Some Dos and Donts

DO contact your local wildlife authority to obtain permission to keep the orphan.

(Reason: Wombats are protected wildlife and can be kept only if this permission is granted. Officers of the authority can take the orphan from you at any time if you do not have this permission, or if you do not give the orphan adequate care.)

DO, once you have obtained permission to keep the orphan, make contact with one of the organisations with experience in the care of orphan marsupials. To find the one nearest to you, check 'Animal Welfare Organisations' in the Yellow Pages of your local telephone directory.

DON'T attempt to rear an orphan wombat unless you are prepared to give up a great deal of your personal freedom in order to care for it properly.

(Reason: Caring for all marsupial young requires a great deal of care, hard work and patience. Unfurred young are similar to premature human babies in that they need even more care than furred young.)

DO provide a warm pouch and some form of heat source, preferably a heatpad. A hot water bottle can be used in an emergency, but it must be frequently renewed. Try to keep the pouch at a temperature of about 36°C (about 96-98°F), the same as human body temperature. (Reason: Pouch young cannot control their own body temperature, but rely on their mother's 35-39°C body heat.)

DO line the pouch with soft sheeting or similar material. If the wombat is unfurred, gently rub the skin with a lubricant once a day. Pawpaw cream is recommended, but if it is unavailable pure lanolin can be used sparingly.

(Reason: The mother's pouch is lined with soft, moist skin; the atmosphere in the pouch is humid. An orphan can become dehydrated by evaporation of water from the skin. Oily lubricants should not be used; they prevent the skin from respiring and they harbour bacteria. Lubricants containing chemicals can irritate the skin.)

DO keep a newly orphaned wombat quiet and undisturbed by young children, dogs, etc. Cuddle it as often as possible. Carrying the young wombat around, either in your arms or better still in its pouch, slung around your neck and shoulder, is sometimes the only way to calm a newly orphaned animal.

(Reason: Stress and shock can cause death. Nearness to a substitute mother can minimise stress.)

DON'T feed the wombat on cow's milk in any form, fresh or tinned or powdered, but ...

DO use a low-lactose milk such as Di-Vetalac, available from veterinarians. There are also two marsupial milk replacers which offer three stages of wombat milk - use the one formulated for the developmental stage of the orphan. These replacers are Biolac, PO Box 93, Bonnyrigg NSW 2177, phone (02) 9823 9874, and Wombaroo Food Products, PO Box 151, Glen Osmond SA 5064, phone (08) 8391 1713.

(Reason: Marsupial milk has a much higher protein and fat content than cow's milk, but is very low in lactose. Pouch young cannot digest lactose; severe diarrhoea often results from feeding milk rich in lactose, and death from dehydration may then result.)

DO weigh the wombat in order to estimate its age (see Growth and Development Table) and as a guide to how much milk it should take per day.

(Reason: It is recommended that an orphan marsupial take approximately 10-15% of its body weight in millilitres of liquid daily. For example, a 750 gram wombat (about five months old) needs 75-112 millilitres of liquid per day; at two kilograms it needs 200-300 millilitres per day.)

DO feed 'little and often' - every two hours for unfurred young, every 3-4 hours for furred young. After a time the orphan will probably want to be fed 'on demand'. This is ideal if it can be done.

(Reason: In the pouch the young has access to the teat at all times, and it can take just as much as it needs when it needs it.)

DO store milk mixture in the refrigerator, but keep it for no longer than 24 hours, and ...

DO clean all feeding utensils after each use. Regular sterilisation by boiling or the use of chemicals such as Milton is recommended, and ...

DO gently wipe away any milk that is left on the wombat's chin or around its mouth after feeding.

(Reason: Careful hygiene is necessary to prevent bacterial and fungal infections, some of which can be fatal if untreated.)

DON'T add Pentavite or other vitamin drops to the diet.

(Reason: Wombats do not need much vitamin D, and they get their other vitamin requirements from the low-lactose milk and, later, from grass. Severe kidney damage, caused by hypervitaminosis, has been found in hand-reared wombats that have been fed supplementary vitamins. Diarrhoea can also be caused by excessive use of vitamins.)

DON'T use a calf teat or baby teat. Special marsupial teats are available from some veterinarians and can also be obtained from Biolac and Wombaroo Food Products.

(Reason: The young wombat's mouth is very small and narrow and can be damaged by a large teat.)

DO persevere gently. A newly orphaned animal will often refuse food for days, but even a few drops at a time, given frequently, will keep it alive until it settles down and begins to suck properly. Nurse the young in your arms, allowing it to lie on its back while feeding.

(Reason: If force fed, milk can pass into the lungs, causing aspiration pneumonia, usually resulting in death. In the pouch the young wombat lies on its back to suckle from the teat on the inner pouch wall.)

DO gently wipe the young wombat's cloaca after meals. It will often produce urine and/or faeces at that time, but don't worry if it does not. Some orphans will themselves turn about in the pouch so that the rear section protrudes and will then urinate or defecate - very good if you can catch it! I have found that some orphans will eliminate their wastes if 'held out' like a baby.

(Reason: The wombat's pouch points towards the rear, so it is very difficult for the mother to clean the young in the pouch in the way that kangaroos do. Pouch young in the wild have been seen to push their rear section out of the pouch for urinating and defecating.)

DO provide an older orphan with a 'toilet area' such as a dark cupboard lined with newspaper.

(Reason: In the wild a young at-heel wombat always seeks cover, such as bracken clumps, when it defecates. In the house an orphan will use dark corners such as under beds, as toilets, if a suitable place is not provided and its use encouraged.)

DO reduce the concentration of the milk substitute by about 50% if diarrhoea develops, but ...

DON'T reduce the amount of liquid given. Increase it if possible, by giving additional fluid such as boiled water, especially if the diarrhoea is severe. Do not allow diarrhoea to go untreated; seek veterinary advice.

(Reason: Death from dehydration can occur if too much fluid is lost from the bowels.)

DO allow the young wombat access to grass when it is about eight months old. Muesli, rolled oats, grated or chopped carrot, etc. can also be offered at this time, but its chief food is still the milk substitute. Bread, cake or sweet biscuits should not be given except occasionally or in very small amounts.

(Reason: Grasses, and milk while it is young, are the wombat's only natural foods. Processed carbohydrates can cause diarrhoea.)

DON'T feed it dry hay or grass with sharp stems.

(Reason: These can cause impactions and can also perforate the intestine and cause a slow and painful death.)

DO at the same time as grass is made available, also allow it access to soil and, if possible, to the fresh scats (droppings) of another wombat. (Reason: Bacteria in the wombat's colon are necessary for the digestion of grass etc. These digestive bacteria, sometimes called 'stomach flora', can sometimes be obtained by the wombat from soil or from the faeces of other wombats.)

DO watch out for diarrhoea when the young begins to eat grass, and at weaning time. Give half a teaspoon of natural yoghurt once a day, in the milk substitute, or, for larger young, two-thirds of a teaspoon of yoghurt and one-third of cottage cheese.

(Reason: Yoghurt will help to introduce micro-organisms into the digestive system. Only natural yoghurt or acidophilus tablets should be used.)

DO allow the wombat to be with you and to follow you about the house and garden. Play with the orphan and allow it to explore the garden and, if possible, take it for walks in natural bushland. It will stay at your heels until it gains confidence, and will gradually learn how to cope with life in the bush.

DON'T be surprised if the young wombat eats its own scats.

(Reason: It is only trying to increase the bacterial content in its colon.)

DO provide branches with bark on them for the young wombat to gnaw.

(Reason: The wombat's teeth grow constantly, and it must gnaw to keep them in trim. Table and chair legs may not suffer so much if an alternative is provided.)

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