Hand-raising an orphan kangaroo is not for the faint-hearted. Baby marsupials are not easy to rear as they can be very underdeveloped when they are rescued. For the sake of the joey, if you have the choice, hand the baby over to a wildlike expert or a rescue centre. If you're determined to keep thejoey, check on the legal regulations in your state. It is illegal in some states to keep wildlife without a permit.
Raising a joey will call for dedication and commitment. Sometimes, despite the best will in the world and the most careful attention, joeys will die. Sometimes, however, there is no option but to take responsibility for the little animal.
Any young orphan is fragile. They may be suffering from shock, stress, injury and/or dehydration.
Most important at the beginning is the necessity of keeping the joey warm and quiet. If it has injuries, take it to a veterinary hospital if at all possible.
The most common scenario is probably that of a joey found in the mother's pouch when she has been hit by a car (or shot) and killed. Sometimes the joey is not found immediately and is cold. He will need to be warmed but this needs to be done slowly. If his feet and paws are cold, then he needs warming. As a temporary measure he can be wrapped in something warm and tucked under your shirt or jumper.
Your joey will need a substitute pouch. Don't use artificial fabrics such as nylon. Such materials don't 'breathe' and become either too hot or too cold. It should also fit quite snugly. An outer woollen shell with a cotton lining is as good as any other alternative. Make several linings so they can be washed as necessary. If the fabrics are natural fibres and joey sucks on a corner, he is unlikely to come to harm. Sewing up the sleeves and neck of a sweater makes a warm pouch or a bag can be made from a piece of blanket or woollen material. Some backpacks are a good size as an outer 'pouch' and already have straps for hanging the bag on the back of a chair or on a doorknob. Pillowslips make good liners and can be easily washed. Close the top a little with a drawstring. The natureal position for a joey in a pouch is to lie in a horse-shoe shape with his tail, head and toes at the opening. Make sure there is ample padding at the bottom of the pouch.
Very young joeys may not have furred up and need to be kept at a constant temperature of 34 to 35oC. This might mean purchasing a heat pad, electric blanket, foot warmer or hot water bottle. Hot water bottles are not ideal as they cool off too quickly. Electric blankets and foot warmers may need a folded towel or piece of blanket between the heat source and the pouch to regulate the temperature.
Once a joey has his fur, a temperature of 28oC is adequate. Joeys cannot perspire so heat regulation is of primary importance and regular monitoring is essential, especially for the first few days. Placing a thermometer next to the joey is a good idea until the heat issue is sorted out.
Do not attempt to feed an orphan joey until he has been warmed. Once his body temperature is normal, you will want to offer him a feed. Kangaroos are marsupials and therefore lactose intolerant. They cannot be fed with a cows' milk mixture. There are commercial milk substitutes available that are especially prepared for young marsupials. Boil water for ten minutes and allow it to cool before mixing with a formula. The formula should be at body temperature (between 35 and 37oC) before being offered to the joey. You should also get into the habit of weighing your baby regularly and recording these weights. This will be useful when you are trying to wean him onto grass.
Baby marsupials are highly sensitive to many things. Once you've decided on a commercial brand, do not change it unless there is absolutely no alternative. Stomach upsets are hard to avoid with joeys and it's best not to invite trouble by changing formula brands. Pay strict attention to hygiene. Prepared formula can be kept in the fridge for 24 hours but then discard it. Wash bottles and teats immediately after use. Slapdash hygiene practices are the most common causes of infection in hand-reared joeys. The teat should fit the joey. If it is the wrong size he won't be able to get a good grip. If the flow is too fast, the milk may be inhaled (it will bubble out of the nose) and this can lead to pneumonia. If you hold the joey on his side to drink, excess milk can run out of the mouth.
If your joey does not have fur, offer a teaspoon of glucose mixed with 100ml of boiled water. This acts as a transition between the mother's milk and a substitute. This should be offered to the baby every two to three hours round the clock for unfurred joeys and every four hours – again through the night as well – for furred joeys. If the joey is weak or dehydrated, feed more often but not more than two hourly as feeding tires a baby animal. Keep to a strict feeding routine until the youngster is off the bottle.
Very often, the joey will resist feeding. Leave him in the pouch, insert the teat if he doesn't take it and cover his eyes with your hand. Try to imitate the darkness, warmth and quiet that he would experience in his mother's pouch. Over a 24 hour period, the baby would hopefully drink about 10% of his body weight. There is no point in overloading a joey with milk as it will only create new problems.
Once joey has teeth, he will more than likely be fully furred. You may have spent 7 to 9 months giving him regular, four hourly feeds. He can now be offered small amounts of grass. This should be dry, older grass as fresh, green grass has a high water content and can easily give a young marsupial diarrhoea. His grass can be placed in the pouch but position the pouch where he can tumble out if he wants to. Once he is eating moderate amounts of grass, his milk intake can be reduced. If he is losing weight, his milk intake is being reduced too quickly.
Another regular chore (every four hours for 7 to 9 months!) with an orphan marsupial is a gentle massage of the genital area to encourage urination and defecation. Use a moistened cloth or cotton ball and gently rub the genital area. In the wild, the mother encourages elimination of wastes by licking the area. This gentle massaging needs to be done after every feeding. Once the joey is passing pelleted faeces, he can be left to take care of his own needs.
Don't rush a joey into vacating the pouch. Marsupials take ages to wean and spend a lot of time snug in their pouches. Don't stress him by too much play. If he can be raised with others of his own kind, he will learn the social skills needed to be a responsible member of his mob!
Diarrhoea should be avoided at all costs. It can be brought on easily by stress. Kangaroos, especially babies, are very sensitive and a barking dog or slamming door can be enough to stress them out. If your joey gets diarrhoea, don't immediately change his formula but look for other reasons first. Otherwise, if it's not the formula (and there is no reason why it should be if you're keeping up the hygiene standards and haven't had any previous trouble with the formula) you'll be compounding the problem.
Rearing an orphan joey is not a task to be taken on lightly. Puppies and kittens are much quicker to become independent but a red kangaroo is in (and out) of the pouch for around seven months. It will be at least another seven months before they stop taking milk altogether. But – and here's the crunch – they do make lovely pets.