I love my donkeys, I really do, but sometimes, I think they might be the death of me.
I found Ben standing against the wall in the barn, shivering uncontrollably, unwilling to move and in clear distress.
Emergency protocol: Look the animal over from head to tail, noting everything, but not focusing on anything. What I see in a ten-second assessment is:
- Ben is alert and aware, but in clear distress
- respiration is fast, but not noticeably labored
- hard shivering
- tension/pain throughout the body
- subtle, but constant shifting of weight
- unwillingness to move
- reapeatedly curling his upper lip (flehman response)
- no signs of rolling or gut pain
Immediate emergency assessment: I have an animal who is not about to drop dead, but is in clear distress and needs help.
- Step 1: Grab the first blanket-like object I can reach and toss it over Ben to help him get warm (in this case, it was Emma's old blanket. MUCH too small for Ben, but better than nothing)
- Step 2: Get a bale of hay for the rest of the herd and feed them away from Ben in order to distract them and get them safely out of the way.
- Step 3: Take Ben's temperature and do a more thorough hands-on inspection
- Step 4: Get the heavy-weight turnout blanket that I have had in storage for many years (the one I was just thinking about finally donating to someone - good thing I have trouble throwing things out) and get it on Ben
- Step 5: there are no signs of colic or choke so offer Ben hay, which he dives into hungrily
- Step 6: call the vet
My initial diagnosis is that Ben was "tying up". Most of the symptoms fit, but it is not something I would ever expect to see in a quiet, laid-back donkey. It is usually seen in Thoroughbreds or Quarter Horses who are in heavy work.
After a lengthy discussion with the vet, the three most likely diagnosis are:
- Tying up - Ben does not fit the profile, but most of the symptoms fit. An electrolyte imbalance caused by dehydration because Ben is absurdly fussy about his water could, maybe, be enough to cause him to tie up. I did make some minor changes to the water trough this week, which I thought Ben was OK with as I saw him drinking. However, this is a donkey who will not drink out of the purple bucket, but will drink the same water out of a blue bucket. He will not drink ice cold water or warm water, it has to be tepid. Also, I did run out of his vitamins for three days because Christmas messed up the shipment. The combination could, maybe, be enough to create an electrolyte imbalance serious enough to cause muscle spasms.
- Laminitis - this is always a major concern for donkeys and can occur as a secondary response to another problem. Ben is on a hay only, low sugar diet and there have been no changes to his feed. Sudden onset of laminitis in all four feet is not likely.
- Acute Lyme disease. A real possibility even though Ben is 2/3 through a Lyme vaccine protocol.
As treatment, I gave Ben a very mushy mash made of hay pellets and warm water with two teaspoons of salt in it. This should help raise his sodium levels and increase his desire to drink. He will be getting electrolytes for several days and will be getting salt and magnesium in his feed every day from here on. He got a big dose of anti-inflammatory pain-killer and will continue to get them for the next few days and he is now sporting on overly large green blanket.
By evening, he was showing improvement and was willing to go out and walk around on his own for a bit. Hopefully, he will continue to improve and I won't need any help because getting a vet out here on a holiday weekend.....not likely.
I hate holidays.