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Porcupines don't live forever, but with excellent medical care Kemosabe can live a long and happy life! Jessi shares his most recent challenge with a bad tooth infection.

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Hi, I'm Jessi and I'm the director of Animal Wonders, a small non-profit organization that rescues and cares for displaced exotic animals. Like all living things, sometimes the awesomeness of a perfectly functioning body doesn't always function perfectly and most of the time, that's totally okay.

(0:16)Other times, it can be a big problem like with our prehensile-tailed porcupine, Kemosabe. Which leads us to the problem of if our porcupine gets sick, "How do we help him get better?"

[upbeat music] 

(0:41)We're going to go see Kemosabe in a little bit, but he's resting right now. So let me catch you up on what's been going on. Kemosabe came to Animal Wonders from a small zoo back in 2010, when he was about 2 years old. Shortly after his arrival, we found out one of his teeth was infected and needed to be pulled out, his top right incisor.

(0:55)Porcupines are rodents which means their incisors are ever-growing, and they're worn down to the right shape and length by rubbing the top and bottom teeth against each other. When Kemosabe lost one of his incisors, he could no longer file his teeth on his own, like porcupines naturally do, so we helped keep his teeth from getting too long by trimming them every three months.

(1:15)Over the years we've had him, the care of his teeth is just a part of what he needs as an individual to stay happy and healthy. In the past couple of years, Kemo has lost his molars simply because he's getting old, and his teeth are too.

(1:27)Prehensile-tailed porcupines live to be about 8 years old in the wild, and that's when their perfectly functioning bodies start to not function so well. They can start to get arthritis, which makes climbing and foraging for food more difficult. Their molars are usually at the end of their ability to chew, and they'll fall out or get infected, and their overall ability to survive parasites, pests and environmental strains are greatly reduced. 

(1:50)Kemosabe is now 10 years old, and besides his teeth trouble, he's a healthy guy. His molars have naturally fallen out between 8 and 10 years of age, and he lost one of his lower incisors in 2017. He recovered from all of his lost teeth and he's spent the last 6 months with one incisor on top, one incisor on the bottom, and a lone molar in the back right side of his mouth. 

(2:12)Everything seemed to be going great, until last week he abruptly stopped eating. During my morning check, I saw he had hardly eaten any of his overnight dinner. When I woke him up to see what was wrong, he was drooling. I immediately took him to our veterinarian to see what was going on, I suspected it was another rotten tooth.

(2:27)While Kemo was in his crate, I held onto his hands while our vet, Doctor Card, got a mask on [Kemo's] nose. Saying it sounds so much easier than actually doing it. We sedated Kemosabe so we could get a good look inside his mouth. And sure enough, his last molar had come to the end of its life, and Dr. Card easily removed it.

(2:45)During the exam, Dr. Card saw that his throat was quite sore with little lesions like humans might get with the strep throat. This seemed like a more intense infection than just one old molar could cause, so she took x-rays of his last remaining teeth, one top incisor, and one bottom incisor.

(3:03)The culprit was the bottom tooth. It had started rotting below the gum-line and had already become infected. This wasn't good news, at 10 years old Kemosabe's recovery from a severe tooth infection is not guaranteed. The incisor was removed, and then it was time for Kemosabe to work on recovering. Kemosabe was prescribed pain medication and antibiotics and returned to his own home at Animal Wonders. 

(3:28)The next morning, it was clear that the recovery process was going to be difficult. Kemo had thick secretions from his mouth and refused to swallow anything that tasted weird, he simply wouldn't take his antibiotics. So how do you get a sick porcupine to take his medication to get better without sedating him? You switch from oral antibiotics to injectable antibiotics. 

(3:48)Kemosabe began receiving injections twice a day to help him fight off the infection, so he could eat and drink again. I was also flushing his mouth out with a diluted betadine solution 3 to 5 times a day round the clock to help clear out the secretions and any bacteria that might be lurking around in there. To say Kemosabe was not a fan of all this is an incredible understatement. I'm thankful that I'm able to provide Kemo with this level of care, but I wish I didn't need to. 

(4:07)On the second-day post tooth removal, Kemosabe still hadn't taken any food or water. I was starting to get really worried because the side of his mouth had started to swell. Since he was still alert and active, we didn't want to rush him back to the vet. We wanted to give the antibiotics a little more time to work. It's so stressful for Kemosabe to go to the vet that we only take him if it's absolutely necessary. That night I hardly slept, I checked on him several times throughout the night and flushed his mouth twice to try to make it easier for him to swallow his secretions. 

(4:36)On the third day, I was happy to see that he left a small puddle of pee. Urine is such an important thing to see in sick animals because it tells you if they're drinking water or they're dehydrated. It's likely Kemosabe was drinking some of the water I was flushing his mouth with, but it gave me hope that he was making a little progress.  Unfortunately, he continued refusing to eat anything but his favorite food, banana. But bananas tend to be a little slimy, and he just couldn't get the pieces into his mouth. 

(5:02)On the fourth day, I had noticed he left some crumbs in his water, which means he had drank on his own. That night, I was determined to find something, anything, he would and could eat. I mushed up some banana and mixed it with dry rodent blocks, this way it would smell and taste like his favorite food but it wouldn't be so slimy. I rolled it into a tiny ball, and he ate it! Four days of thinking I was maybe going to lose my friend, but he was eating now. He ate 10 bites before he left to take a break, I mean I can still feel how relieved and happy I was when he finally ate. Kemosabe isn't completely in the clear yet, but it's looking so much better. Let's go say "Hi" to him.

(5:41)This little porcupine means so much to me, he's taken me on incredible adventures these last 8 years that we've known each other. I'm amazed by the perfect function of these quills and his climbing hands and his grasping tail. I am dismayed by the lack of function of his teeth. His teeth are tools that are supposed to help him survive, and they're utterly failing.

(6:03)We're never certain of the adventures the animals we rescue are going to take us on, sometimes it's learning how to take care of a sick porcupine who doesn't allow you to touch him. And the irony of poking a porcupine with a needle is not lost on me. Kemosabe is an amazingly weird biological organism who has a mostly functional body, and I love him dearly just for who he is. He's brought joy and knowledge of his species to millions of people, he takes a lot of special care and I'm honored to call him my friend.

(6:31)Some of you have asked if there are ways to help beyond our Amazon Wishlist and our Patreon page and there are, one of the ways is to donate directly to our veterinary clinic to help cover some of our medical bills for animals like Kemosabe. If you're interested, there's a link in the description and if you'd like to go on an animal adventure with us every week, hit the subscribe button and we'll see you next week.