advice.
Specially designed marsupial teats and bottles can be obtained from your local vet clinic, pet shop, nearest wildlife carer or the manufacturer.
There are different teats for different species of marsupial. The advantage in using these teats is that the flow of milk can be controlled, thus preventing aspiration pneumonia. They also enable the joey to have a more natural sucking action which in turn aids in normal dental growth.
Immature Roos Small Wallabies Larger Roos
and Wallabies Possums and and
The hole in the end of the teat should be small enough to enable the milk to drip rather than flow.
A joey may collapse the teat when feeding and not release the teat to allow air back into the bottle. To help the joey a hole can be pricked in the side of the (plastic) bottle and a finger placed over the hole lifted whenever a vacuum develops. Only allow air into the bottle momentarily to avoid the milk coming out too quickly.
With glass bottles, the teat can be pinched at the neck of the bottle to break the vacuum. Take care not to dislodge the teat or allow too much air into the bottle.
Joeys become used to their own particular teat, so try not to mix teats. This is also important to avoid transmission of disease.
Bottles should be easy to clean and the teat should fit snugly.
Bottles should be cleaned using hot water and a bottle brush. Rinse bottles and teats well after use and store in the fridge between feeds. Bottles and teats should always be kept clean, however chemical sterilizing is not recommended.
To feed a joey, hold it on your lap in an upright sitting position and introduce the teat gently between the front teeth. Do not force the teat into its mouth, as bruising of the gums can result. This can also upset the joey for future feeds.
If the joey is distracted and difficult to feed, try covering its eyes with your hand. If you are still unsuccessful, put it to bed and try again later.
After feeding, stimulate the joey’s cloaca with a soft tissue or toilet paper. This will encourage it to urinate and defaecate regularly. Use plain paper in preference to perfumed paper which may irritate the skin.
Joeys like to be clean and will retain their urine if not toileted after feeding. This can result in kidney disease and other problems. If joeys soil their bed, they may become restless and susceptible to disease. Always keep the joey in a clean and dry pouch.
Joeys at the Hospital are fed four times a day on a regular basis. Generally joeys are fed first thing in the morning, at lunch time, at tea time and last thing at night. However choose times to suit your routine.
Immature joeys (“pinkies”) do not need to be fed more than four times a day. Feeding on a more frequent basis is difficult for a carer to maintain for a long period, particularly if there are many joeys to be fed. Frequent handling of a pinky also causes stress.
Plain baby wipes can be used to clean up any urine or faeces around the hind legs and tail. These keep the joey smelling fresh and do not leave the fur wet. Avoid bathing the joey as this can lower its resistance to disease. If it is very soiled and has to be bathed, keep this to a minimum. Make sure the animal is perfectly dry before returning it to its pouch, otherwise pneumonia and kidney infections can result.
Some animals have special feeding requirements.
Brush Tail Possums and Woylies
Possums and woylies tend to suck too fast from a bottle, which can cause problems. By using a syringe with a special syringe teat the amount of milk available to the joey can be regulated.
The milk is offered one drop at a time into the joey’s mouth at a rate that allows it to swallow each drop without choking. Care should be taken not to force the milk into the joey’s mouth, which can lead to milk entering the lungs and causing pneumonia.
Toileting a possum after feeding.
To each 50mm of milk formula add a level teaspoon of high protein baby cereal and a level teaspoon of insectivore mix (Wombaroo). Bandicoots will lap from a small dish from a very early age. Take care not to immerse the nostrils in the milk formula.
These animals may be presented as blind, pink, spineless babies or puggles. The mother echidna will leave the baby in a burrow, and only returns to feed it every 5-7 days, so a new baby in care may not need feeding immediately. All echidnas, and especially immature puggles, suffer heat stress and overheat rapidly, so they should be kept in a semi-torpid state.
Echidnas can be housed in an esky with holes in the lid and shredded paper to nestle into. No artificial heat must be added, and in very hot weather it may be necessary to use ice bricks on the lid to maintain a low temperature. Ideally, a thermometer placed deep in the esky can be used to check that the temperature is maintained at approx 19-23° C.
Shredded paper in the esky must be changed regularly to ensure good hygiene. The animal will stay in the esky until approx six months old, when the quills will be approx 2cm long. Short exercises can be given in a confined indoor area, eventually progressing to a daily run on soil in a secure aviary.
Whilst no artificial formula adequately mimics the natural diet, two formulas are:
Weigh the baby prior to each feed. Ten minutes prior to feeding, the puggle is warmed in the carer’s hand until it becomes quite active. The warmed milk formula is then placed in the palm of the hand and the baby will suckle from here by using a massaging action with its beak, plus the tongue flicking out to drink. Allow it to suckle 3-5 mls at a time.
If a dish eg saucer or eggcup is used, ensure that the baby’s nostrils do not become submerged in the milk. At this stage, the faeces should be soft yellowy-brown pellets, and no toileting is necessary. The expected weight gains below must be taken into account when hand raising. The baby must gain a significant amount of weight on a regular basis.
At 500gm body weight, two parts adult meat mix can be added to seven parts milk formula and offered from a bowl. Gradually increase the meat mix and reduce the amount of milk until fully weaned onto adult diet.
Weaning can be the most stressful period of a young animal’s life. Each species’ dietary needs will be different and the animal must be established on the correct diet prior to weaning.
The recommended diets for adult animals are covered under Diets and Feeding.
LIST OF BASIC REQUIREMENTS
The following is a list of items considered essential for anyone serious about becoming a carer of marsupials.
Assorted size eskies (without lids) should be acquired for housing joeys. Plastic or metal eskies are suitable, but polystyrene eskies can be chewed and are not recommended for older joeys.
Eskies will allow a joey to maintain its body temperature without artificial heating.
Towels and Blankets
Towels and blankets are required for lining the eskies. Crocheted “baby blankets” are recommended. Sheepskin liners from baby car capsules are great but difficult to come by (try swapmeets).
Assorted size pouches made from polar fleece or flannelette. Synthetic materials such as nylon and rayon which hold moisture are not recommended. Pouches should be rounded on the bottom with seams and hems on the outside.
Outer pouches can be made from knitted wool squares.
For larger joeys beyond the emergence stage, pouches can be made from old blankets or jumpers.
Hot Water Bottle
To provide additional warmth if required.
Required for bottle feeding joeys.
A graduated baby bottle (250ml) for mixing up the milk formula.
Plastic (100ml) or glass (25ml) bottles for feeding joeys.
For cleaning bottles. A tooth brush can be used for cleaning smaller bottles.
Toilet Paper and Tissues
For toileting joeys.
For cleaning joeys.
Syringes (5, 10 and 20ml)
For feeding possums, woylies and quokkas and for measuring small amounts of milk formula.
Milk Formula (long use-by date)
Only low lactose formulas specifically manufactured for marsupials should be used. Acceptable makes include Di-Vetelact, Wombaroo and Biolac. The manufacturer’s scoop should be used for measuring quantities.
Vitrate or Gastrolite
Variety of solid, untippable dishes (not metal).
For feed and water.
For use as an antiseptic.
For cleaning floors and cages.
At least one small and one medium size hospital box is recommended to provide a warm environment for sick or young animals.
For handling possums, chudiches and other animals likely to bite.
Plastic crates (fully enclosed)
For transporting small animals.