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An Itchy Situation!

A Young California Sea Lion Has an Itch She Can't Quite Scratch!

Puptart's hair loss, as a result of her lice infestation, is evident. She'll grow it back in time. Every year the Center sees a few sea lion patients with this similar medical problem.
© Dina Warren - The Marine Mammal Center

May 1, 2012

Puptart is now swimming in the ocean! She was released today along with Al Catraz at Point Reyes.

April 10, 2012

One of our California sea lion patients has an itch that she just can't stop scratching! Her name is Puptart and she is a very young sea lion that was found at Cowell’s Beach in Monterey County on March 16. She was all alone, malnourished and was extremely itchy – and scratching her face and shoulders with her rear flippers.  After a day or two of observing her, it became apparent to our rescuers that she was in need of help!

Once on site at the Sausalito hospital, veterinarians gave Puptart a full exam and learned the cause of her itching – she was covered in LICE! It was so bad that her eyes were tearing profusely and her nose was very dry – not a good sign for any animal. The infestation was also causing a severe case of alopecia (hair loss) and there was an acute thickening of her skin in the chest area - all resulting from so much scratching and biting! Our veterinarians said that it was one of the worst cases of marine mammal lice they had ever seen (and they've seen more than 17,500 patients over the years!) this type of lice can be found in terrestrial creatures like sheep, cows and even birds. It is different than Sea Lice which is a type of crustacean.

Puptart's blood work confirmed that her health was being severely compromised, and required a course of treatment including a de-worming medication and antibiotics. The first medication was administered to get rid of the lice and other pesky parasites. This process can be hard on a sick animal's system, and can cause an inflammatory response in the lungs. So a second medication, doxycycline, was administered to guard against any possible secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

Today, Puptart is on the mend and will continue her rehabilitation with a new pen mate named Al Catraz. Puptart likes to swim around in her pool and eats about 5 pounds of fish daily! She’ll need to gain more weight as she only weighed 14.5 kilograms, or about 32 pounds, when she arrived – that’s more than half the weight she should be for her age.  Puptart will need more time to heal, but her fur is already growing back, her skin swelling is subsiding, and she's slowly gaining back some crucial pounds, all necessary for success for life in the wild, and the very cold Pacific Ocean!

Research Note:

Puptart's severe case of lice infestation is now part of the Center's studies about marine mammal parasites and how they may act as hosts for yet more illnesses and chronic conditions. Though most marine mammals do tolerate a certain level of marine parasites, it's a different story when the balance is disrupted. As in the case of Puptart, the parasites can overwhelm the system and a nagging "itch" can quickly turn into a life-threatening condition.

Learn about The Marine Mammal Center's Leave Seals Be campaign
Learn about California sea lions
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