A Venomous Strike

If ever we needed a miracle on our little ranch, it would be now. We are faced with a rehabilitation scenario more challenging than any other we have ever encountered. The Wednesday before Memorial Day, Ruthie deer did not return home in the evening with her three sisters. We did not think much of this because all of the girls are independent at times and, especially since Ruthie is expecting, it is normal for a doe to go off on her own, searching for and establishing a nursery area in which to raise her young. A doe may spend the entire month before she delivers, patrolling her nursery-to-be area and fending off any trespassers in the vicinity – including her own siblings and last year’s fawns. We were happy to see Ruthie back with her sisters on Thursday evening, but it was apparent something wasn’t right with her. On closer observation, we could see her head was swollen (mostly on her right side) and what looked like bite marks just above her upper lip on her right side. After much research that night and in the next days, we are sure Ruthie was bitten by a venomous snake. Copperheads and cottonmouths are very common in the river bottom and wetland area of our property and a few folks have been known to see Timber Rattlesnakes as well.

At first glance, Ruthie just looked tired Thursday evening when she finally showed up with her sisters.
From this angle, you can see what appears to be two punctures from a viper’s fangs just above Ruthie’s lip. The swelling below her jaw and yellowing of the white of her eye (we think due to infection) is also quite noticeable.

Over the next days, the right side of Ruthie’s head went through various stages of swelling, infection, and deterioration. She ran a high temperature off and on and spent most of her time lying in the thick brush of our neighbor’s property. As a result of her injury and generally not feeling well, Ruthie did not eat as she normally would and lost a lot of weight. Most days, we did not even see her until almost dark. During the day, we walked the orchard trying to find her, hoping her sisters might know where she was but, like any wounded animal in survival mode, she was laying low and being secretive.

We showed pictures to, and conferred with, the local veterinarian about Ruthie’s condition and our hypothesis of snake bite. The same vet who had stitched up young Ronnie deer (who we raised along with Emma deer) after he was hit by a combine, suggested maybe an imbedded thorn but, either way, prescribed a powdered, apple-flavored antibiotic to mix into her feed. However, Ruthie refused to eat feed that had the nasty, pink powder sprinkled in it. Even adding molasses did not help. Finally, we resorted to mixing it with water to form a loose paste and administer that with a syringe.

What little antibiotic we managed to get down her when we could find her seemed to help in a small way. She managed to eat some of the untreated deer feed we offered her each evening, but only because Forrest assisted by feeding out of his hands. By this point, it was nearly impossible for her to retain much in her mouth, as food would fall through the deteriorating hole on the right side of her mouth.

I also called on the resident veterinarian at WildCare of Oklahoma – a larger wildlife rehabilitation facility about an hour from here. Even though it is an extremely busy time of year at WildCare, the vet said he would try to come to us, maybe this weekend. Based on the photos we sent him, he suggested she may need surgical debridement and, either way, he would provide an assessment of the possibility of permanent damage and where we go from here. Meanwhile, we send him daily photos and updates on her condition, and he responds when he can.

Forrest hand feeds Ruthie some pelleted deer feed.
By Memorial Day, Ruthie had lost considerable tissue on her upper jaw.

Yesterday morning I got up at 6:30, no longer able to sleep, and found Ruthie in the deer pen having water. She was weak and moving slowly. Given her condition and with this opportunity to provide her a place of safety and a more sterile environment for a potential “field surgery”, Forrest got up to help me shut her in and prepare the “fawn room” of the barn to which the deer pen is attached. I did not think an adult deer would seek the shelter of the barn, but Forrest reminded me Ruthie was the only fawn we raised last year who continued to rest in the barn while her sisters preferred the tall grasses and shade in the deer pen. Sure enough, after I spread a nice thick layer of straw down on the floor, Ruthie walked inside, found a place to plop her bony figure down, and she rested.

Small pockets of puss drained from her mouth to her eye. Instinctually, Ruthie would lick her right side, then turn her head and repeatedly smash the right side of her face on her right side to put pressure on the puss pockets to drain them. Then she would proceed to clean the mess from her hair.
Forrest must hand feed from the left side, and tuck food back into her mouth.
Ruthie has become emaciated. We are trying everything we can to get good nourishment to her.
Even after a tough effort to get antibiotic down, Ruthie seems ready to get her lavish dose of love.

Forrest and I are foraging for deer eats from all over our property. Weeds, tree leaves from all of the trees we know deer like, lots of clover, and cat briar. Of all years for my salad garden to bomb out, I find myself frequenting the nearby ALDI store for organic greens, vegetables, and berries. Our local farm store offered electrolyte supplement, which she gulps down heartily. Ruthie sometimes turns her nose up at something we offer but we keep trying. On a good note, Forrest discovered that Ruthie likes Medjool dates and devised a way to hide her antibiotic powder in the pit cavity of a date. We break up her daily dose into three feedings of two dates each.

Mostly, we must hand feed Ruthie everything she takes in – placing food towards the back of her mouth on the left side (her good side). She’s making a valiant effort to eat, drink, and survive, and we’re doing all we can to help. It’s a bad situation which is especially complicated by her pregnancy. Even with all our efforts so far, Ruthie continues to lose weight, and is terribly emaciated. We have a liquid nutritional supplement on the way that is made for pregnant and lactating deer, so we pray she will not turn her nose up at that. We also pray the WildCare vet can help us soon. We would appreciate your prayers for Ruthie’s healing as well.

© 2021 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way

51 thoughts on “A Venomous Strike

  1. Ooooh… I’ve been holding my breath reading until the last sentence. You, Forrest and Ruthie have my prayers and healing energy heading straight to you. You’ve all done such a wonderful effort to keep her going this long and so well under incredibly difficult circumstances.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Paulette. We discussed subcu treatments and IM antibiotic with the local vet, but he is not familiar with deer, like the Wildcare staff and vet. He was reluctant to do the debriding procedure too. So, we wait in hope that the Wildcare vet can come here to help us. Ruthie is still willful enough that she would not sit still for IV fluids, and she’s very unsure about strangers. I’m fairly sure if she was stronger, we couldn’t keep her fenced in the pen.

      Yesterday went a little better, as we realized hiding the powder antibiotic in the medjool dates seemed to make a difference. We’ve just got to get some good eats in her and keep pushing fluids.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. My thoughts and prayers are certainly with you all. What a horrible thing to happen to Ruthie. We have to be careful of venomous snakes where we live too Lori, especially during summer. We have neighbours who have lost their dogs and another a horse when a snake came into the stable and bit it on the nose. You and Forrest are doing everything possible to give her the best chance of survival. Take care.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Lynn, I appreciate your thoughts and prayers. With all of the wood down in the orchard and the added spring rains, the property is likely teeming with snakes, along with masses of mosquitoes. To boot, the other three girls are being run off by the local herd. Does get very territorial when they have their fawns, and we’ve seen a couple of does chasing Gracie, Scout and Penelope. It’s a bit of mayhem here lately.

      Liked by 3 people

    1. Thank you, Anne. I thought of Nathaniel this morning – wishing I had one of his confections to super-charge me this morning! Ha ha. Forrest and I are both run ragged trying to keep Ruthie going.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Nathaniel will be pleased to know that you thought of him in relation to food. Ruthie would never have had a chance in the wild. She certainly knows she is surrounded by love. I’m praying for improvement for Ruthie and strength for you and Forrest.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. There would be no way to transport an adult deer without a lot of stress. We transported Ronnie deer when he was one week old (to have stiches for the wounds he acquired from being run over by a combine) and again ten days later (to remove stiches). Those tiny hooves kicked and fought me in the truck the entire trip across town. I can’t imagine transporting a big girl like Ruthie. She’d have to be very weak for that to be doable. We’re keeping her quiet as best we can. She’s still getting up and around, and she’s trying to eat. Her bathroom business is spot on so there are some good things happening.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. First thing is to say that I retrieved bunches of WP blogs that had gone to spam. (It has happened before). It finally dawned on me that something was amiss when for weeks I did not see any posts from my most favorite bloggers.

    Now the subject of Ruthie. I am so vey sorry this happened to that sweet soul. I have already said a silent prayer for Ruthie to make a favorable turn for the better. She is at least not wild and allows you to give her affection and to hand feed her. I wish that I had a magic formula to help her to gain weight. I really hope that the vet can come to assess her condition. She needs all the help that you can give to her. What about using an injectable antibiotic. Is that possible to use on a deer? I would think that would get the antibiotic/s into her system with a lot less effort and the assurance that that she got the med. Some meds can be given IM or subcu by injecting it into the rubber tubing of the drip line. What antibiotic are you giving her. Can she have her food ground up which would make it easier for her to swallow?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I had plenty of problems getting this post up, and was exasperated by the time I tried to put photos on with captions. WordPress must have changed some things overnight. The last three posts were as usual, but this one took me a long tome to get ready. I have heard others having the same issue you are.

      Deer are a lot more sensitive to meds than horses or cattle, or even dogs for that matter. Our local vet always confers with his veterinary “bible” book when he’s helped us in the past. He’s stated this situation is over his head. The antibiotic we’re giving is actually for horses, but he lined out the dose for us, and we hoped Ruthie would take it with food, but she wouldn’t. Forrest did discover he could hide it tucked in medjool dates, which we did yesterday all day, and she showed improvement last night. We are hopeful that the Wildcare vet can come to assess her situation today or tomorrow. Wildcare’s been swamped too. The vet informed us he’d been doing surgeries well after midnight some nights.

      Liked by 3 people

  4. Prayers and healing energy being sent. If ever even a sparrow is in His hand and care, this is one time it is needed.
    You were just talking about snakes last time. We worry so much about snooping dog noses, but a curious deer or one reaching for a tasty treat.
    So glad Ruthie made it to you and is tucked in the barn/pen. Her best chance with that mouth. My SIL vet always said if you can keep them drinking, eating even a little, and they are able to use the bathroom, there’s a chance. Bless dates, and those who try to help however they can, and the ones she trusts.
    May Ruthie find comfort – she knows she is surrounded by love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for thinking of all of us here. Visitors always find it interesting when we get excited about a good BM and urination with deer, but it’s very important. So farm Ruthie’s plumbing is working, despite the little bit of food we’ve gotten down her. She she’s drinking lots of water and electrolyte. Of course we have had to continually offer it to her, because she’s been too ill to help herself much, but progress is being made. Yesterday she got up twice that we know of to do her business and gulp some water on the way back in the barn. The pregnancy is a huge complication and we don’t know if she can get back up to par soon enough to deliver a healthy baby(ies) and produce enough milk to support a fawn. Wait and see… but for now we’re happy to see a little improvement.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s going too be day by day and minute by minute. Sr. Staff here immediately worried on the drain on the expectant mom – not to mention the possible worries over a developing fawn. Moms are known for shorting themselves to save the kids.
        Fingers crossed and so glad to see your note.


  5. I’m keeping you, Forrest and especially Ruthie in my prayers. I know it works. it’s fortunate Ruthie will allow herself to be cared for and trusts you both. I hope the Wildcare vet can get to you very soon. All the best.


  6. Those are such sad and disturbing pictures, Lori. Nature isn’t always kind and there are things that just can’t be avoided sometimes. You and Forrest are doing heroic duty caring for Ruthie and if that counts for anything she should get better. I hope the vet gets there soon, makes a good assessment, and hits on a treatment that will speed her recovery. My thoughts are with her and the both of you as well.
    Regarding problems with WordPress, I am not sure in my case if it is WordPress or Comcast but many of my email notifications for posts or comments end up in spam. I now have to take a daily look to see what’s in it so I won’t miss things like this post which was in there too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have heard about the spam issue from other bloggers. It’s just interesting how just the day before I put on three posts easily, and then over night the process changed. Thankfully, Forrest figured out the changes, which I cannot say is an improvement at all. I’m a fairly basic gal, and I like things simple. Some of these changes make the process more complicated.

      Thank you for thinking of us. A week of caring for Ruthie is taking its toll, but we are seeing bits of improvement. Because she is pregnant, there is a lot of unknown for the next weeks. We’ll just have to keep rolling with it and deal with the hand we’re dealt. But for now, people’s well wishes and encouragement seem to be making a difference for Ruthie. She’s making a little turn around since I posted this. I’ll be updating for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi! Been a very long time since I have been on my blog. I happened to see this post. I am so sorry to hear about the deer. Poor thing. Many prayers she will take the supplement.


  8. The death of a beloved animal is one thing; watching them suffer is quite another, particularly when there are no easy answers. I’m hoping that Ruthie will get through this; she certainly is lucky to have you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Linda. It’s true that it’s the suffering and pain that is difficult. I know that in the wild, Ruthie probably would have been taken down by the coyotes. We saw it happen recently on game cameras where an ill doe finally got down and couldn’t get up. Next thing, nature took its course. We are fortunate Ruthie came home and we were able to pen her. We can’t seem to find any documentation on a case like this, and none of the vets we’ve conferred with know exactly what to do either. We did hear from Wildcare last night and the vet there will not be able to come. They’re in their busiest season, but he’s been great to text us often and he’s very impressed about Ruthie’s care. It’s also prompted him to come talk to us about our fawn program, when things slow down for him a bit. For now, he cannot see changing anything with what we’re doing for Ruthie. Forrest and I have been bowled over by people who are trying to help us get Ruthie nourishment and offer advice based on raising livestock. We feel encouraged and hopeful.

      Liked by 2 people

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