What happens when mothers reject their joey's?Topic written by Sheila Wilson
Joeys that are being fed primarily die because of two reasons - not having the right physical environment, and not being fed frequently and properly.
When the possible signs of rejection are present, you have a choice of doing two things - leaving the joey with mom and dad, or setting up an incubator. If you work full time, and cannot bring mom and dad with you to work or school, but can take your incubator, taking the incubator is a second choice for feeding. Failure to succeed is due to several factors. The most important factor is body temp. It is so difficult for us to copy what mom and dad have created in that little safe environment for joeys. I don't know if they blow hot air on them or not, but somehow, being close to mom pouch's creates humidity and warmth. If you had a small piece of mink and wrapped the baby up and stuck it down your shirt, the joey would eventually survive because of warmth, but not look as health as one who remained with mom and dad because of lack of humidity. Signs of lack of humidity are also signs of stress - hair loss, dry skin. One of the reasons for failure to succeed as stated, is because we cannot re-create the environment of mom and dad. Even with the perfect incubator set up, it is impossible to have that ideal balance of nature. Even though there is no milk coming out, or the milk almost dried up, some females allow their young to continue to suckle on them which is very comforting to the joey, therefore, making it more secure and more willing to eat when handfed by you.
WHERE WE FAIL:
When we hand feed a joey, we cannot see the milk as it goes down. Many times a joey is wrapped in a piece of fleece and we tend to lay it in a reclining position, rather than upright which is a more appropriate position. When I was in the hospital once, they brought me a salad. I could not sit up because I was too ill. I tried to eat the salad lying down and almost choked to death. If a joey is fed in a lying down position, it can choke, but we won't know it. The fluid can go down in the lungs very easily this way. If the joey is held in an upright position or face downward position, there is less chance of this. Even a joey that is five days old that you have been feeding for 4 days can die between feedings because just once, the fluid gets in the lungs.
The flow in feeding them is gradual. Even though we want them to hurry up so we can go back to bed, 3-5 second pauses needed to be done when feeding them so that they don't eat too fast. The choking can occur in the beginning of the feeding when they are lapping it up, or on the last of the feeding when you want them to finish off that 1/2 cc in a hurry and they are slowing down. Once a joey is about two weeks old, they are more developed and you don't need to worry about pausing, but should still hold them in the upright position when syringe feeding.
I would like to define supplementing: Something added to complete a thing, make up for a deficiency, or extend or strengthen the whole.
When someone is supplementing a joey - this is to be done every three or more hours. I do not recommend this unless the joey is older. There are numerous factors as to why a joey would need this, but it has everything to do with a mother's not wanting to feed, not necessarily the health of a joey.
When a joey is not thriving, it should NEVER be supplemented. A joey that is a newborn(less than a week old) is nursing every 30 min to one hour. We already stretch that by feeding every 1.5 to two hours. I always feed a newborn rejected joey(under 1 week oop) every 1.5 hours for the first 72 hours. It is horrible, but pays off. If we do not feed enough, systems start to shut down and with a sugar glider, usually results in death.
If you do choose to leave the joey with mom and dad, don't supplement, thinking mom is doing the rest, even if you see mom feeding it. It is most likely the joey is not getting anything from her and is suckling her only. Take the joey out every 1.5 hours and feed, put it back and let mom and dad do the rest. If you do this and the joey still does not survive, there is a possibility that fluid has gotten in the lungs in a feeding that you were not aware of. If you find a joey at the top of the pouch crying, feed it, put it back for 3 min, take it out and keep it for three to four feedings, each time, putting back in for three min with mom and dad so that they can clean it and put their scent on it. For three feedings, this would mean the joey is 4.5 hours away from parents (with the exception of the 3-4 minute cleanings) if you are feeding every 1.5 hours. On the last feeding, leave in for thirty min and then check often. Many times people will feed the one time, put it back with mom and dad and then find it dead on the floor. One feeding is not enough for a failing baby. The baby starts to get cold and either wanders out looking for more food, is trying to get away from parents because parents are sending signals or showing signs that life is threatening, or just going out of the pouch to die. That is why holding the joey out for the three to four feedings will "get it back on its feet" again. The body does not go cold and joey is more likely to stay in with mom and dad if it is a little healthier. I get so many calls saying, "I fed it and put it back and they cannibalized it". I believe for the reasons stated above, that they were not ready to live back in the group yet. If a baby grows cold, many times the male will take the joey out and kill it. People will say the daddy did it, but it is nature for him to take the cold, not yet dead baby out of the nest to destroy it to protect his nest from predators. Because our gliders are well fed, it is impossible for him to destroy all the carcass, therefore looking like mutilation. The dad is just taking care of what mom has failed to do.
I no longer use the syringe method unless a glider has been brought to me that is already use to it. Recently I had a chance to feed a joey that came to me for weekend babysitter, while the caregiver went out of town.
This joey was two weeks old and weighed 12 grams. It had gained 2 grams in 5 days and was due to gain a couple more while I had her on the weekend. A joey should gain four grams a week. The owner had been syringe feeding her and she looked very good when I picked her up. I was feeding her every two hours as she had instructed. Her skin begin to dry out very quickly and she began to not thrive like she had when I picked her up. I put her in an incubator because she was a in a cage. She started to perk up after three or four feedings. This baby I was subqueing twice a day also. I took it with me to another location two days after having it, because of a commitment that I had to fulfill. While I was there, she would not eat her portion. She ate a tiny bit and tucked her head. I was there for 3.5 hours and she would not eat. When I got home, she was weak and I had no choice but to try and feed her the way I feed my joeys which is by the palm method. She immediately started eating and got back on schedule again. Now two things happened here I believe. She was in a different environment and knew it so she was scared and would not eat, and once she didn't eat, she was weak and started to shut down. Even after I brought her back home she would not eat. Many times when glider begins to shut down, the palm method works. I don't know why, but it does. Perhaps it is a more natural way of feeding for them. Basically I squeeze milk from a syringe in my palm and put the joey on it. I wrap them in a piece of fleece like a sausage and control the head bobbing with my other hand. Only small amounts of milk should be squirted at a time. Even if a little gets into their nose, they won't drown and don't panic. With gravity, the milk will move down, away from the lungs. I have saved every joey that has been rejected with this method. I recommend you use this method only if you have seen me demonstrate it because holding the palm in a more flat position creates a flat puddle, therefore, there is less chance of a baby drowning in a large puddle.
When I first started hand raising rejected joeys 5.5 years ago, my percentages of saving lives was much less than it is today. I had many failures and experience has brought more success in raising them. Most moms that do this are repeat offenders. If you are successful in raising one, have daddy neutered and leave the joey with mom and dad. If she is already pregnant again, she will have a greater chance of caring for her own joey with the other sibling still left in the cage. The older sibling will act as a babysitter while mom and dad go out and do their usual eating and playtime.
Raising joeys by hand is hard work. I have had occasions where I have left the joey in and she got pregnant again and fed the older joey again while the new neonate was in pouch. This generally happens when the older rejected joey is about 5 weeks. If you see this happening, start supplementing the older joey giving mom a chance to catch up to his demands. At that point he will be eating every 3-4 hours and you might be able to get a full nights rest which is well deserved for all your efforts.
Any effort made in saving a life is time well spent. If the life does not survive, you have experienced it and can learn from mistakes so that next time you are better prepared.
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