The dangers of fishing tackles for wildlife and pets
Fishing can be great fun for the whole family but unfortunately fishing tackle can cause severe injuries to our wildlife and our pets too.
Especially when hooks and line are left irresponsibly to litter our environment and when hooks have bait still attached they are a target for greedy dogs and hungry cats.
Over the years, I have treated many animals with “body piercings” from fish hooks, especially seabirds with hooks stuck in their beaks or they have been swallowed and become lodged in their bodies. Sometimes these can be extremely rewarding with a “quick fix” procedure to remove the hook, clean the wound and then the bird is ready for release again. Sadly, this is not the most common outcome as many have to be humanely euthanased because of severe injury and debilitation and others need anesthetics, surgical procedures and medication to treat nasty secondary infections.
I remember once going for a walk to a local estuary and I noticed a delightful little black shag sitting next to the walkway. He didn’t move away as I approached and I realized that there was something wrong, I could see a hook embedded in his foot and fishing line wrapped around his wing. I took off my jumper, approached him quietly and then enclosed his wings and sharp beak in it. I was then able to remove the hook and unwrap the fishing line finding that thankfully no infection was present and no permanent damage had been done. The little guy flew off not long after which was lovely to watch.
Dramatic recoveries are not uncommon, especially with tough species like pied shags, known as cormorants in other parts of the world.
Shags are robust seabirds with sharp beaks and will not hesitate to bite. Their long necks give them plenty of range and we are always careful to handle them with care. Shags most commonly come into our clinic for help because they are caught up in fishing tackle with a large hook caught in their beak, foot or wing and they are often wrapped up in fishing line which sometimes embeds itself deep into their skin. They may survive for days before they are brought in as despite their handicap or injury they are still masterful at escaping capture.
One day such a shag was brought in for care. I examined it in my consultation room on my examination table and thankfully it was easy to remove the fishing hook from its beak and unwrap the fishing line, an anaesthetic was not necessary and the injuries were superficial. The shag was placed in rehabilitation and devoured a meal of fish. Moments later I took my next patient, a delightful and large chocolate Labrador called Duke, through to my consultation room.
Duke loved life and enthusiastically bounded into the room sniffing excitedly at everything around. He was especially captivated by my table and jumped up to sniff intently much to the embarrassment of his owner who would have preferred to boast a dog with more discipline. I laughed at Duke’s antics and mindlessly explained to Duke’s owner, “Don’t worry mate, it’s all good, I’ve just had a shag on the table.” Duke’s owner was stunned into silence and it took a moment for the penny to drop when I suddenly thought to explain that the shag was a bird that I had just treated and that our staff always have time for a shag! He was most amused.
One of the many things that I love about being a vet is that you never know what will unfold on any given day and one learns to expect the unexpected.
Another delightful aspect of vet work is that there’s usually some colourful character (the animal or owner or both!) to work with.
One night I received an afterhours emergency call from Mr Bear’s owners… the gorgeous 1 year old chocolate lab had been investigating the content of the fishing tackle box and now had a fish hook stuck in his lip. He had been pawing at it in an attempt to dislodge it and was quite uncomfortable.
I arrived to be greeted by a tail wagging Mr Bear who clearly hadn’t discussed the pros and cons of body piercings with his owners! I’ve known Mr Bear since he was born and the slightly sheepish look he had was different from the innocent puppy expression that he donned when I had seen him last. The 2 lovely young chaps looking after him held him as still as they could while I examined the extent of the hook’s invasion but Mr Bear was not happy about being still, he would have rather been playing!
It was clear that Mr Bear would need to be sedated in order for me to remove the hook properly. I injected Mr Bear with a wonderful sedative and within a few minutes he was snoozing beautifully on the lounge carpet.
The hook was caught inside his lip with the barb fully imbedded. To remove it I needed to push it completely through his lip and once it was through we cut off the barbed end of the hook with some wire cutters and then finally slipped the rest of the hook out from the site of entry.
Fish hooks can sometimes be very dirty and cause infection at the site of penetration so I carefully disinfected the area and gave Mr Bear a dose of anti-biotics, stopped the bleeding and then we were done.
The beauty of the sedative that I love to use is that it’s fully reversible so I gave Mr Bear the reversal to wake him up and advised the guys who were lying at Mr Bears side throughout the procedure that it should take 5 or 10 minutes for him to come around.
10 minutes later we were all still at his side patting him and talking to him, awaiting his return to consciousness. The guys were a little worried about the delay and I assured them that some animals can take longer and all of his vital signs were stable so we had nothing to be concerned about.
Another 10 minutes went by and Mr Bear was still snoozing away apparently enjoying his drug induced restful slumber, the guys beginning to grow impatient as they still had a lot to do before the night was over.
I lifted Mr Bear’s head to hopefully give him some stimulus to respond to and the next moment he stood up excitedly wagging his tail and looking at us as if to say “What happened, what did I miss?” to which he received the reply from his loving owner “Bear, you just milked that for everything that you could, didn’t you!”.